Well isn't this the topic on everyone's mind? Coach Brian Kelly maintained throughout the media session that both Everett Golson and Malik Zaire will play against LSU. Kelly said he wants to play to the strengths of both quarterbacks and that their different traits could help ND control the pace and flow of the game. Outside of this announcement, we did not learn anything new about a Golson/Zaire QB competition. When asked to enumerate each signal-caller's particular qualities, Kelly pointed to Golson's experience and ability to create big plays in the passing game; meanwhile, Zaire is much more adept at running the read option. The contents of his assessment are certainly old news.
During the three practices that had taken places at press time, both quarterbacks had been focusing on fundamentals, specifically footwork and throwing mechanics. In particular, Everett Golson, according to Kelly, has committed himself to developing his game and has done everything the coach has asked so far.
In terms of strategy, Kelly was confident that he will be able to manage the contributions from both quarterbacks in the course of the game. How this will manifest remains to be determined. The last time Kelly used two quarterbacks in a game (excluding benchings, suspensions, or injuries) was the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State in which Andrew Hendrix was brought in as a change of pace from the more static Tommy Rees. I suspect Kelly will utilize Zaire in a similar manner, and Zaire's ability to make plays in the passing game will prevent LSU from completely stacking the box when his number is called. For more in-depth analysis of the two-quarterback system, check out this week's OFD opinions.
Coach Kelly stated that the bowl practices are being used to focus on assessment and development of younger offensive players. Mike McGlinchey, who replaced the injured Christian Lombard during the USC game, has been getting significant reps at right tackle, and determining the starter for the bowl game remains a competitive situation.
In terms of other young lineman, Alex Bars has seen action at both the right and left tackle positions, Quenton Nelson has had reps at left guard, and Sam Mustipher has taken snaps at center. John Montelus is being projected to play guard, as is Colin McGovern. Hunter Bivin seems to fit well at tackle.
Kelly did not make it clear if these reps in practice were simply for evaluation, or if any of the players listed will see snaps against LSU.
Both Max Redfield and Jay Hayes are practicing, and Sheldon Day is hopeful that he will be able to play in Nashville. Kelly made the point of saying that because LSU has a substantial rushing attack, he will not put Day on the line if he is not 100% by the start of the game. Austin Collinsworth has had surgery and will miss the game.
Defense is clearly the strength of the Tigers, and Kelly was quick to acknowledge this. Their play up front, he said, will not consist of exotic blitz packages, à la Arizona State; instead, they will rush four or five men and beat an offensive line with aggressive, strenuous play. Kelly compared their top-ranked pass defense to that of Michigan State, wherein the corners play an aggressive press-man coverage and are a handful at the line of scrimmage. Between their aggressive front and stout secondary play, the Tigers will force Notre Dame to win one-on-one matchups in the passing game.
Kelly believes that the offense must protect a vulnerable Irish defense by controlling the flow of the game against LSU. Success will be predicated on the appearance of two things that we have not seen of late: adequate separation generated by Irish receivers and a confident Everett Golson willing to place the ball in tight windows.
Rumors have flown in the last few weeks about things imploding in South Bend from a disciplinary point of view. Kelly was clear that no one on the team has put himself in jeopardy of being suspended whether by means of grades or by running afoul of the law. It seems safe to regard any talk of suspensions at this juncture as hot air.
Thoughts at the end of the season
Coach Kelly emphasized that the team wants to win and is aware that they will have to come up with big plays in order to find a way to win against LSU. In reference to the season as a whole, Kelly said the problem has been that despite weeks and weeks of good practice, the hard work has not translated onto the field on Saturdays. He said the players need to have greater trust in themselves and in their technique. In terms of roster moves going forward, Kelly said he is primarily concerned with fielding the best team possible for the bowl game.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kelly acknowledged that perhaps the coaching staff had underestimated the loss of Joe Schmidt. Without his ability to align the defense properly, the Irish were gashed against teams that utilized tempo. He went on to say that the defense has made a concerted effort to practice against tempo in preparation for the hurry-up. Defensive fundamentals, such as tackling, are also being emphasized in practice. He concluded by saying the loses of Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore were much more significant than anticipated in that they made Notre Dame's defense particularly vulnerable to injury and fatigue.
- Greg Bryant has been doing well "in all facets." He is still suffering the lingering effects of an ankle injury and was lacking some burst against USC. With that said, Kelly was visibly pleased when talking about how well the redshirt freshman is progressing, particularly in understanding that there are two other cardinal directions besides east and west.
- Eilar Hardy will graduate next semester and is eligible to play in the bowl game. This is good news from a depth perspective and hopefully he'll be able to contribute in some meaningful way.
- Of the four players interested in evaluations for the NFL draft, all will graduate next semester with the exception of Ronnie Stanley. Kelly said that he already had a sense of the draft stock of each of these players via his private conversations with coaches and GMs. He cryptically said he feels confident where they are with the four players and gave no further explanation as to what that meant.
- In terms of recruiting, Kelly said that he believes that this is has been his best year since taking the ND job in that he has a better understanding of how to recruit at ND and which positions are of particular need. He highlighted that they will not be scrambling like they were last cycle on the defensive line. Kelly also said he wants to focus on a maximum of eight targets to round out the class, but he did make it clear that there are four names the coaching staff is making a concerted effort to land.
- Torii Hunter Jr. was singled out as a player who could make significant contributions against LSU.
- Practices during study days were 90 minutes. During exams they were 60 minutes. Following the completion of exams, practices will be two hours with full contact.