Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Week 2

Replacing the Replacements

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are losing gunslingers like it’s a shootout in the Old American West. First they lose quarterback Everett Golson to Florida State and now Malik Zaire to a broken right ankle suffered during a dramatic third quarter in what turned out to be a comeback that would make Billy the Kid proud. The Irish beat Virginia 34 to 27, but lost their quarterback for the season.

“Our kids are happy and they’re celebrating the win, but they lost a kid they feel really strongly about,” said head coach Brian Kelly after the game. “The coaches are probably feeling it more. I am in particular because I’m so close to him. I feel bad for him.”

Zaire struggled at times during the game finishing only 7 of 18 passing for 115 yards and a touchdown. After Zaire was helped off the field in the third quarter with a broken ankle, backup quarterback DeShone Kizer came into the game and completed 8 of 12 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns in a strong performance. His most notable throw was his last which ended up being the game winning play; a 40 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Will Fuller with 12 seconds left in the game.

Two weeks in a row the Irish have lost their starting running back (Tarean Folston) and quarterback (Zaire) for the season. When it seems as if all hope is lost in South Bend, the backups step up into the limelight. New Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise, converted from wide receiver, recorded an outstanding game rushing the ball. He finished with 17 carries for 155 yards averaging 9.1 yards per carry and a touchdown.

Said Kelly of the injuries, “We’ve lost our starting running back and starting quarterback, but there are a lot of good players around them. DeShone isn’t going to have to win it himself.”

Kelly has often praised the depth of his team and now his players on the field are defending his words. Not only does he believe in his backups, he is quite confident that he can succeed with them.

“He (Kizer) can win games for us. I want to win a championship with him. We need to get him to the next level.”

Their next shootout the blue and gold will play host to Georgia Tech and their lethal offense full of all sorts of weapons. It will serve as a true test to see just how deep this roster is. Luck played in favor of the Irish at Virginia, but luck was nowhere to be found for Billy the Kid on that fatal day in Fort Sumner. Notre Dame will need to keep their guard up and never stop firing.

Week 1

Post-Golson Era Looks Bright for Irish

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish began their season with a statement win over the Texas Longhorns Saturday night. With strong play on both sides of the ball, the Irish capitalized on every big opportunity in their 38-3 rout of the once Big 12 powerhouse. It seemed as if the question that loomed in the minds of the Irish faithful had been answered: How would Malik Zaire do in replacing Everett Golson at quarterback?

Zaire had been asked this question or versions of it multiple times over the summer, including during camp and at practices. On Saturday night, he decided to let his actions speak instead of his words. Zaire threw for 313 yards and was 19 for 22 passing the ball with three touchdowns to no interceptions.

The last statistic is one that has Irish fans hopeful for a National Championship run this season. While Golson was known for his dynamic playmaking abilities, he was also a turnover machine who loved teasing the blue and gold faithful with his innate ability to throw for 400 plus yards a game. His turnovers proved costly and towards the end of the 2014 season he was giving the other team the ball four or five times a game. Zaire managed to finish the game on Saturday without one of those costly mistakes.

“We expect all of our guys to play up to what we believe they are capable of. Certainly there are a number of things he can do better but we believe in Malik, we trust in him,” said head coach Brian Kelly after the game.

Coach Kelly is not one known for dishing out compliments, especially after the first game of the season. He knows there is still much work to be done but sounded as positive as he ever has when discussing his team’s quarterback play following the game, even saying, “He clearly has the ability to throw the football and throw it accurately.”

The statement play of the game came with 5:50 left to play in the third quarter when Zaire hit wide receiver Will Fuller in stride on a deep ball for a 66 yard touchdown pass to put the Irish up 24 to 3, shortly after Texas put themselves on the board for the first time with a 41 yard field goal from kicker Nick Rose. Any sort of momentum Texas may have had was gone as the Irish put the stamp on the game. It looked as if this was the team of a few years ago.

Golson led the Irish to the BCS National Championship game in 2012 so Zaire has a lot more work to do but has certainly put his team on course for similar success this season. There are many similarities and differences between the two gunslingers but most notable of the latter is Zaire’s ability to lead his team. Known as a more vocal presence on the field than Golson, Zaire has taken the reins of this offense and has not looked back.

Finishing the game with a QBR of 92.9 (out of 100), Zaire bested his Texas counterpart Tyrone Swoopes who earned just a 7.2.

Brian Kelly’s final comment on the matter was just simply, “he’s got room to grow,” thus making it known to Irish fans that more difficult games are coming; and quite possibly that the best of Zaire.