What does the Malik Zaire injury mean for Notre Dame?
Brian Kelly has announced that Notre Dame starting quarterback Malik Zaire is out for the season with a fractured ankle, which means the Fighting Irish will continue the year without one of the best QBs in the entire country.
We haven’t seen that much of Zaire to this point, but as we described coming out of Notre Dame’s Week 1 blowout win over Texas, all indications were that he was on his way to a big 2015 season.
He earned an outstanding +6.2 overall grade against the Longhorns and a +5.6 passing grade — for reference, those are better grades than any earned by Heisman-winner Marcus Mariota last season. Those grades reinforced that Zaire was a true dual-threat quarterback, and not just a running threat who was only marginally effective as a passer (something we saw in Zaire’s limited 2014 appearances, as well).
No matter how much the Texas defense struggles this year, Zaire’s passing numbers against the Longhorns were very impressive: 86.2 percent completions, including 13 of 14 on throws of 10-plus yards. He was a potential Heisman candidate based solely off of that one game.
That’s not to say that all is now lost for the Fighting Irish. His replacement, redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer, won the Virginia game with this outstanding 39-yard touchdown pass that is likely to earn him a high PFF grade this week.
Moreover, while Zaire was clearly the star of the Week 1 win over Texas, he wasn’t the only Notre Dame player to get off to a great start in 2015. The defense performed very well in all aspects of the game, with DL Sheldon Day standing out as a pass-rusher (+4.0 pass-rush grade, +4.6 overall) and LBs James Onwualu (+2.2) and Jaylon Smith (+1.4) displaying impressive all-around play.
So it’s too soon to write off Notre Dame’s chances with Kizer under center, and there is the benefit of back-to-back home games the next two weeks (Georgia Tech, UMass) before traveling to Clemson for what should be a very difficult road test on Oct. 3. However, it will be difficult for Kizer to match the production level that Zaire seemed poised to achieve. Based on how he’d played in 2014 and in Week 1, every indication was that he was set to be one of college football’s biggest stars of the season.