Zaire shines in ND spring tilt
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Malik Zaire made a statement that he plans to challenge Everett Golson for the starting quarterback job at Notre Dame.
The sophomore left-hander threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns in the spring scrimmage on Saturday.
Golson, the former starter who is back from a yearlong academic suspension, threw for 154 yards on 13 of 24 passing and ran for a score.
The school also announced Saturday that the field at Notre Dame Stadium would be converted to artificial turf before the fall.
Here are five things to know from Saturday’s spring game played in front of 27,986:
ON THE SURFACE: Athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s announcement during the game that FieldTurf would be installed prior to the 2014 season came as little surprise. The current field, pockmarked by large swaths of dead grass, showed the wear from last season and a long, harsh South Bend winter, the area’s coldest since 1977-78.
Swarbrick said the school had to replace the grass field four times last year, including twice during the season, but it was no longer feasible to keep that natural surface in place.
“I was looking for a way to see if we could still do it, but I reached the conclusion between the end of last season and this that we really couldn’t,” Swarbrick said. “We needed to make the change now.”
QB COMPETITION: Zaire put some zip on a 6-yard fastball to Amir Carlisle for a second-quarter touchdown, but also displayed a penchant for big plays with five passes of 20 yards or more. He led the offense to touchdowns on his first three drives, including a 39-yard TD pass to C.J. Prosise for the second score.
“Just making plays, that’s what they brought me here to do,” Zaire said, who added that improving his consistency will be his main focus this summer. “Just being able to be that playmaker on every series.”
Golson rushed for a touchdown, but struggled with his accuracy and scrambled from the pocket often.
“Everett’s pocket awareness was OK. We’ve still got a ways to go there,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I’d like to see more catchable balls.”
DEFENSIVE SHUFFLE: With new coordinator Brian VanGorder roaming the sidelines, the Irish defense featured more 4-3 fronts than not, and a smattering of blitzes that helped them record eight sacks, though the two quarterbacks could not be hit. But many of the expected defensive playmakers — KeiVarae Russell, Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, Max Redfield — saw little playing time on Saturday.
Smith, who moved to inside linebacker this spring managed to record six tackles in his brief on-field cameo.
“He’s at a whole different level in terms of knowledge of our defense,” Kelly said. “Now he knows it from inside-out and from outside-in.”
BRYANT’S BREAKOUT: Of the three running backs vying for playing time, Greg Bryant has been the talk of spring practice. A top recruit coming in last season, Bryant had just three carries in the first three games before he was slowed by an injury. Bryant was bottled up through most of Saturday’s scrimmage, until about eight minutes remained on the second-half running clock when he flashed his promise with a 51-yard run. Bryant gained 80 of his team-high 101 yards rushing on that late drive.
“He’s a physical kid,” Kelly said. “He’s full of energy.”
RECEIVER BY COMMITTEE: With leading wide receivers T.J. Jones graduated and DaVaris Daniels suspended for the spring, a host of pass-catchers combined to fill that void. Chris Brown paced the group with 105 yards on five catches, but running backs and tight ends also combined to catch 15 passes as Zaire and Golson spread the ball around the field.
“I thought we had some consistency across the board from our receivers,” Kelly said.