DeShone Kizer a revelation at quarterback for Notre Dame

SHARE DeShone Kizer a revelation at quarterback for Notre Dame
SHARE DeShone Kizer a revelation at quarterback for Notre Dame

BY DAN McGRATH — For the Sun-Times

SOUTH BEND, Ind. —As spring practice wound down at Notre Dame last April, DeShone Kizer saw himself spendingfall Saturdays in a red ballcap making exaggerated hand signals along the sideline.

Not functioning as the triggerman in the 4-­0 start Notre Dame achieved with Saturday’s 62­-27dismantling of outmanned UMass. Kizer passed for two touchdowns and ran for a third in 2 1⁄2quarters as the Irish scored 27 points in less than nine minutes and ran for 457 yards. Theirseason grows more intriguing by the week despite an epidemic of knee and leg injuries.

Kizer, a sophomore, finished spring ball as the No. 3 quarterback on ND’s depth chart. Heknew his role; third and fourth-string QBs are the red-­capped conduits through which Irish coachBrian Kelly transmits play­ calls to his starter.

Things changed for him in May. Everett Golson, a two-­year incumbent who took the Irish to thenational championship game in 2012, chose to spend his final season of eligibility elsewhere,reasoning that Florida State’s pro­-style offense was better suited to his NFL aspirations.

Golson was known to offset magical plays with mystifying turnovers that turned Kelly’s Irishface crimson. He was also leery of a time­share with Malik Zaire, a left-­handed dart thrower whoemerged as co-­No.1 with some clever play in Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSUon Dec. 30. Golson couldn’t shake the slippery sophomore in spring practice.

Zaire was the obvious starter going into the season, but Kizer was told to put the ballcap asideand pay attention in case something happened. In the second game of the season, at Virginia,something did. Something gruesome.

Zaire’s leg got caught under a Virginia defender as he was pulled down on a third­-quarterrunning play. He shattered his ankle and is out for the season.

One of the most storied jobs in college football suddenly belonged to a 19­-year­-old neophytefrom Toledo, Ohio. As Irish Nation bemoaned this cruel twist of fate, Kizer looked ready for themoment, pulling out a 34­27 win over Virginia by throwing a 39­yard touchdown strike to WillFuller with 12 seconds remaining.

Kizer, sturdily built at 6­4 and 230 pounds, was more confident and demonstrably better as thestarter against Georgia Tech, completing 21 of 30 for 242 yards in a deceptively easy 30­-22 win.

UMass was more like a glorified scrimmage, but Kizer was in total control, hitting 15 of 22passes for 207 yards, running nine times for 42 yards and needing just 1:21 to direct a 10­-play,74-­yard scoring drive to close the first half.

Kelly said Kizer was able to “self­correct” on some throws he missed early. “He knows what todo and how to do it. He showed great poise and presence out there.”

Kizer said he didn’t have time to be nervous when he was summoned to replace the fallenZaire, but his confidence rises with his playing time.

“With experience comes comfort and with comfort comes success,” Kizer said. “With the wayour offensive line is playing and the weapons we have, no one is going to outscore us. We haveto play with that swagger. Don’t think too much. Just be decisive and let it rip.”

Though the NFL claims to operate with a “next man up” mentality, college football’s largerrosters create more next­-man possibilities. Notre Dame expects to keep rolling with Kizer in forZaire, just as Ohio State rolled all the way to the national championship with No. 3 quarterbackCardale Jones taking snaps last season.

The Bears, by contrast, are riding a wave of hopelessness to Seattle, facing the Seahawks withpoor Jimmy Clausen in for enigmatic Jay Cutler. The Dallas Cowboys are praying for divineintervention to keep them upright while Brandon Weeden subs for Tony Romo.

Notre Dame has enough speed, savvy and talent on both sides of the ball that Kizer shouldkeep the line moving, and Clemson, USC and Stanford are the only tough outs left on theschedule. But tomorrow is promised to no one. Zaire will return with two years of eligibilityremaining. True freshman Brandon Wimbush is as green as the leprechaun’s knickers, but he’ssaid to combine Zaire’s fast­-twitch maneuverability with Kizer’s big arm. Wimbush scored on a58-­yard run and had 100 yards worth of pass completions nullified by officials’ calls duringmop-­up duty Saturday.

“He’s not there yet,” Kelly said of his current backup, “but he’s coming.”

Three capable quarterbacks. What a delightful problem.

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