The Notre Dame Fighting Irish go into the Saturday’s contest against the Arizona State Sun Devils after coming off of back-to-back struggling performances from their starting quarterback, senior Tommy Rees. Rees has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in each contest and is a combined 23-of-58 in that span.
With Arizona State’s high-octane offense expected to put up some points on the struggling Irish defense, a good ball-controlling offense could be the answer to slowing down the Sun Devils’ offense. But is Rees the quarterback that can still supply that kind of ball control?
Rees has shown an uncanny ability to get his offense in the right position to succeed, and it has allowed him some — albeit limited — success doing so. That is until the last two weeks. While he is still getting the Irish’s offense into the right position, he has struggled executing even at his level.
So what could be the answer? The Irish could go with a two-quarterback system as I put last week, utilizing both Rees and Andrew Hendrix. That is the most likely scenario, but there is another that could very well blend both Rees and Hendrix into one.
Malik Zaire was thought to have a legitimate shot at earning playing time early in the season, but a bout with mononucleosis has left him behind and he is just now catching up as the third-string quarterback. Zaire was one of the top quarterbacks in this past recruiting class, ranked 14th by Scouts.com. He is a true dual-threat quarterback, and while he is raw passing the ball, the athletes that surround him would more than compensate for that.
Brian Kelly has emphasized using quick throws to get the ball out of Rees’ hand quicker, and that is something that would be just as easy to do with Zaire.
Arizona State has struggled against the run, allowing over 200 yards the last three contests, including 45 yards on seven carries to Keith Hogan of the Stanford Cardinal.
Zaire is a great talent, and he is likely to be the starting quarterback next season (depending on the Everett Golson situation), so it will be tempting to ice the quarterback all season so you can have four years (hopefully) of him as your quarterback as opposed to having him as a role player now and risk losing him after two or three years.
Zaire has a unique skill set that is similar to Golson’s, and there is no doubting that the offense is going to have to come up big to keep the defense off the field as much as possible. While the running game took great strides last week, the Irish will need a more consistent passer than what Rees has been the last two weeks if they are going to come out with a victory.
Maybe Zaire could be that guy.