Kelly expresses confidence in Kizer, discusses triple option
Greg Hadley | Tuesday, September 15, 2015
As No. 8 Notre Dame adjusts to life in the aftermath of the injury to junior quarterback Malik Zaire, head coach Brian Kelly praised backup sophomore DeShone Kizer’s skillset and leadership in his weekly teleconference Sunday.
Kelly, who also dealt with injuries to quarterbacks in his previous coaching stint at Cincinnati, said Kizer has the backing of the rest of the offense.
“He’s got excellent leadership skills,” Kelly said. “He’s respected by his teammates, and he can go in there, he’s very confident. He just has a confident air about him, and he believes he can go in there and win, and you love that about a kid that can go in there and get the job done.”
Kizer differs from Zaire in that he is a not quite as dynamic a runner, Kelly said, but he is a bigger player — 6-foot-4 1/2 compared with Zaire’s 6-feet — and is familiar with the spread offense.
“[He’s a] very good size, athletic,” Kelly said. “Played in a spread offense and did all the things on the field and off the field. And then his senior year [of high school] … won a lot of close games. Like the way he handled himself late and won some games for them. Saw that again Saturday with the way he handled himself coming in late.”
Kelly is 15-1 at Notre Dame when starting a rookie quarterback. Part of the reason for that success, he said, comes from his ability to adjust his offense to complement each signal caller’s particular skills, something he will do again for Kizer.
“Just making sure that we put our guys in a good position, not trying to do too much,” Kelly said when asked what would be key to Kizer succeeding. “You know, playing to the strengths of what we have around the quarterback.
“And whether it’s a defense or an offense that has skill receivers and good offensive line and very good backs; I think we’ll have to do the same thing again this weekend against Georgia Tech. We’re going to have to play really good defense, and DeShone is surrounded with some good players.”
Kizer will also have the added benefit of extra time with the receiving corps as the Irish defense prepares for No. 14 Georgia Tech’s triple option attack, Kelly said.
The Yellow Jackets are the first of two teams the Irish will face in the next four weeks that run the triple option, and they have put up 128 points through their first two games, good for second in the country.
Notre Dame and Georgia Tech have not played since 2007, but Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson featured a similar offense while he was at Navy from 2002-2007.
Notre Dame put in extra preparation during the offseason for this matchup, Kelly said, assigning offensive analyst Jeff Quinn and special assistant to the head coach Bob Elliott to break down and study Georgia Tech and Navy.
“Quite frankly we did some extra work,” Kelly said. “ … Talking to other teams and other coaches, and again just putting more information together and looking at the things that we do and what other schools do, and coming up with a plan. We are not trying to reinvent anything, but trying to really make certain that we are doing the right things and preparing our football team.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Irish will continue to ramp up their own run game, Kelly said. While Kizer lacks the elusive speed of Zaire, Kelly said he was still comfortable asking him to run the ball if necessary. Before Zaire’s injury, Kelly said he could run the ball as many as 10 times per game, and on Sunday he said Kizer could do the same.
Senior running back C.J. Prosise will also share carries with freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams. After both backs saw time in the team’s season-opening win over Texas, Adams ran for only 10 yards on three attempts against Virginia, while Williams did not see the field.
Prosise ran for 156 yards on 17 attempts against Virginia, and Kelly said Sunday Prosise is unlikely to carry the ball more than 20 times against Georgia Tech, though he did say he might do so later in the season.
Zaire underwent surgery Sunday on his fractured right ankle, which he injured late in the third quarter against Virginia on Saturday, Kelly said.
Zaire’s injury was similar to the ones experienced by graduate students Joe Schmidt and Matthias Farley in previous seasons, according to Kelly. Zaire is expected to return to full health by spring practices in 2016.
Junior tight end Durham Smythe also suffered an ankle injury during Saturday’s game, and Kelly said his status for this week’s game is still uncertain.