Malik Zaire can excel as a passer for Notre Dame
Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire’s 2015 season got off to a good start on Saturday, as he completed 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards (86.4 completion percentage, 14.2 yards per attempt), three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Fighting Irish’s win over Texas. He earned an outstanding grade from us as well of +6.2, including a +5.6 passing grade. His accuracy percentage of 95.5 was off the charts, he was effective under pressure, and he connected on 13 of 14 throws of over 10 yards, including both of his throws of over 20 yards, showing good ability as a downfield passer.
It’s fair to wonder just how impressive this win will look at the end of the season. We don’t yet know how good Texas is this season, a year removed from having one of our worst-graded offenses in college football but one of its better defenses. Saturday was a really bad night for the Longhorns, and only time will tell how much of that was due to their own issues and how much was a result of Notre Dame’s effectiveness.
But for now, let’s give Zaire some credit and acknowledge that if he has many more games like this, he’s going to be one of the country’s best quarterbacks this season. And perhaps the most reassuring part for Fighting Irish fans is that he looks more than capable of being a force as a passer, not just as a runner.
The limited evidence we had on Zaire coming into the season — positively graded performances in the two games last season during which he threw a pass (at USC and in the bowl game versus LSU) — suggested the QB had good potential, both in terms of his passing ability and his running ability. If you translated his passing performance in those two QBs out to the course of a full season, he’d have ranked in the upper half of the FBS for his accuracy percentage, deep passing and accuracy under pressure. His sample sizes were very small, so drawing any major conclusions off of them would have been risky — but the point is that what he showed in limited playing time last season was positive, and he flashed some big-time upside with how he played Saturday against Texas.
Last year’s starter Everett Golson, who is now with Florida State, entered the season as a top-10 QB in our PFF rating system. And remember, at least part of his reason for transferring had to do with the fact that the writing was on the wall that Zaire would be starting for the Irish this season. There has never been much question about Zaire’s talent, and his performance in Week 1 indicates that his production should be able to match up. He deserves more than just a running QB level — as he showed against Texas, he can get the job done throwing the ball as well.