SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly said last week Notre Dame’s offensive identity won’t be dependent on who its starting quarterback is, so the seventh-year Irish coach and his assistants won’t feel rushed into making a decision between Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer.
After Notre Dame wrapped up spring practice in mid-April, Kelly said a time would come during August when he’d have to make a call on the quarterbacks so the Irish offense could develop an identity with one of them heading into the season. But those concerns were apparently alleviated over the summer, with the only deadline existing for a call on the quarterback being 6:30 p.m. CST Sept. 4 in Austin, Texas.
While the betting markets favor Kizer there hasn’t been any official indication from Notre Dame as to who will take the first snap of the season at Darrell K. Royal Stadium against the Texas Longhorns. But to Notre Dame’s offensive leaders, who that player is doesn’t really matter.
“We don’t really care that much,” redshirt junior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr. said. “We just want the ball thrown to us and whoever can get it to us, they should be playing, as it would be for any other position — whoever can get the job done, they need to be on the field. And that’s how we look at it in the wide receiver room, anywhere on the team.”
There’s a certain level of trust players have in both Kizer and Zaire based on their respective starts for the Irish. Zaire efficiently commanded Notre Dame’s offense to wins over LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl and over Texas in the 2015 season opener, while Kizer’s heroics against Virginia and Temple and his steady presence at quarterback propelled Notre Dame to a 10-3 season last fall. It’s worth noting Kelly said last week Kizer’s experience (11 starts) doesn’t necessarily give him an advantage over Zaire (three starts) in the competition.
“No matter who’s back there, we’re going to be in good hands,” redshirt junior left tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “They’re such tremendous football players and such tremendous kids that it’s going to be an easy run whoever’s back there. It hasn’t been an issue for us. We’re all ready to play and they are too. Whoever comes down with that job is whoever coaches pick.”
The identity question is even less of a worry for Irish players than who quarterbacks the offense. With McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson manning left tackle and left guard, and record-setting sophomore Josh Adams returning with redshirt junior Tarean Folston at running back, Notre Dame’s offense will probably rely heavily on its ground attack (the lack of many experienced wide receivers, as well as Kizer and Zaire’s respective abilities to run the read option, contribute to that as well).
So the most frequent topic of discussion about Notre Dame football isn’t really a topic of discussion at Culver Academies or inside the locker room at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. After seeing what Zaire and Kizer can do over the last 20 months, Notre Dame players are confident either can get the job done when the snaps start counting on the first Sunday of September in Texas.
“I think, personally, I don’t (care) at all and I think collectively that’s how most people feel,” redshirt junior tight end Durham Smythe said. “Obviously Malik showed at the beginning of the year and these last two springs that he has the ability to get it done, and DeShone absolutely destroyed it last year when he had his opportunity. I think these are two quarterbacks that could start anywhere in the country. I think it’s a blessing that we have both of them. Because of the talent between the both of them, it (the offense) runs regardless.”