Deshone Kizer Continues to Grow as Notre Dame’s QB

Deshone Kizer - Notre Dame QB
Photo: Doug Buffington/Icon Sportswire

There were a myriad of reasons that Notre Dame’s bid for an undefeated season came to a premature end on Saturday night in Death Valley.  The play of redshirt freshman quarterback Deshone Kizer, however, wasn’t anywhere near the top of that list as the youngster continued to grow as Notre Dame’s quarterback – a role he was thrust into just three weeks ago after ending spring ball third on the totem poll.

Deshone Kizer, making just his third career start, took his team into a hostile environment last weekend and nearly willed them to victory after the Irish dug a huge deficit behind a game plan geared toward not making Kizer have to do much.  After the Irish fell behind 21-3 heading into the fourth quarter though, Notre Dame needed Kizer to do it all.

Kizer responded.  He rallied his troops with a furious comeback bid featuring three touchdowns over the final 15 minutes that came up just a yard short when Kizer was stuffed by the Clemson defense on a two point conversion attempt with seven second remaining.

The only reason Notre Dame was even in a position to tie the game that late was because Kizer didn’t flinch when the Clemson defense shut down the Irish running game and dared the second year player to beat them with his arm.  Kizer nearly did just that completing 19 of 34 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns adding another 60 yards and a touchdown on the ground to pace the Irish running game.

Kizer turned in his first career 300 yard game despite a number of crucial drops by Notre Dame’s talented wide receiving – a group that struggled to reel in the ball consistently in Saturday night’s downpour in Memorial Stadium.  Brian Kelly noted on Sunday that the Irish left at least 125 yards on the field with those drops none of which might have been bigger than junior wide receiver Corey Robinson’s at the end of the first half that would have been a 49 yard touchdown with the score still 14-3.  Robinson would later add another drop on Notre Dame’s first failed two point conversion attempt that turned out to be critical when the Irish continued scoring in the final stanza.

Kizer had what could have been yet another touchdown fumbled away by Chris Brown in the fourth quarter as well when the South Carolina native coughed up the ball just outside the Tiger end zone with just over two minutes remaining and the Irish down eight at the time.

Now, Kizer was not without fault Saturday night.  Mid way through the fourth quarter Kizer made his own ill-timed blunder with an interception on a forced pass when he had CJ Prosise open for a shorter gain.  Kizer misfired on the sideline throw to Will Fuller that has given him fits now for two straight weeks.  After that interception, however, Kizer marched the Irish down towards the endzone two more times with the Irish coming away with just six points because of Brown’s fumble and their second failed two pointer.

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At the end of the day, Kizer turned in one of the better performances from a Notre Dame quarterback on the road in a number of years.  Last year’s starter Everett Golson picked up a few impressive road wins during the 2012 campaign against Michigan State, Oklahoma, and USC but none of those environments can match what Kizer faced on Saturday and in none of those contests was Golson asked to rally his team back from such a deficit.

With the success Kizer had on Saturday and in his previous two starts, it’s easy to forget just how young and inexperienced the Ohio native is.  After all, Kizer spent all of 2014 third on the depth chart and received scarce snaps this spring as Golson and Malik Zaire duked it out for the starting job before Golson bolting for Florida State when it became abundantly clear that Zaire had a better than average chance of unseating him for the starting job this fall.  So Kizer is playing this well despite really just having one fall camp receiving many meaningful practice reps and even then Kelly and staff had to focus on preparing Zaire for being the starter with just one career start under his belt.

With Notre Dame’s season now already on the brink, the Irish will need Kizer to continue that rapid rise with a pesky Navy squad coming to town this weekend before arch rival USC comes to town armed with the confidence they rightfully have earned after last year’s Thanksgiving weekend embarrassment of the Irish.

Between now and then, however, Mike Sanford will be working with Kizer to continue to clean up his game starting this weekend against the Midshipmen.  Kizer still needs work on going through his progressions and his fourth quarter interception was a prime example of just that but hey, what redshirt freshman quarterback doesn’t need work in that area?  Kizer still needs a lot of work on that 10 yard out to Fuller as well.  The last couple weeks that pass has either been in the dirt or in the stands.

Despite the areas of improvement needed, what can’t be denied is that the biggest question mark on the entire roster right now provided one of the strongest answers of anyone on the Irish squad on Saturday night.  Notre Dame’s vaunted offensive line was neutralized at best and pushed around at times at worst.  The Irish ground game that had powered the offense through the first four weeks of the season was stuck in the mud in rain soaked Memorial Stadium.  And the Irish receiving corps that came into the season ranked as of the nation’s best couldn’t come up with critical catches that simply have to be made by a veteran group.

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Kizer, however, was the most impressive player on the offensive side of the ball in just his third start.  The youngster was one of the most mature as well.  Following senior Chris Brown’s fumble just outside the endzone, Kizer made a beeline for his receiver talking him back up with the poise of a veteran.  Contrast that to the sideline and body language we saw last year from Golson and again, it’s hard to believe Kizer is just 19 years old.

If Notre Dame is going to keep its slim, but still existent, playoff hopes alive, Kizer will have to continue to elevate his game from the level we saw on Saturday because the blueprint has been given to opposing defenses on how to slow down this Irish offense.  Stack the line and force the Irish to go vertical.  It would be a shock if USC didn’t come into town in a couple of weeks with the same gameplan to bottle up the Irish running game until the passing game makes them pay.

Brian Kelly and his offensive staff appeared to not want to put the game on Kizer with their first half play calling that featured a steady dose of running the ball.  Ironically, Kelly has been roasted on message boards for abandoning the run too early in past years but found himself receiving a similar level of angst for continuing to run it when Clemson had it bottled up.  That mentality will have to change moving forward though.   It took three quarters for that to happen on Saturday but that can’t happen again for the Irish to make a run.

If Notre Dame is going to beat the likes of USC and Stanford, look for Kelly and Sanford to let Kizer air it out much earlier than they did this past weekend.  Kizer showed them he is capable of carrying this team already and for the Irish to make a run, they just might have to ride the right arm of Kizer to do so.

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14 comments

  1. MikeT 4 years ago

    Kizer is doing a good job, but the team would have been better off with Zaire as their QB.(IMHO) One thing this season should prove to the QB squad is that just because you’re not chosen as #1 out of summer camp doesn’t mean you’ll ride the the bench. Especially when all three are excellent runners. Wimbush should be prepared because he’ll probably be in there before the season is over sadly. For the coaching staff it means you must work with all your QBs during the season, make sure they get reps with the starters etc. I think we’ll see Kizer in the NFL someday, besides all the physical attributes he shines under pressure and isn’t rattled by adversity.

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  2. Shazamrock 4 years ago

    Burgy,

    You can’t blame Tom Brady for playing with deflated balls.

    That was all Gisele’s fault.

    But it is common knowledge that woman weaken legs.

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  3. Shazamrock 4 years ago

    Big-D

    Sorry bro, but when it comes to “ nimble, flexible, and shrewd” I’m stickin with Lucy.

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  4. duranko 4 years ago

    Kizer has an uncommonly (for a 2015 quarterback) level of humility and team play. He mentioned several times in his press remarks that he could have thrown the ball more accurately at Clemson, thus taking the pressure off the receivers and the dropped balls.

    I also do not recall, though someone may want to refresh our recollection that Deshone showed up in a yellow hummer with spiked hair to announce his commitment to Notre Dame. That particular episode was the lowest of a low era. Some people, and some coaches, are simply not RKG’s

    Kizer is.

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  5. Damian 4 years ago

    Ok. I’ve heard of the Illuminati and I wasn’t sure if you were just being sarcastic as you noted or if there was something more to it.

    Yes, my PSU fan friends can be blinded by their loyalty to PSU and to Paterno (though there are a few who were glad to move on past Paterno, though obviously under different circumstances). But some do have blind loyalty to Paterno who still feel PSU “killed” him when they fired him.

    They do feel betrayed by O’Brien and rarely speak his name these days. But I think Stewart Mandel from Fox Sports put it best when he said O’Brien was never really given a chance. Between the sanctions and the Paterno was a god fans, who wouldn’t take the first opportunity to get out. They were starting to turn on Franklin too after the Temple lost and I was like, Sheesh, give the guy a chance. It’s his 2nd year and your team is just coming off some serious sanctions (not too mention Temple today is not the Temple of years past–they’re actually pretty good and a team I’m keeping my eye on for when ND plays them later).

    And of course, many PSU fans have a lot of hate for ND. They seem to get annoyed when I don’t have the same feelings for PSU (I neither like, nor dislike them). I guess they feel slighted, but I started following ND in the late 90’s. We played PSU twice in those years. I’m sorry I don’t consider PSU a rival, though I would love to play them more regularly if only because I live in PA, so for purely selfish reasons.

    But I will say, if what happened at PSU happened at ND with the whole Sandusky scandal, I really don’t think I would follow ND anymore. PSU fans really don’t understand just how bad it was and even if the school wasn’t criminally negligent, they were morally negligent by at least not following up. For me that would be something that crossed the line that they could never come back from.

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  6. duranko 4 years ago

    Damian, I was using “illuminati” in the sarcastic or sardonic sense. I often refer to the “Linebacker Illuminati” who become football geniuses about haflway through the fourth brew at the “Backer.

    I know a few Penn State types and they thought Hackenberg was going to be their Moses after the Paterno fiasco.

    When Hackenberg faltered as a soph, they were in denial that it was Christian’s shortcomings, so they took to blaming O’Brien’s departure, and that ;eft them saving Hackenberg and faulting Franklin.

    Hackenberg has a cannon, but lacks a lot of other necessities of an outstanding quarterback. Damian, one of the problems today is that with the emphasis on 7-0n-7 leagues and drills, you really don’t test for quarterback awareness and nimbleness in the pocket.

    Goff has it, Hackenberg does not. Of course, living there you know what it’s like for people who see the world through blue-and-white glasses.

    Kizer has it, but his footwork is not as pretty as Goff’s.

    Fickle?

    I prefer to call you, Damian, and Shaz Fickle.

    The same behavior for myself I would label as “nimble” flexible and shrewd.

    After all, if we can not live by a double standard, why show up!!!

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  7. southside 4 years ago

    I don’t think Zaire or former ND QB Golson could have brought Irish back in that 4th quarter in the rain –in Death Valley. I’m behind this Kid Kizer–he’s the best Irish QB since Brady Quinn. And Quinn wasn’t the most agile of QB’s. I like Zaire and his threat to run—but can he orchestrate a passing attack , stay composed in pocket–with a some foot work—or would he just take off and run first sign of pressure. If ND is down in 4th , by a touchdown or two—who do you want taking snaps. Kizer or Zaire. Kizer keeps learning and getting better each game. No throws in the dirt in Clemson game—but on the money –too bad 6/7 were dropped by receivers at crucial times. Zaire is good—but Kizer is better. IMO.

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  8. Ron Burgundy 4 years ago

    And Tom Brady had no idea the balls were deflated, right Hurls?

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  9. HURLS 4 years ago

    Kizer IS to blame for ND’s loss. He had the last chance to avoid losing and he didn’t complete (on the ground) the 2-pt conversion. Kizer is IN NO WAY EXCLUSIVELY to blame for ND’s loss. Blame is a weak 4-letter word (l-a-m-e) with a B in front. Don’t use it. Next opponent-up!

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  10. Damian 4 years ago

    Yep fickle we are. I have been guilty of that myself. In the end I want a win–I don’t care if it’s throwing, running, special teams, defense, divine intervention, ghosts of ND QB past, present or future.

    I may be out of touch, maybe, but Illuminati and Christian Hackenberg??? I’m just curious. I live among numerous PSU fans and yes, they do seem to place unfair blame on O’Brien (you know, as opposed to crippling sanctions–that I personally felt were well deserved if perhaps a bit ham handled by the NCAA), but where do the illumaniti come in?

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  11. duranko 4 years ago

    Kizer is really comfortable in the pocket, and nimble when it breaks down. He can move a bit, reset and fire and he maintains his composure throughout.

    Last year, the illuminati were gushing over Christian Hackenberg, but he has horrific movement in the pocket. the illuminati, unwilling to admit mistakes, blamed it on the departed Bill O’Brien. But you could just compare and contrast Hackenberg with Jared Goff the Cal Berkeley QB. His foot movement was pristine.

    Goff has shot past Hackenberg on the mock draft boards.

    But the point is footwork is important and Kizer has a great start.

    It is worth noting that messrs. Zaire and Wimbush are not going away, and, next Spring we could have the MOAQC, the Mother of All Quarterback Controversies.

    It is owed to all involved to open up the competition and it may be a sight to behold.

    As for Shazamrock, there are cooks who claim, without being fickle, that pickle juice is the secret to their potato salad.

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  12. Shazamrock 4 years ago

    Notre Damian,

    Fickle???

    Interesting word selection.
    I like it!

    Tell me… is there such a thing as “fickle juice” ?
    Sounds like something I might like to buy stock in.

    Mmmmmm hot potato… with butter and sour cream?… and a shot of gin and fickle?

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  13. IBleedIrishGold 4 years ago

    Hey…Kizer is growing each week. He’s going to make mistakes, but what separates him is his ability to forget about them and move forward. He appears to be a leader on the field and on the sideline which is quite impressive for his age.

    Please stop talking about a “season on the brink.” I have loved ND football all of my life…but this was not going to be a championship team. ND is what it has been…a 8-10 win program on the fringe of a shocking playoff pick. 2012 is not the norm, and as we all saw against Bama that year, it shouldn’t be the norm. They are a national power, but not a national elite. There’s a difference.

    Which brings me to coaching…BK has done a great job of re-developing the program and the brand. The best job in a long time. Sometimes, however, it takes a different coach to lead a team to the promised land. How many times have we seen a team be just on the outside, make a head coaching change, and then BAM…they are perennial contenders…something to consider…

    I for one accept the Irish for what they are…a very, very, good team that comes up short in the most meaningful games due to brain-lapses in coaching (Hey!!! Let’s just run the ball for 2 and a half quarters with 9 defenders in the box!). But I’ll still take 9 or 10 wins a year…that’s consistently a national power.

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  14. Damian 4 years ago

    I agree on Kizer. He is not to blame for the loss by any means, his few miscues nothwithstanding. When he did make a mistake he did not wither away. That was one complaint I had about EG. When he made a mistake he seemed to flounder. Kizer just shakes it off and moves on, which is what you need to do. Even the best QBs in the world make a mistake, it’s how they respond and move on that makes the difference.

    I too find it interesting that some fans can be so fickle. We don’t run the ball enough, we don’t throw enough. I sort of understand the early game plan. With the poor weather conditions, usually a team won’t air the ball out as much. It’s understandable they would try to stick to the run longer than they might otherwise would. Now maybe the coaches should have mixed it up a little earlier. That’s probably a valid point. But considering the rainy/windy conditions, I didn’t expect them to come out tossing the ball around like a hot potato.

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