Kelly tweaks game plan for Kizer’s first start
Brian Plamondon | Thursday, September 17, 2015
Notre Dame will trot out its third starting quarterback in five games Saturday. Unlike in the past, though, when head coach Brian Kelly switched signal callers due to subpar performances, this time it is out of necessity.
Everett Golson is in Tallahassee, Florida, Malik Zaire is on the sidelines with a broken ankle, and the fate of Notre Dame’s season rests in the hands of sophomore DeShone Kizer, he of 13 pass attempts to his name. At 6-feet-4 inches and 230 pounds, Kizer is a far different player than the two quarterbacks that came before him.
As a result, the Irish game plan Saturday will be a little different from how it operated against Texas and Virginia, although Kelly is wary of deviating too much.
“I think he’s a little bit different in that he sees the field very well, he’s got escape-ability,” Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. “I just don’t see him as elusive of a runner … so we’ll do some things a little bit differently with him than we did with Malik. But I also think he has some other skill sets that we can definitely go to that will help our offense.”
Despite his different skill set, Kizer said he is glad there hasn’t been a philosophical change regarding how the offense will operate.
“We’re running the same offense we’ve always run,” Kizer said. “We’re game planning the same way I’ve always seen us game plan, and we’re running the same offense that we’ve obviously run for the last couple years now.”
Although Kelly said the offense might be paired down somewhat in order to make Kizer comfortable, he noted the quarterback already has mastery over most of the playbook. Furthermore, Kizer will be helped along by a veteran crop of receivers, led by junior Will Fuller.
“[We’ve played] to the strengths of what we have around the quarterback,” Kelly said in reference to his success with young quarterbacks in the past. “ … DeShone is surrounded with some good players. We saw that on Saturday. He managed the game very well for us.”
While Kizer was disappointed to be relegated to the third team by the presence of Everett Golson this spring, he was able to gain invaluable experience with his receivers over the past couple of months after Golson bolted for Florida State.
“Over the summer I was able to get out and throw to all the guys as much as I possibly [could], and I got quite a few reps in,” Kizer said. “When it came to seven-on-sevens, I was working with the ones and twos rather than working with the incoming freshmen I was working with last year. With that preparation and all the reps, it allowed me to gain a little more confidence in my game. Obviously that kind of carried into the fall, and that confidence is now at its best going into week three.”
Kizer’s confidence was on display last Saturday, as he fearlessly led the Irish down the field in the final 1:54 against Virginia. Although his demeanor is certainly different from Zaire, who wears his emotions on his sleeve, Kizer should be just fine guiding the Irish offense, Kelly said.
“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.”
According to Kizer, the first drive of the game against Georgia Tech will be key in keeping up his confidence.
“It’s going to be pretty big for me and gaining the trust and becoming comfortable with my team and rolling down there,” Kizer said.
Getting comfortable for Kizer might mean upping the tempo early against Georgia Tech. That was when he was most successful against Virginia, and it is something Kizer wouldn’t mind doing to get into a rhythm.
“I’d like to consider the two-minute situations are times where I can kind of settle in,” Kizer said. “When you were in two minutes, only focus is getting the next yard.”
Whether Kizer is quarterbacking an up-tempo offense or one that settles down and works the running game, he knows it will be one tailored to his game and that he’ll be prepared.
“I believe that within the first couple of days of preparation for [Georgia Tech] I have a good grasp of what their defense likes to do, and hopefully we can continue to improve in that preparation and prepare ourselves as much as we possibly can,” Kizer said. “And by Saturday I think I’ll be ready for whatever they can throw at me.”