Notre Dame is going with Malik Zaire as its starter for the finale, and he is really the only choice.
What, you thought status quo would get the job done after an embarrassing four-game losing streak to end the season? After a second-half meltdown in which the once-high-performing offense could not give the young, beaten-up defense even the slightest break? After 22 turnovers over the season's final nine games, the last one ultimately forcing Brian Kelly to pull the plug on Everett Golson?
No, you don't lose to rival USC by 35 points — in a game in which Kelly basically thanked Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian for showing second-half mercy — and do nothing about it.
So the Irish now turn to Zaire, a redshirt freshman who has said and done all the right things whenever the camera's been on him, who possesses plenty of tools but otherwise remains a mystery. He has nine completions for 170 yards on 20 pass attempts to his name, all in garbage time against the Trojans, and he has rushed for one score. He also broke off a 56-yard run on his first career play — again in garbage time — back at the end of a Week 1 rout of Rice, when things still seemed so promising for Notre Dame.
So the southpaw gets his first career call, capping a season in which Kelly insisted again and again that he would not pull a healthy Golson, a stance that does not hold up so well when the public's last impression of your team is a 49-14 loss to a similarly underachieving — and even more beaten-up — rival.
Golson will still play some, Kelly has said, and how else do you keep a fourth-year player who has brought on no shortage of highs and lows for himself focused for a game against an 8-4 team? As good as Golson looked when racing to a 6-0 start and No. 5 ranking, as poised as the one-time Heisman contender was in defeat at defending national champ Florida State, his late-season undoing is as much of an indictment on Kelly as it is the signal-caller. When your quarterback gets overwhelmed as the defense and special teams collapse around him, a lot can be forgiven. When that happens as Year 5 of your regime rounds to a close, when you're supposedly a quarterback whisperer who is still looking for an answer at quarterback after all these years, you have to wonder if it is time to look in the mirror.
For now, though, there is the finale against LSU, a name and a roster big enough to provide a bit of salvage to an otherwise lost season.
A season that was lost under center, more than anywhere else. Making a change at QB underscores that. Whether it was the player or the coach underachieving will become a whole lot clearer for all to see once the lights come on Tuesday for Zaire and there is nowhere to hide.