An Unlikely Hero

Sep 12, 2015; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) celebrates after throwing the game-winning touchdown pass against the Virginia Cavaliers with twelve seconds left in the fourth quarter at Scott Stadium. The Fighting Irish won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2015; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer (14) celebrates after throwing the game-winning touchdown pass against the Virginia Cavaliers with twelve seconds left in the fourth quarter at Scott Stadium. The Fighting Irish won 34-27. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 Notre Dame football season was to be one of perseverance at the quarterback position, providing proof that with hard work, passion and patience, good things will happen. But no one could have guessed such descriptions would be for redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer and not starting quarterback Malik Zaire.

Kizer would be the last person you’d expect to make an impact this season. A former four-star recruit out of Toledo Central Catholic High School in Ohio, DeShone was described as a raw dual-threat athlete with a lively arm, and a six-foot-four-inch frame capable of taking punishment when running with the football. The one thing he lacked was polish, which led to sitting out the 2014 season to learn the nuances of the position.

Little was heard of Kizer this spring as he disappeared into the background while Everett Golson and Malik Zaire took center stage, dueling for the starting quarterback spot. With nearly all the reps going to the heated competition, Irish fans fortunate enough to observe practice were just as likely to see Kizer spending his time with the kickers practicing his holding duties than they were to see him actually taking reps at quarterback. Kizer’s offseason was made all the more stressful and gut-wrenching when a baseball-sized tumor was discovered in the neck of his girlfriend, Elli, which required an extensive 17-hour surgical procedure to remove.

Despite the lack of playing time in practice and the painful off the field situations, Kizer endured and was promoted to No. 2 on the depth chart upon the transfer of Everett Golson to Florida State, fending off feisty true freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush in the process. But as fate would have it, Kizer would be in line for one more promotion.

In the waning moments of the third quarter Zaire would suffer a season-ending ankle fracture on a quarterback draw, forcing Kizer into a game very much still in doubt. Notre Dame’s coaching staff – perhaps foolishly – immediately threw him into the fire, forcing Kizer to make throws from the shotgun formation instead of leaning on its touted offensive line and running back C.J. Prosise, who averaged over nine yards per carry. And the pressure amplified when Virginia took a one-point lead with less than two minutes to go, leaving an inexperienced Kizer to march down the field to keep Notre Dame’s unblemished record alive.

With twelve seconds to go in the game, DeShone Kizer took the leap from one-time No. 3 quarterback to unlikely hero. Kizer rolled to his left after an excellent blitz pickup from Prosise and unleashed a perfect pass to star wide receiver Will Fuller – who had whizzed past senior Virginia cornerback Maurice Canady – for the game-winning 39-yard touchdown, lifting Notre Dame to a 2-0 record with Georgia Tech looming on the horizon.

The Fighting Irish’s showdown with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets – which was to be the first true test for Notre Dame’s College Playoff aspirations – has become much more daunting with the loss of Malik Zaire. Georgia Tech boasts an explosive offense that has scored a combined 134 points in its first two games. Head coach Paul Johnson’s squad demolished Tulane 65-10 while accumulating 571 yards of offense, 439 of which were gained on the ground. Quarterback Justin Thomas has lived up his star status, throwing for two touchdowns while chipping in an additional 71 yards and one touchdown with his feet.

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If Notre Dame is to have a chance against Georgia Tech they will have to score, and score often. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly will need to pull from the bag of tricks he used at Cincinnati when, in 2009, starting quarterback Tony Pike went down with injury, and Kelly was forced to start inexperienced redshirt sophomore Zach Collaros. Collaros would preserve Cincinnati’s undefeated regular season by winning the four games he started, completing 75-percent of his passing attempts and throwing 10 touchdowns to only two interceptions along the way.

It’s too soon to know if DeShone Kizer is truly comfortable with the label of starting quarterback. For now, the label of hero will have to do.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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29 comments

  1. Beatha breath 4 years ago

    A part of the problem with a game like we saw Saturday is a problem that won’t ever, and should never, go away for ND. Any team that isn’t already a serious program is going to come in with a “nothing to lose” mentality. The coaches are going to throw every weird wrench at you. And, if the players are in a position to think they can hang with The Irish, their going to raise to a level they may have never reached…and may never reach again.

    As for GT, that won’t be the case. No doubt Johnson will come out with some new, confusing looks, but he’s not likely to get too far away from his bread and butter. ND knows what this is, and is athletically and mentally ready. Nonetheless, GT will probably still put up 30some points. The question is can the Irish match them. If the run can be established (not necessarily immediately) enough that the many passing threats are thorough, we should still win. But, that’s up to an already beleaguered offensive group. Will the Next Guy In mantra prove more than football bromide?

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  2. Peter Recchio 4 years ago

    Hiccups this Sat will lead to a 2-1 Irish. Defensive AND offensive play calling must be better….much better.
    The Irish HAVE the talent and resolve. Does the BK and staff have what it takes to put the talent in the best position to execute and win?

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  3. david 4 years ago

    Ron Burgundy self-help coloring book: “Dish It Out, but Don’t Take It! The all-criticism, no original thought method.”

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  4. Ron Burgundy 4 years ago

    I’ve looked everywhere for the answer, I give up. Please tell us.
    Thanks
    Notre Dame our mother, pray for us.

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  5. Bruce johnson 4 years ago

    Georgia tech has the second best running offense in the nation . Why can’t we do that!!!’

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  6. Justin 4 years ago

    Wake up the echoes of Kevin McDougal. Everyone thought 93 was going to be a bust with Powlus out for the season. Granted the Powlus injury happened before the first snap of the regular season, but McDougal was thrown into the fire and did a phenomenal job. I think Kizer will struggle, but we have some serious offensive weapons. Now Fuller is going to be double teamed like crazy, so Robinson and Brown need to step up their game. Running game is going to be a little tougher because teams will force us to beat them with the pass. No worries…GO IRISH!

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  7. jeff 4 years ago

    Did we actually see a couple of decent Punt Returns by the Irish. SHOCKING!

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  8. Scott Janssen 4 years ago

    @Kenny M

    I thought it was foolish for Kelly to have Kizer throwing out of spread formations because he didn’t need to (except on the come-from-behind drive). That’s the benefit of finally having an elite offensive line (I know they didn’t play that way the entire game, but Prosise did average over 9 yards per carry). With an inexperienced quarterback coming in cold from the bench, pound the football and give Kizer high percentage play action passages. Lean on the strength of your team — don’t ask an inexperienced quarterback to throw the ball all over the place. That’s just not playing the odds correctly.

    I’m happy the game turned out the way it did, and I give Kizer a tremendous of credit for pulling it off. Because, in my opinion, he was not put in the best situation to succeed, and yet he succeeded anyway.

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  9. George 4 years ago

    You can’t stop Matt Johns. You can only hope to contain him.

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  10. 45yeatfaithful 4 years ago

    Kaiser most certainly must have talent. Pre snap reads may be challenging. Nerves? Possibly. Seemed pretty calm, collected and well spoken. The “D” was good against the run. I agree about Yoon too. His first miss in Texas game should be discounted. They had him positioned in center of the field. Play call was a quick screen to sideline which was blown up. Therefore, he wasn’t put into a position to succeed. This team has talent and the most “Speed” I’ve ever seen on a ND squad. May be a great game to watch. Thanks.

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  11. Mike 4 years ago

    Too bad for Malik. He seems like a great kid. Let’s hope for a speedy recovery.

    As for DeShone, the game-winning drive and throw had to be a great confidence boost not only for him but for his teammates belief in him. One thing that concerns me is the things I heard from the pundits. They were saying that because of the lack of depth at QB, don’t expect ND to allow DeShone to have any designed runs. I think that is a mistake. Injuries are going to happen and there’s only so much you can do to eliminate them. Many of Malik’s runs ended with him getting down or stepping out of bounds to avoid getting hit. It was smart. But guess what? He got hurt in the 2nd game and is out for the year. In order for this offense to thrive, the QB needs to be a running threat. You can’t have a read-option offense where the QB never keeps it. He may not be as good a running threat as Malik, but he still is good enough to be a legit running threat.

    Finally BVG has to step it up. Virginia gained over 400 yards. To me, it didn’t look like the players played poorly. They tackled well. I though they gave good effort for the most part. However, too many times Saturday, his defense was caught in a formation or play he didn’t expect. Particularly on 3rd down. That happened ad nauseum the last half of last year. Part of it what the youth that had to be thrust into roles they weren’t ready for. But part of it was BVG not doing his job to put these kids in the best position to succeed. He can’t continue to keep his job if the kids are out of position or are unprepared for the play that’s called.

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  12. George 4 years ago

    At the end of the day, the defense allowed 27 points which is actually NOT a lot in the college game. They forced UVA into three consecutive 3 and outs deep in the second half. The offense on the other hand could have ended that game in the first quarter! However they can’t score against a defense that isn’t completely unorganized and ineffective like Texas. BK needs to get a clue when it comes to redzone offense.

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  13. IBleedIrishGold 4 years ago

    Kizer will be fine…the Irish need to run the ball against GT anyway to keep them off of the field. Honestly, the D line and the linebackers will be fine as well. Corner play is pretty decent folks…if you look at the coverage against UV, it was the soft Cover 2 that killed the D, i.e. the SAFTIES. Again. Still terrible safety play from the Irish D. With Jaylon and Schmidt in the middle, and a solid and under-the-radar D line, the initial push should be good. Its the secondary and last levels of the defense where the Irish will struggle against GT.

    Let’s remember…Kizer was an Elite 11 finalist, a 4-star recruit, and was coveted by many top flight programs including Ohio State and Alabama. He’ll be fine. The D will be fine…I expect a lot of close games…as the Irish continue to score, their secondary and especially their safety play will allow other teams to keep it close.

    Pound the rock, setup high percentage 3rd downs, and continue to grind the clock.

    And Yoon is a freshman…cut him some slack. His leg is outstanding…he just needs some time to acclimate.

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  14. Kenny M 4 years ago

    Scott, why was it foolish to have Kizer throwing the ball when he came in? That’s what he is good at and I fully expect to see him throw it more versus Tech. Under Zaire the offense was built around the run game. With Kizer I think the offense will be built around the pass game very similar to what we saw with Golson last year. BK said before week one that he could win with Kizer so we I’ll see.

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