Not seeing Malik Zaire as difference-maker for Florida Gators

Malik Zaire had two notable games as Notre Dame's starting quarterback, but he never could gain full control of the job.

ATHENS — Everybody in the world seems to have weighed in on Malik Zaire’s transfer to Florida. Now it’s my turn, I suppose.

Zaire is a good get for the Gators, and Lord knows they went to some trouble to get him, what with the SEC changing its rules so it could happen. But from what I’ve read, I’m in the minority when it comes to my opinion on the subject.

I don’t see the former Notre Dame quarterback’s transfer as this great addition that suddenly tilts the tables in Florida’s favor in the SEC East.

Now I’m not going to come here pretending to be the ultimate authority on Zaire. I’m probably like most everybody else who has had something to say about it. That is, I watched some YouTube highlight videos on him and I pulled up his statistics from Notre Dame. Those things are telling, but they don’t tell it all.

A lot of my opinion on Zaire was formed this spring when I spent several days on the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind. There wasn’t a soul up there who had anything bad to say about Zaire. Clearly, this was a kid who did everything he was told and did the best he could.

But the consistent feedback I got was this: He had his chance; he wasn’t going to play.

No, Notre Dame’s quarterback of the present is Brandon Wimbush. Barring injury, that will be who is behind center for the Fighting Irish when Georgia meets them at Notre Dame Stadium in Week 2.

Now I did see Wimbush play while I was in South Bend. The Irish had an open practice one of the days I was there, and he was impressive during the scrimmage portion. He ripped off one long touchdown run of about 60 or so yards and flashed a pretty good arm, too. The 6-foot-1, 226-pound athlete is one of those quarterbacks who can be a real nightmare when he goes back to pass. Pressure him and he can make you pay if he gets away. Let him sit in the pocket and throw, and he could pick you apart.

That was what Notre Dame hoped it had in Zaire. But the fact is, in four years in South Bend, he never could wrest control of the starting job. He did not play as a freshman in 2013, could not beat out Everett Golson in 2014, broke his right ankle in 2015 and was beaten out by DeShone Kizer in 2016.

Zaire had two pretty impressive outings. He was named MVP of Notre Dame’s 31-28 win over LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl. And he followed that up by hitting 19 of 22 passes for 313 yards and 3 touchdowns to beat a bad Texas team to kick off the 2015 season. Then Zaire broke his ankle in Week 2, Kizer took over and he never got the job back.

All told, when Zaire announced he’d be leaving Notre Dame in late November last year, he left with a career passing average of 48 yards a game and a completion percentage of 59. It should be noted, though, that he never threw an interception with 6 TDs in 98 career attempts.

Oh, Zaire can run a little, too. He has 324 yards rushing at 4.5 yards per carry in 17 games. So, essentially, at 6 feet and 225 pounds, he’s a running back playing quarterback.

And maybe that’s what Florida needs. I don’t know. But SEC defenses have come a long way in adjusting to that zone-read stuff in recent years. If the guy in the shotgun is not extremely special, they devour those quarterbacks.

The Gators have plenty of options to choose from now. From reading our guys over at SEC Country, Feleipe Franks is — or at least was — the likely starter. They also have Luke Del Rio, Kadarius Toney and Kyle Trask competing for playing time.

But if I’m a Gators fan, I wouldn’t go making those championship game reservations just yet, not based on this development at least.

Ultimately, Florida may be a better team than Georgia in 2017, we’ll see. But right now I give the Bulldogs the edge at quarterback.

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