DeShone Kizer will take reins against Nevada
Alex Carson | Friday, September 9, 2016
After a six-touchdown day last week at Texas, No. 18 Notre Dame finally has its one, undisputed starting quarterback.
That man is DeShone Kizer.
Rather than make the announcement himself, Irish head coach Brian Kelly let the junior announce the decision Wednesday evening, when Kizer indicated he was the starter going forward for the Irish (0-1).
“I had a conversation with Coach Kelly today, and he decided that this week that I was going to get the first snap for sure,” Kizer said. “He kind of congratulated me on fighting through the process and encouraged me to maintain the same mindset and just ensured me that I would be the guy on Saturday.”
Kelly’s decision brings to a close a quarterback battle that has, in some way, been brewing ever since Kizer burst onto the scene 52 weeks ago in Charlottesville, Virginia. With 19 seconds left and the Irish down 27-26, Kizer slung a 39-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller, pushing Notre Dame ahead and condemning one distraught Virginia fan to internet immortality.
From there, Kizer kept the Irish in playoff contention — the only two regular season losses were two-point road losses to teams that finished Nos. 2 and 3 in the end-of-season AP poll — launching an assault on now-senior Malik Zaire’s starting job. Through spring and summer, each quarterback entered the season opener against Texas with a chance to win the No. 1 gig.
After a performance that generated early Heisman Trophy and NFL Draft chatter on Twitter, Kizer has secured the job. But the Toledo, Ohio, native said the player that takes the field Saturday as the starter against Nevada is better than the one that walked off the field Jan. 1 against Ohio State.
“In the last eight months, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself as a quarterback, as a leader, as a teammate,” Kizer said. “From that, I’ve definitely developed into someone that I wanted to be for this season. Malik really challenged me, and he will continue to challenge me, and I’m really grateful for this situation because it really helped me develop into the guy who’s going to go out and compete play-by-play.”
Just because Kizer won the competition, it doesn’t mean he won’t continue to be pushed in practice by Zaire.
“Not much is gonna change. We had a really good, smooth way of going about this competition and I plan on treating it the same way,” Kizer said. “He’s a good quarterback; I’m going to have to be good every day. That’s one of the big things that I completely understand is that with a guy as good as he is, as a No. 2 now, he’s definitely going to push me.”
And just because Zaire lost the competition, Kizer doesn’t see any change in how the senior is going to lead the team.
“There’s one quarterback now, but there’s still two leaders,” Kizer said. “We’re still gonna lead the exact same way. Malik doesn’t fall off the face of the earth now, he’s a huge component to this team and he’s gonna go out and lead the same way he’s been leading. I expect him to. I will fully allow him to step in and say the things that need to be said.”
As for Kizer’s leadership message, he said it’s not time to reinvent the proverbial wheel after an opening-game setback.
“We don’t have to change much,” Kizer said. “We all are elite athletes, we all know how to self-correct. To go out and give a brand-new message after a game one loss would be idiotic on my part. We played good ball. The defense is going to make the corrections they need to make and they’re going to come back better than ever against Nevada and I completely trust in that.
“As an offense, we just have to make sure we execute what we’re supposed to do. We had a really good game plan against Texas, putting up 47 points is obviously a success. But there’s quite a few plays where if we would have executed … we would have come out with 21 to 28 more points in that situation. So to go out and give a brand-new message would be wrong on me.”
Once Zaire played the last of his three drives Sunday, Kizer came alive, leading the Irish back from a 31-14 deficit to take a 35-31 lead. That’s one of the things that might be most different this Saturday — Kizer will have an opportunity as “the guy” to get into a rhythm from the opening snap.
Irish fans are hoping he’ll do just that.