SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Malik Zaire has played just a little over two quarters of meaningful football at Notre Dame. He already knows the pressure of starting at quarterback for the Fighting Irish.
He need only examine the arc of Everett Golson’s season.
From leading the Irish to a 6-0 start and joining the Heisman Trophy conversation, to a four-game losing streak and benching in the final game of the regular season at USC, Golson’s rise and fall have opened the door for his understudy, Zaire.
“It’s definitely a tough position because they’ll love you one day and then they’ll want to replace you the next day,” Zaire said.
— Malik Zaire
As the Irish prepare for LSU in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, both quarterbacks are facing opportunities — the sophomore Zaire to become the starter, and the senior Golson to redeem what began as a promising season.
Golson accounted for 37 touchdowns this year — 29 passing and eight rushing — but he’s also been responsible for 22 turnovers, which led to his benching.
Zaire relieved a struggling Golson late in the first half of the USC game and led two touchdown drives against the Trojans, but only after USC had jumped ahead 35-0.
“I would have benched me after the USC game,” Golson said. “I’m not mad about it; it is what it is. I just got to fight my way back.”
Irish coach Brian Kelly reiterated Saturday that both quarterbacks would likely play against LSU, resulting in a competition in “live” full-contact practices leading up to the game.
The task before them in Nashville is daunting — LSU has the nation’s No. 1 pass efficiency defense and No. 3 scoring defense, not to mention a potent rush offense led by Leonard Fournette.
“We’ll have to do a great job of keeping our defense off the field, and our offense has a lot to say about what goes on there,” Kelly said. “These are important practices and we’re better at [the quarterback] position because of it.”
Kelly has yet to announce a starter, or reveal what the quarterback time share will look like. With Zaire surging, Golson insisted that their relationship was good, despite the competition.
“I don’t know if we’re like buddy-buddy, but I look at Malik as my little brother,” Golson said. “It’s competition, for sure. [But] we understand that, off the field, there’s no animosity.”