At his Tuesday press conference, Brian Kelly declined to name a starting quarterback for the Nevada game. Does that mean he’ll really play two QBs again?
After Sunday’s debacle in Austin, there has been no shortage of columns anointing DeShone Kizer the starting quarterback for Notre Dame. There’s just one person who wasn’t completely convinced by Kizer’s six-touchdown performance: Brian Kelly.
Speaking to the media Tuesday, Kelly left open the possibility of playing both quarterbacks and even failed to confirm that Kizer would start for the Irish against Nevada. The exact wording was pretty ambiguous.
Q. Where are you with your quarterback position?
Brian Kelly: We still have two very good quarterbacks.
Q. Do you plan on keeping it two throughout this week or at some point do you —
Brian Kelly: We plan on having two really good quarterbacks the rest of the year. I haven’t sat down and talked with to either one of them, so before we do that we don’t have any plans to make any decisions.
Q. Is that something you will do this week?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, we will make that decision this week.
Ok, so what does that even mean?
First of all, this is a significant step back from his statement before Texas that both quarterbacks would definitely play. Now, he merely said he has two really good quarterbacks. So even if Kelly isn’t declaring Kizer the starter, he’s making a pretty strong inference that Kizer is his No. 1 option.
Secondly, Kelly said he has not discussed the matter with either Kizer or Malik Zaire. Obviously they’ve talked, it’s absurd to think otherwise. But my guess would be Kelly has not tipped his hand either way in those discussions yet, so he can truthfully say they haven’t really “sat down and talked about it.”
Lastly, while I don’t doubt Kizer deserves to be the starter, I’m hesitant to throw Zaire on the bench for the rest of the year. His performance against Texas, while far from stellar, doesn’t define who he is at a quarterback, and besides, we’re looking at a ridiculously small sample size. He still has a decent arm, and he can run the ball better than Kizer can, even though the stats didn’t bear that out in this one game.
Does Zaire really deserve to be benched totally based off five throws and three rushing attempts? That’s what we’re talking about here. I don’t think Kelly will be so rash, and so I think we will see Zaire in some form against Nevada.
What Kelly could do, and what I expect him to do, is copy Texas and have Zaire function as a rushing quarterback in the red zone or in situations where the Irish need to burn the clock. Really, the way Charlie Strong deployed Tyrone Swoopes should be a model for Kelly, which is slightly ironic, because Strong could have easily looked at Notre Dame in 2012 and used that situation as a model himself.
Tommy Rees was not as good as quarterback as Everett Golson in 2012. That much was clear. But he still had a role to play in the offense, especially early in the season, and he fulfilled that role admirably. Rather than condemning him to headset status for an entire year, Kelly found a way to incorporate Rees’s skills into the offense in such a way that they made up for what Golson lacked. That should be the goal again this year, except the Irish are dealing with two even better quarterbacks.
Kelly has talked a lot about needing two quarterbacks to make it through the season, and on Tuesday he specifically cited injuries as a reason to keep both of his signal-callers engaged with the team. But I don’t think anything so drastic has to happen for the Irish to be able to successfully utilize two QBs. So if and when Zaire trots on the field against Nevada, I for one will not be too disappointed.