LSU expects best of Irish QBs
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Their body of work is not comparable. One has thrown 416 passes this season while the other has tossed 20. One has passed for 3,355 yards and the other has 170.
Oh, and one has 22 turnovers (14 interceptions, eight fumbles) while the other has none.
That last statistic is the only reason Everett Golson is in a competition with Malik Zaire to be the starting quarterback Tuesday afternoon when Notre Dame (7-5) takes on LSU (8-4) in Nashville’s 17th annual Music City Bowl at LP Field.
Like the Notre Dame players - who had yet to be told the decision by the coaching staff as of Saturday night - LSU is guessing as to which of the two signalcallers will get the nod against the Tigers.
They’re not wasting too much time and angst anticipating the call.
“They have similar skills but they’re different,” summarized LSU head coach Les Miles moments after LSU’s arrival at the monstrosity that is the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.
“I expect both to play. We wouldn’t expect that the game plan would change all that much with each guy in.”
That’s not exactly true. For Golson, it’s pass-first, and option plays do not come naturally to him. For Zaire, his accuracy as a passer remains in question, but his decision-making on read-option type plays is much more natural and decisive.
He also showed a much faster pace afoot in his two-quarter-plus performance against USC in which he completed 9-of-20 passes for 170 yards while rushing for 31 yards (18 net) and directing two scoring drives.
Even Brian Kelly admitted Friday night following practice at Nashville’s Father Ryan High School that Zaire’s insertion into the quarterback equation has much to do with his ability to give the Irish ground game a boost.
“Absolutely,” said Kelly when asked if Zaire’s inclusion in the game plan is to spice up the rushing attack.
“Plus your play-action passing and your ability to control the clock and keep (LSU’s) offense off the field…how we’re going to manage the game…all those things are very important.”
Miles acknowledges that getting a bead on Zaire based upon a handful of series is difficult to discern.
“We really only have a short view of what the one quarterback looks like, so we just expect it to be their best stuff,” Miles said.
Truth be told, what was seen from Zaire against the Trojans likely is more than a snapshot. He’s a read-option quarterback first who has a powerful arm, albeit not as accurate as Golson’s. He also can’t possibly be as in tune with the Irish wideouts as Golson, who has had all that game experience with his troops.
LSU defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound sophomore, may have provided the most accurate outside assessment of Notre Dame’s two quarterbacks.
“Malik runs it a little more than Everett,” said LaCouture, who has the second most sacks (2.5) among LSU’s starting front four that also features ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter, and nose tackle Davon Godchaux.
“Everett likes to sit in there, take his time, look through his reads and then escape. We saw what Malik likes to do against USC.”
At the end of the day, however, John Chavis’ No. 3 scoring defense, No. 4 pass defense and No. 8 total defense will just line up and attack the Irish, fully aware of each player’s strengths and a bit more cautious of the run with Zaire.
“They’re both very fast quarterbacks, so we’re going to expect (the possibility of the run) from both of them,” LaCouture said. “For me and Rasco, the blind side is different. But right hand, left hand, it doesn’t really matter.
“We’re expecting it to be a physical ball game against two great quarterbacks with a big offensive line. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”