DeShone Kizer shines in quaterback duel with Brad Kaaya
Manuel De Jesus | Monday, October 31, 2016
The battle between two of Scout Inc.’s top quarterback prospects was as advertised. Both Irish junior DeShone Kizer and Miami junior Brad Kaaya had a handful of moments where they picked apart the opposing defense like an NFL quarterback would. However, one particular play set Kizer apart as the Irish managed to hold on for a 30-27 win over Miami at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.
With 2:11 left in the final quarter and at seven yards away from the end zone, Kizer connected with senior tight end Durham Smythe for a short pass over the line of scrimmage. Smythe turned around with what seemed like a clear lane to a touchdown when a Miami (4-3) defender knocked the ball right out of Smythe’s control. Kizer saw the ball out of the corner of his eye and jumped towards the forming scrum right at the two-yard line. After struggling with several other Miami defenders on top of him, Notre Dame Stadium erupted with cheers as Kizer came out of the pile with possession of the football.
That play not only kept the Irish (3-5) in possession of the football, but allowed the clock to run off another minute and a half before sophomore kicker Justin Yoon hit the go-ahead field goal to put Notre Dame up 30-27.
“Obviously, it was a key point of the game,” Kizer said. “Obviously, we don’t want to fumble down there, but you look at it from an outsider’s point of view, burn two timeouts, leave 30 seconds on the clock, you never know what happens with a guy like Brad Kaaya out there with more than a minute and two timeouts. It led us to victory.”
With just 30 seconds left, Kaaya was able to move the ball up from Miami’s 25-yard line to the 47-yard line. However, Notre Dame’s pressure proved once again to be too much as junior linebacker Nyles Morgan’s sack wrapped up the game.
In the second half, Kaaya led Miami to 20 straight points to take the lead in the fourth quarter, and he did it all with his arm. He completed 17-of-26 passes for 186 yards, and of the 13 converted first downs in the second half, Kaaya was responsible for 12. This was also all with Notre Dame’s defense unleashing the most pressure they’ve shown all season long. Kaaya was sacked for a total of five times, including two key ones in the second half.
Kizer played well throughout the game, recording nearly identical numbers to Kaaya’s, but the difference according to Irish head coach Brian Kelly was his mental toughness, which was highlighted in Kizer’s fumble recovery.
“One of the things I was looking for from him was not whether or not he could throw another dig route,” Kelly said. “I needed some toughness from him, some mental toughness. And that’s an indication. He was not going to be denied. He was going to find a way to get that football. That grittiness is maybe what we were lacking a little bit, and he showed some of that grittiness in the way he went and fought for that football.”
Kizer dominated the game early on in the first quarter looking the part of an NFL quarterback. He completed 10-of-14 pass attempts for 95 yards and a couple of touchdown passes to senior receiver Torii Hunter Jr. and sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown. The 17-0 first quarter lead had the Irish on the brink of running away with the game early until Kaaya had his shot in the spotlight.
There were several other factors involved in how the game turned out, including a surprise onside kick by Miami, a muffed punt that went for a touchdown in the Hurricanes’ favor and a career game for senior defensive tackle Jarron Jones, which changed the way Miami approached the game offensively. But Kizer’s ability to get into the late fourth quarter scrum and emerge with possession is what stands out, and according to Kizer, his toughness was a response to Kelly’s challenge to the quarterback.
“Coach Kelly challenged me this week,” Kizer said. “He told me that we were going to throw the ball around the place. … With that, he challenged me and said, ‘Look, these throws aren’t hard. We don’t need you to go out there and make crazy plays. These are all simple things. The only way you’re going to be able to get through that and be successful is to have the mental toughness and discipline to be able to make those throws every time we need to.
“Obviously in the second-to-last drive I lost that. Coach Kelly came over and challenged me again. He said, ‘I told you. Those are the plays we’re going to have to make to win this game.’ We go back out there the last drive, and we make those same plays, and that’s what leads us to a victory.”
Kizer answered the call and made the necessary plays to set himself apart in a tightly contested battle with Kaaya. With the first win in more than a month, Notre Dame is hopeful that the victory over Miami will be the first of a lengthy winning streak.
“It’s huge for us,” senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “It definitely sets us back on the right track. Now we understand what it takes to get it done and how to do it. We came down and executed those final few drives this week, and we couldn’t be prouder of our guys. It’ll absolutely provide a spark for our guys the rest of the season. One is a streak, so we’re going to keep rolling with this one.”