Aaron Taylor: ‘UCLA Can Be National Championship Team’

If you expected Malik Zaire to play as well as he did against Texas, well, perhaps you should move to Vegas.

Zaire was stellar in Notre Dame’s season opener, going 19-of-22 for 313 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout 38-3 win over the Longhorns.

“I didn’t know how he was going to play,” former Notre Dame star and current CBS Sports college football analyst Aaron Taylor said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I don’t think the coaches knew how he was going to play. We had certainly seen him demonstrate an ability to lead the offense and be electric – and that was the word coming out of the spring when I talked to the coaching staff. Everett Golson had a much better command of the offense, meaning getting guys into the right plays or out of the bad ones. But when it came to putting the scripts down and just going to play football, Malik Zaire was the man. He had something – the ‘it.’ When the lights turned on, he went. That’s what we saw last Saturday.”

Zaire threw touchdown passes of 16, 66 and 6 yards, as the Irish led 17-0 at halftime and 31-3 through three quarters.

“I think his accuracy was there,” Taylor said. “His ability to make plays and extend plays with his legs was there. But I also saw an offensive line that was relied upon in the running game that helped out as well.”

Notre Dame rushed 52 times for 214 yards and two touchdowns.

A running game like that will make any quarterback look good, but Zaire was on another level this past weekend.

“I think from top to bottom, the ceiling is very high for Malik Zaire,” Taylor said, “but he’s got to be able to keep things in perspective – a lot like some of the other first-time starting quarterbacks we saw this past weekend.”

That includes UCLA freshman Josh Rosen, who threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-16 win over Virginia on Saturday.

“He was impressive,” Taylor said. “Very rarely do players live up to the preseason hype, and they had Myles Jack – all-star, two-way linebacker/running back – come out and say that this kid was going to win the Heisman based on what he had done in the fall camp leading up to their first game. So not only does he have the respect of players that know what good quarterback play looks like playing in that conference, but now he’s got the attention of the country – and I think it’s well-warranted. When you watched his ability to navigate the pocket, his patience, going through his read progressions, finding the open guy, not throwing it to the other guy, you can talk about the completion percentage and all the yards that he threw for. But the thing that was most impressive to me was that he protected the football. Zero was the best number that JRosen had last weekend – and that was zero interceptions. If he can maintain that, I think that UCLA has a shot not only to win the Pac-12, but to be eventually a playoff team.”

As Taylor reminded listeners, the Bruins returned 18 starters this season, and the only question was whether they could find an adequate replacement for Brett Hundley.

It appears they have.

“This is very premature, (but) Josh Rosen brings stuff to the table that Brett Hundley never could – and that was pocket navigation and patience,” Taylor said. “The knock on him was that he had happy feet and he would drift in the pocket. That was the big reason why those sacks were there. So it’s not 100 percent on that offensive line, which was porous and gave up sacks at times. But that position is also healthy. So you have a very stout defense with a ton of depth, you’ve got a veteran wide receiver group, you’ve got an offensive line that is good with a ton of returning experience that’s finally healthy and a true freshman quarterback that looks like he’s wise and mature beyond his years? Yeah, I think if UCLA can continue what they started last weekend, they can be a national championship-caliber team.”

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