NOTRE DAME — On a mild spring afternoon, a young quarterback stole the show from the veteran starter in Notre Dame's Blue-Gold Game.
That could either describe Everett Golson in 2011 or Malik Zaire in 2014.
While Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees jousted for starting rights, then-freshman Golson burst onto the scene in the 2011 Blue-Gold scrimmage. But Zaire isn't some plucky rookie who will patiently wait in line for his shot at the big times.
"This spring I was playing a lot more, I've actually gotten better, more comfortable, better prepared," Zaire said. "I felt good getting out there with those guys consecutively instead of at the end of the game they throw me in there."
In the all-offense versus all-defense spring scrimmage, Zaire took the first snaps of the game and led the offense on a nine-play, 65-yard drive. He connected with receiver Will Fuller on a 29-yard pass that took the Irish to the 1-yard line. One play later, Cam McDaniel punched the ball in for the score.
Though looking shaky in the pocket at times, Zaire excelled throughout the first half — completing 15 of 19 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns. He finished 18-of-23 for 292 yards and two touchdowns.
“I thought there was one series where Malik got away from some of the things that we need to do, but by and large, he was fairly consistent,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “His problem has been staying with progressions. So that has been really good today, the consistency was much better for him.”
And Zaire, who was all smiles during post-game interviews, agrees with that assessment, adding that "if I want to be great, if I want to be on the wall in the quarterback room, then I have to be consistent."
Golson, on the other hand, had a comparatively lackluster re-debut at Notre Dame Stadium. He looked frazzled at times and lethargic at others, finishing a modest 13-of-24 for 154 passing yards and zero passing touchdowns.
It wasn't a totally unproductive day for Golson, who opened 10-of-16 for 129 yards in the first half. He found Corey Robinson over the head of cornerback Connor Cavalaris for a 37-yard connection. He also dashed around a pursuing Jaylon Smith for a 5-yard rushing touchdown.
After the game, Golson said he hopes to work on pocket presence and footwork over the summer. There might be a quarterback battle, but he said his focus right now is solely on making himself a better player.
"Nothing is ever given to you," Golson said. "You're going to have to work for everything that you got. What we have right now is a quarterback battle and you're definitely gonna work. That competition is gonna work both of us. We'll see what happens."
Heading into the summer, it's still Golson's offense to lose. But Zaire definitely gives coaches something to think about.
"I'm excited to show people that I'm here to play," Zaire said. "That I'm here to win games."