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Zaire to start Music City Bowl

Rice v Notre Dame

Rice v Notre Dame

Getty Images

Brian Kelly announced Monday afternoon that Malik Zaire will start the Music City Bowl at quarterback. It is the sophomore’s first career start after backing up Everett Golson all season.

“We want to put Malik in a position and really challenge him,” Kelly said, according to CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz. “I want to challenge him and put him in this kind of environment. He’s playing against a great defense in LSU and we’ll learn a lot about him tomorrow.”

After pulling Golson in the second quarter against USC after the Irish fell behind USC 35-0, Zaire had moderate success against the Trojans, driving the Irish to two touchdown drives and a failed field goal attempt before halftime. But LSU will offer a much stiffer challenge, with the Tigers the SEC’s top statistical defense.

The opportunity to start gives both team’s staffs their first true look at Zaire, with Les Miles and John Chavis having only two-plus quarters of game tape to examine. It also gives Kelly a better look at what the Irish have in Zaire, heading into an offseason where the sophomore wants to challenge Golson for the starting job.

Speaking of Golson, he’ll get his chances against the Tigers as well, given an opportunity to end the 2014 season on a high note after opening the year with such promise. Kelly praised the work his senior quarterback did during December.

“I’m very pleased with what Everett has done over the past two weeks,” Kelly said. “He’s made very good progress. We still have a great deal of confidence in his ability.”