With Tarean Folston, Notre Dame had a rushing attack that would’ve been feared. In Malik Zaire, they had a guy who many believed belonged on the short list of top first-year starting quarterbacks in the country. At full strength, the Irish had every reason to view themselves as serious players on the national stage this season.
The question is: Do they still?
Folston’s campaign was ended by a major knee injury in Week 1. An even harsher blow came Saturday at Virginia when Zaire sustained a grotesque injury to his right ankle. The Irish are 2-0 and up to No. 8 in the latest AP poll, yet they’re not as complete a package as they were heading into the opener against Texas.
Perhaps not even close.
Yet redshirt freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer is a worthy replacement for Zaire, according to coach Brian Kelly, and all the same team goals remain there for the chasing.
“We are not going to make any excuses for where we are,” Kelly told reporters on Sunday. “There’s no reason why we can’t win with DeShone Kizer. There’s no reason why we can’t win with [running back] C.J. Prosise. … Anybody that we lose, we believe that we’ve got guys who can step up.”
Kizer stepped in at Virginia and looked the part of a No. 1 QB, throwing for a pair of touchdowns — including a perfectly placed 39-yard game-winner to Will Fuller in the waning moments. Why not this 6-4½, 230-pounder? Why not right now?
“It’s DeShone’s time, and I’ve got confidence in him,” said Kelly. “And I know our players do.”
It’s something to build on, with a difficult task against No. 14 Georgia Tech up next. How high can the Irish go? We’ll have a far better feel for things one week from now.
THREE TAKEWAYS FROM WEEK 2
1. The top conference in college football isn’t as wide open as it seemed to be going into the season. Cases in point: Arkansas and Tennessee, everybody’s favorite sleeper picks in the SEC. The Hogs were beaten at home by Toledo, which will sting from now until forever. The Vols gagged up a three-score lead at home against Oklahoma, killing their own mojo before it ever amounted to anything.
But neither of those developments was as alarming as Auburn’s overtime escape — again, at home — over Jacksonville State. Two weeks into the season, the Tigers have been ill-prepared, unmotivated and sloppy. And they’re supposed to take Alabama down to the wire?
2. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was heroic in the fourth quarter and overtime periods of that 31-24 victory at Tennessee, but his passing through three quarters was truly awful: 8-of-25 for 84 yards, with two picks. This — more of the same unreliable QB play — is why the Sooners still can’t be taken seriously as contenders in the Big 12.
3. Michigan State didn’t make quite the statement it intended to make in a 31-28 escape against Oregon in East Lansing, which is to say the Spartans didn’t come out looking like an Ohio State-level power. But so what? That they didn’t play a great game yet beat the Ducks anyway was a heck of a statement in itself. We haven’t seen MSU’s A-game yet. When we do, it could be scary-good.
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