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Carson: Kelly is wrong to put scrutiny on Kizer

| Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Let’s get something out of the way before we say anything else.

Notre Dame is asking way too much of DeShone Kizer right now.

That’s why I was more than a little surprised when Irish head coach Brian Kelly indicated the junior quarterback’s job was up for grabs following Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Duke.

Sure, Kizer didn’t have the best of games against the Blue Devils (2-2), and I’d be the first person to agree with that sentiment. He missed receivers 15 times on 37 attempts, committed two turnovers and lead what generally could be described as a sloppy game for the Irish offense.

Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer readies to pass during Notre Dame 38-35 loss to Duke on Saturday.Chris Collins | The Observer
Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer readies to pass during Notre Dame 38-35 loss to Duke on Saturday.

Yet at the end of the day, Notre Dame (1-3) scored 35 points against Duke. That should be enough. But so should 28 points against Michigan State or 37 regulation ones against Texas.

So instead of being 4-0, like Kizer and the offense have done enough to have achieved, Notre Dame sits precariously perched in a spot where just going 6-6, and making a bowl game, would be a successful close to the season.

But more than anything, the tone Kelly took in that press conference was bothersome. He defended the defensive coaching staff, saying it was something he felt better about than a week before, but a day later, fired now-former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. It was the right decision — VanGorder’s position, for me, became untenable after the Michigan State loss — but it also flew in the face of what happened the day before.

During his Sunday teleconference, following VanGorder’s dismissal, Kelly was asked why he backed his defensive coaches Saturday in the presser, but then turned around and fired one Sunday.

Kelly’s response? That the press conference was “not the time or place to get into debates about your coaching staff.” He went on to elaborate that, after evaluating the team’s “current situation,” he made the decision to can VanGorder.

Yet when asked about his quarterback Saturday, Kelly wasn’t afraid to criticize him, calling Kizer’s play “below standard” and “not acceptable.” What, exactly, makes it more appropriate to get into debates about your 18-to 22-year-old players in a press conference and not your fully-grown, well-compensated coordinators?

No, Kizer maybe hasn’t had his best games in an Irish uniform over the last couple games, but when you see him forcing the issue on things — like he clearly was against the Blue Devils — who could blame him? Just look at the defensive track record late in games recently: Against Stanford, the Irish defense couldn’t get the stop to win the game. Against Texas, the Irish defense couldn’t get the stop to win the game. Against Michigan State, the Irish defense couldn’t get the stop to give Kizer one more shot to tie the game. Against Duke, the Irish defense couldn’t get the stop to preserve the tie game in the final minutes.

Four chances for a big, key late-game stop, and four chances gone awry.

It has become evidently clear that, at least when playing respectable opponents (sorry, Nevada), that if Notre Dame is going to win games, it’s going to be because Kizer carries them there, not because other position groups or players step up to win games. The run game, once promising, has sputtered as of late — Irish backs have just 144 rushing yards over the last two games. The defense’s “missed tackles” reel is probably longer than its highlight reel over the first four games of the season. The special teams crew remains inconsistent, so much that I’d argue Kizer’s interception, which resulted in a 42-yard field position swing on third down, was a better outcome for Notre Dame than trusting the often-brilliant punt game backed up in its own end zone.

Perhaps, against Syracuse and North Carolina State, things can get clicking for those other Irish units. When that happens, sure, you can start hounding Kizer to be playing better and, perhaps, ponder the unthinkable: that sophomore Brandon Wimbush could get snaps.

In the interim though, you have a potential first-round pick who’s playing some solid football. Not great, no, but he also shouldn’t have to play Heisman-caliber football to have this team sitting with a winning record through four games.

Though that’s where Notre Dame is. And until things change, worrying about the quarterback play should be the least of everyone’s concerns.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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