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Klonsinski: Mistakes ruin solid games by Kizer, defense

| Sunday, October 4, 2015

There were two reasons No. 6 Notre Dame even had the opportunity to make a comeback bid Saturday night against Clemson: the defense and sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer.

If I had known last week Notre Dame would go into Death Valley and only give up 24 points, I would have said the Irish were going to win that football game.

And with the way Kizer played, they should have.

Despite allowing Clemson and sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson to march into the end zone on their first two drives of the game, the Irish defense more than made up for a slow start, holding Clemson to 10 points the rest of the way.

And seven of those points came following a fumble by freshman receiver C.J. Sanders on the opening kickoff of the second half that gave the Tigers the ball on the Notre Dame 29-yard line.

Sure, it’s a fair criticism to say the defense should have held the Tigers to just a field goal attempt, at best.

Except that’s exactly what the defense did on two other occasions. The first came after senior running back C.J. Prosise’s fumble on Notre Dame’s first offensive snap of the half following Sanders’ fumble. The Clemson offense got the ball on Notre Dame’s 35 with a chance to blow the game wide open.

Instead, the Irish held the Tigers to one yard on three plays and forced a punt.

The second stand came in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

Following Tiger senior linebacker B.J. Goodson’s interception with Notre Dame trailing 24-16 and only 6:36 remaining in the game, Notre Dame’s defense held the Tigers to eight yards on three plays and forced a field goal attempt into Hurricane Joaquin’s fury from Clemson freshman kicker Greg Huegel.

Huegel hooked it wide left, and the Irish had yet another chance.

And it looked as if Notre Dame would take advantage, too, until senior receiver Chris Brown fumbled at Clemson’s two-yard line with 2:09 remaining and his team down eight.

Again, though, the defense stepped up, forcing a three-and-out to get the ball back in Kizer’s hands with 1:05 remaining.

Kizer threw for 321 yards in what amounted to a tropical storm Saturday night. And it should have been more, too.

Sure, Kizer missed some easy throws, especially early. But as Irish head coach Brian Kelly pointed out in his Sunday teleconference, Notre Dame left somewhere in the area of 125 yards on the turf because of dropped passes.

Junior receiver Corey Robinson had the two most notable.

The first was a bomb from Kizer in the second quarter that would have either been a touchdown or put the Irish at Clemson’s one-yard line with a chance to close the deficit to 14-10; The other came on Notre Dame’s first two-point conversion attempt of the night.

Yet Robinson was far from the only culprit: Fellow junior receivers Will Fuller and Torii Hunter Jr. joined the drop parade. Fuller had a third-down pass go directly between his hands midway through the second quarter. Hunter’s drop with lots of green space in front of him came late in the third quarter when the Irish needed a big play.

And the butterfingers wasn’t just limited to receivers: Sanders and senior running back C.J. Prosise each coughed up the football inside Notre Dame territory to start the second half when the Irish needed to seize momentum, not throw it away.

And don’t forget about Brown, in his homecoming game, trying to do too much and fumbling at Clemson’s two-yard line.

Of course, Kizer was far from perfect. His worst mistake was forcing the pass that got intercepted late in the game.

But, like I already said, the defense took care of business after the interception.

Losing control of the ball twice inside the opponent’s five-yard line and scoring zero points on those two drives, on the other hand?

That hurts.

Kizer, the sophomore quarterback making his third career start — and first true road start in one of the hardest places to play in the country during some of the worst football conditions we’ll see in a long time — was the most poised, composed and, simply put, best player on the field Saturday night.

In the words of Irish head coach Brian Kelly after the game:

“I wish we could have supported him better. … He played well enough for us to win.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Zach Klonsinski

A History graduate, Zach spent all four of his years on campus as a resident of Knott Hall. Hailing from Belgrade, Montana, he covered a wide variety of sports in his time at Notre Dame, including Football, Hockey, Men's Basketball, Men's Soccer, Women's Tennis, Fencing, Rowing, Women's Lacrosse and other events around campus. You can contact him in his post-graduation travels and job search at [email protected]

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