A frustrating and atypical season for the Michigan State Spartans came to a close last Saturday, a 45-12 loss to Penn State in Happy Valley. A number of things contributed to the 3-9 overall record, but the one thing that was under constant scrutiny was the quarterback play.
Whether it was redshirt senior Tyler O’Connor, redshirt junior Damion Terry or redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke, the quarterback play for the Spartans was less than stellar. Those three combined to complete less than 57 percent of their pass attempts, log just a shade over 2,600 passing yards, and post a TD/INT ratio of 19 and 11. Granted, whoever was under center did not have the greatest protection, nor a consistent enough running game, or even enough legitimate weapons on the outside. But they proved a number of times their inability to carry a team.
O’Connor will be moving on from the program. Projecting the team’s quarterbacks on scholarship for 2017, MSU will have four. In addition to Terry and Lewerke, the Spartans will have redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver at their disposal as well as Class of 2017 recruit, 3-star QB Rocky Lombardi.
Is the answer for a bounce-back at the quarterback position among these options? Perhaps. Or perhaps the answer is currently outside the program and could be given in the form of a transfer. One name being thrown around is Notre Dame senior quarterback Malik Zaire, who is reportedly set to receive a scholarship release some time this week and among the four biggest suitors for Zaire’s services are the Spartans.
MSU notes: Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire considering MSU transfer https://t.co/JpFyemYY69
— LSJ Sports (@LSJsports) November 30, 2016
Zaire’s path is an interesting one. The former 4-star dual-threat quarterback prospect out of Dayton, Ohio played in five games in 2014, but started the team’s bowl game and led them to a big win over LSU and earned MVP honors for that game. He effectively kicked then Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson to the curb, who transferred as a graduate to Florida State for the 2015 campaign. Zaire meanwhile, with the keys to the car for the 2015 season, played in the first two games of the season before being sidelined with a season-ending ankle injury. That paved the way for DeShone Kizer, who played well enough to keep the starting gig through the start of this year. And despite a 4-8 season this year for Notre Dame, Kizer got the bulk of the snaps under center, leaving Zaire with the scraps.
This season alone, Zaire was 11/23 for 123 yards and a touchdown. Overall for his three collegiate seasons (15 games), he’s thrown for 816 yards, completed nearly 60 percent of his passes and throw for six touchdown passes and no picks. Zaire used his legs as well, tucking and running 72 times and averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Because he’s a soon-to-be graduate transfer, Zaire will be eligible to play immediately in 2017 with one year of eligibility. Michigan State is one of two Big Ten schools linked to the eventual former Irish signal-caller, along with Wisconsin. Florida and Pittsburgh are also reportedly in the running for his services.
Michigan State has had a knack for producing predominantly pro-style-type quarterbacks in recent history. While O’Connor at times showed glimpses of being a dual-threat under center, he could never quite do it consistent enough to be considered a true threat. Having someone like Zaire as a virtual rental, someone with more experience and moxie and an itch to get another crack at a starting gig, can come to MSU and be a good person to shadow for guys like Lewerke and deWeaver, whoever emerges as the quarterback of the future for the Spartans.
With no clear-cut stranglehold on the quarterback position entering the off-season, Michigan State must consider all options. This however will not be the first transfer quarterback that the Spartans program has been connected to. Former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett is also looking for a new home come 2017 after leaving the Tide program in late September this season.