Malik Zaire writing his own script at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Malik Zaire looked like he wasn’t sure whether to be amused by the question or offended by it.

Basking in the afterglow of a 31-28 Notre Dame upending of No. 22 LSU in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Tuesday, Zaire was pressed whether his first collegiate start was his “Rudy” moment.

“Rudy?” Zaire said with a laugh and a snarl simultaneously. “Rudy was like a one-hit wonder, wasn’t he?”

If that, and certainly at a level Zaire would never aspire to, except perhaps, for the movie deal part of it.

There certainly were Hollywood threads in Zaire tag-teaming with former starter Everett Golson, being the first left-handed starting QB in school history and still capturing the bowl’s MVP trophy after having as many collegiate pass attempts on his résumé heading into Thanksgiving weekend as did ND’s most famous walk-on defensive lineman.

A relief appearance with 20 attempts and nine completions Nov. 29 in a 35-point loss at USC changed ND coach Brian Kelly’s thinking. The tag-team of Zaire and Golson produced 102 rushing yards, 96 of them by Zaire; 186 passing yards, 96 from Zaire; and zero turnovers for just the 16th time in Kelly’s five seasons at ND.

“I tried to fit it to plays they felt comfortable with,” Kelly said of how he worked the rotation.

Now how comfortable will the two be sharing the No. 1 role moving forward? And just as importantly, if not more, how comfortable will Kelly?

The Irish coach insisted Tuesday night’s performances will be wiped clean when spring practice starts next March, but the very fact that there is something to wipe clean is significant for Zaire.

Both QBs may eventually feel a nudge from behind as well, as 6-foot-5 redshirting freshman DeShone Kizer continues to evolve and prodigy Brandon Wimbush enrolls in June.

Golson, who played most of the second half with a painful rib injury, was not made available to the media after the game.

Zaire lauded Golson’s performance, but made it clear the ensuing months weren’t likely to be warm and fuzzy between them as Golson and Tommy Rees were as tag-team partners in 2012.

“My perspective didn’t change,” he said. “We’re still competitive, we’re still getting after it. We still have that mind-set we’ve got to do this for the team. We’ve got to push each other to be great.

“(ND QBs) coach (Matt) LaFleur says all the time, ‘How great do you want to be?’ And I think with that competitiveness in the air is going to push us toward that goal.

“I’m glad we got a chance to do that, and it’s going to be interesting to see how that turns out next year and moving forward.”

Moving on up

Texas had pulled even with Notre Dame at No. 2 on college football’s all-time with list, at 881 victories each, when the Irish went into their November swoon.

The Longhorns (6-7) missed a chance to move ahead Monday night, when old Southwest Conference foe Arkansas dominated Texas, 31-7, in the Texas Bowl. The Longhorns were outgained 351-59 overall and 191-2 on the ground.

ND’s victory over LSU gave ND victory 882 and sole possession of second place, at least until the teams open the 2015 season against each other Sept. 5 in South Bend.

Michigan, with newly anointed coach Jim Harbaugh, has 915 wins to lead the FBS.

Personnel matters

Three Irish players made their first collegiate starts Tuesday.

Freshman tight end Tyler Luatua was part of a two-tight end look the Irish used extensively against LSU. Sophomore right tackle Mike McGlinchey replaced injured Christian Lombard (back) on the offensive line. Also injured and unavailable were O-line backups Hunter Bivin and Conor Hanratty.

Meanwhile freshman defensive end Andrew Trumbetti became the 20th different defensive player to start for the Irish this season.

Trumbetti was elevated to starting status when normal starter, sophomore Isaac Rochell, moved inside to help at defensive tackle with Jarron Jones out for the season.

• Junior wide receiver C.J. Prosise was unavailable late in the game after suffering a concussion.

Prosise finished with three catches for 34 yards and 75 rushing yards on three carries with a 50-yard TD spring.

It was the second-longest TD run for the Irish this season and the longest run by an ND receiver since Rocket Ismail had a 75-yard run in 1990.

By the numbers

• The Music City Bowl has changed corporate sponsors multiple times over the years, with Franklin American Mortgage being the current one.

The most impressive change is its payout from last year. In 2013 Ole Miss and Georgia Tech split $3.4 million between them. This year, the Irish and LSU will divvy up $5.5 million.

• Notre Dame is 27-18-0 against the current members of the Southeastern Conference.

• With the victory, Notre Dame evens its all-time bowl game record at 17-17. The Irish are now 6-5 against current SEC members in bowl games.

• Notre Dame takes charge of the all-time series with LSU, 6-5. This was the third bowl game meeting between the sides and Notre Dame’s first win.

Scouts’ honor

Five NFL teams had representatives scouting the game Tuesday, including the San Diego Chargers, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans.

The Titans’ rep was former Notre Dame wide receiver Lake Dawson, the team’s vice president for player personnel.


Notre Dame's Malik Zaire earned MVP honors in the Music City Bowl victory over LSU. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)