SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire finished spring practice Saturday the same way they began, still trying to win the starting job in a competition that coach Brian Kelly said might not have a clear winner.
“I think I’m going to have to make a judgment call,” Kelly said Saturday after the annual Blue-Gold spring game. “I don’t know when I’ll make it. But there will be a time when I’m going to have to say, ‘That’s our quarterback. Let’s go with him. We’re all in, and let’s move forward.’ They are both that good. I already know that.”
Kizer and Zaire both led their teams on touchdown drives. Kizer completed 10 of 17 passes for 113 yards, completing all four passes for 60 yards on the first touchdown drive. Zaire wasn’t quite as consistent, completing 6 of 15 passes for 120 yards, but he completed passes of 50 and 28 yards to set up his own 13-yard scoring run.
Kelly said the competition is the closest he has seen in his coaching career.
“These two guys can do the same kind of things and run the same offense,” he said.
Zaire was the starter when last season began, but broke his right ankle in the second game at Virginia and missed the rest of the season. Kizer rallied the Irish to victory in that game and improved throughout the season as the Irish finished 10-3 and ranked No. 11. Kizer completed 211 of 335 passes for 2,884 yards with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Zaire completed 26 of 40 passes for 428 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
Both say they are confident they are good enough to lead the Irish to their first national championship since 1988.
“I feel like I have a great grasp of our offense,” Kizer said. “I think I’m ripping the ball a little bit better than last year. There are some things I have to tweak over the next couple of months, but overall my confidence level is pretty high.”
Kelly said Zaire started the spring slightly behind Kizer because of the way the offense had developed last season, but said Zaire caught up.
Both said they know they have no choice but to accept whatever Kelly decides.
“That’s life,” Zaire said. “Not everything is going to happen perfect and not everything is going to be something that happens in your favor. I think the main goal is being the best player on the field so you can help the team to win a national championship.”
Kelly had said when spring practice began that Brandon Wimbush would be involved in the competition, but said Saturday there he couldn’t give Wimbush enough opportunity to be competitive.
“Brandon’s doing everything that he’s been asked to do. He just doesn’t get enough work,” he said.