Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 45 of 47

46 JUNE/JULY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T his was the year that quarterback drama at Notre Dame would finally cease under head coach Brian Kelly. Maybe it still will be that way. From 2010-13, Tommy Rees was supposed to be only minimum insur- ance coverage at quarterback for Notre Dame. Instead, he became a prime long- term main policy, salvaging the 4-5 start to the 2010 season with a 4-0 finish after starter Dayne Crist was injured, replacing Crist one half into 2011 when no one else emerged, becoming college football's fireman of the year in 2012 while helping rescue four victories when more exciting sophomore starter Everett Golson either was injured or in- effective, and taking over for good in 2013 after Golson's academic transgres- sions forced him to leave Notre Dame for seven months. Rees was the ideal, temporary re- lief man in tight spots, not the fantasy starter. Nevertheless, drama called to him all four years. That was supposed to end this spring with the graduation of Rees and the re- admittance of Golson, whose comeback was trumpeted as comparable to Julius Caesar's triumphant return to Rome. Yet throughout the spring, Kelly re- fused to anoint Golson as the clear-cut starter. Was it a motivational ploy? Was the head coach trying to eradicate any sense of entitlement or giving the peo- ple and media something to discuss for three months? Definitely not the latter, but the rea- sons seem fairly clear. One, Golson had plenty of rust to shake and didn't have a strong enough spring to merit the starter designation for now. Two, soph- omore Malik Zaire — who redshirted last year — progressed and impressed enough to demonstrate he's not just as- piring to be an adequate backup, much like Golson in 2012. Consequently, it wasn't an easy spring at quarterback for Kelly to make a final decision, so the competition will carry over into August. Now, if the house had to be bet on who will take the first snap versus Rice Aug. 30, the smart and safe bet is Gol- son. He's been on the grand stage and tasted both immense success and set- backs — an important step even the greatest have to experience to fully grow — whereas Zaire remains an unknown variable. Even David Woodley (an NFL ver- sion of Rees), after leading Miami to the Super Bowl in 1982, started the first five games the next year before rookie phenom and Pro Bowl pick Dan Marino usurped the throne. Not that Zaire falls into the Marino category, although his spring game (18- of-27 passing for 292 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions) had some Irish faithful thinking in that di- rection. Nevertheless, be cautious about put- ting too much stock into spring games. Zaire undeniably looked better than Golson, but it's almost become a curse for backup signal-callers to outshine the projected starter or fan favorite in the spring. It seems traditional, if not mandatory, to prompt debate or elicit controversy in the ensuing months. We can point to numerous examples, but will point to only a few through the decades: • In 2011, Andrew Hendrix was the best of the four quarterbacks (Crist, Rees and Golson) in the spring game as a passer and runner (including contact allowed on the quarterback), scoring on 10- and 15-yard runs to win the game for his team, 17-14. • In 2010, walk-on Nate Montana was 16-of-27 passing for 212 yards with three touchdowns to three different receivers — in just the first half alone —when his team beat starter Crist's, 27-19. • In 2003, Christian Olsen was the spring game MVP — and then left two weeks into fall camp (to Virginia) when freshman Brady Quinn moved ahead of him for the No. 2 spot. • From 1986-88, Steve Belles' team beat the starters in 1986 (Steve Beuer- lein), 1987 (Terry Andrysiak) and 1988 (Tony Rice, who was 6-of-19 passing with two interceptions and vilified as the enemy to national title aspirations) in all three Blue-Gold Games before moving to flanker his fifth year. • In 1976, Quarterback A completed 14 passes for 253 yards in the spring game and was named the MVP. Quar- terback B was 2-of-11 passing for five yards with two interceptions. Based on that, what idiot wouldn't take Quarter- back A (senior Rick Slager) over Quar- terback B (junior Joe Montana)? Reality is probably somewhere in be- tween for Zaire. There is much ability and promise to work with there that cannot be ignored or downplayed, which is a boon for the team. However, real game competition is a different ani- mal, even as Golson learned during the 12-0 regular season in 2012. Never un- derestimate those who have been battle tested. It's all part of every season's drama. ✦ Sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire (above) was considered an intriguing option entering the 2014 season the way sophomore Everett Golson was in 2012. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ JUNE/JULY 2014 Quarterback Debate A Typical Rite Of Spring EDITOR'S NOTE: The late, great Lou Somogyi possessed an unmatched knowledge of Notre Dame football, and it was his mission in life to share it with others. Those of us at Blue & Gold Illustrated would like to continue to provide his wisdom and unique perspective from his more than 37 years covering the Fighting Irish for this publication.

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