When Notre Dame and Ohio State last met in the Fiesta Bowl 10 years ago, the Irish brought an experienced quarterback who many figured to be the pre-season favorite for the Heisman Trophy the following season with them to Tempe while the Buckeyes came in with a first year starter who wasn’t really on anyone’s Heisman radar for the next season. That is before a dominating performance in the desert that propelled him into the mix. A decade later can Deshone Kizer return the favor?
The last Notre Dame – Ohio State showdown in the desert featured Brady Quinn vs. Troy Smith. Quinn put up eye popping stats in his first year running the Charlie Weis offense and finished 4th in the 2005 Heisman balloting. His nearly 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions had Quinn an early front runner for the 2006 award before Troy Smith of Ohio State torched the Irish for 342 yards through the air and another 66 on the ground to go along with two passing scores.
Smith’s performance against Notre Dame on a national stage put him firmly the in discussion for the Heisman all off-season long after not even finishing in the top 10 in the 2005 voting.
With Notre Dame and Ohio State set to face each other in the Fiesta Bowl once again next week, it’s Notre Dame who comes into the game with a young, first year starting quarterback in Deshone Kizer. Kizer was thrust into the spotlight in 2015 after Malik Zaire was lost for the season in week two and responded as well, if not better, than anyone could have hoped. Kizer nearly led the Irish to a playoff berth and his performances in both Notre Dame losses was one of the main reasons both games were decided by just two points a piece.
Here’s how Kizer’s 2015 season stacks up statistically with Smith’s 2005.
|Deshone Kizer (2015)||10||188||297||2,596||151.8||19||9||120||504||9|
|Troy Smith (2005)||11||149||227||2,282||162.7||16||4||136||611||11|
Very close performances from a statistics standpoint and as you can see, while Smith’s numbers were solid in 2005 they weren’t overly impressive. They certainly didn’t scream “Heisman Contender” at the time. When he came out and lit up the Notre Dame secondary in the Fiesta Bowl though, he got everyone’s attention and rode that momentum into the off-season and through the 2006 regular season on his way to the Downtown Athletic Club.
A big game from Deshone Kizer in the Fiesta Bowl – especially if he engineered a Notre Dame victory – could very well propel the Irish signal caller towards a similar trajectory. That is of course, if Kizer is able to hold off Malik Zaire in the spring and summer after the senior to be returns to full contact following the ankle injury that thrust Kizer into the starting lineup in the first place. Kizer and Zaire will battle for the starting quarterback spot next year similarly to how JT Barrett and Cardale Jones did for Ohio State last year after Barrett suffered a season ending injury in 2014.
Turning in a strong performance against the Buckeyes could not only start an early Heisman campaign for Kizer, it could also give him a leg up in the upcoming quarterback competition with Zaire. If Kizer ends up leading the Irish to a 9-2 record capped off with a win over Ohio State, it would be hard to imagine him losing the starting gig heading into the 2016 season.
Kizer will have some extra motivation for a strong performance in the Fiesta Bowl as well facing off against the home state program that never ended up offering him a scholarship. Kizer, a 4-star recruit out of Toledo Central Catholic, held offers from programs like Alabama, LSU, and Michigan State but the Buckeyes never got around to offering him a scholarship even though Urban Meyer recently said that they were close to extending an offer before Kizer committed to Notre Dame.
Here’s what Kizer recently told NDInsider about his feelings towards the Buckeyes.
Kizer and the Irish certainly have their work cut out for them against Ohio State next weekend, but they also have potentially a lot to gain from upsetting the Buckeyes. A win and the Irish will be a lock to be a pre-season top 5 team and and Deshone Kizer will likely find himself firmly in the Heisman discussion all off-season long. Ohio State did it to Notre Dame 10 years ago and Troy Smith ended up wining the Heisman and the Buckeyes ended up playing the Urban Meyer coached Florida Gators for the in the BCS National Championship.
Can the Irish and Kizer return the favor?