DeShone Kizer knew his world had already changed before leaving Scott Stadium on Saturday night. Now it’s on the sophomore to change with it as he takes over for Malik Zaire, who was lost for the season with a broken ankle and underwent surgery Sunday morning in South Bend.
For Kizer, the challenge is adapting to his new role without changing too much.
“I’ve gotta look at some of these seniors in the eye and let them know that I’m the guy,” Kizer said. “Might be a little different. I’m not really that (out-spoken) type of guy but obviously I’m gonna have to change my ways and learn where my place is on this team.
“I’ve been ready for a while now. I obviously believe I have all the confidence in the world to be the quarterback at Notre Dame. Now it’s my time to go.”
Notre Dame’s new quarterback isn’t an emotional bundle like the last guy. Kizer is still finding his voice in the locker room, where Zaire had his volume set. Kizer also learns the offense differently. Zaire picked up the playbook best on the field, but Kizer thrives on the whiteboard in meetings.
So while Brian Kelly believes Notre Dame’s offense will function with only slight alterations, he knows he’s working with a different personality.
“Very bright,” Kelly said. “Got excellent leadership skills, respected by teammates, very confident. He just has a confident air about him. We believe he can go in there and win. You love that about a kid that can go in there and get the job done.
“More than anything else, he has a ton of respect from his teammates.”
Brandon Wimbush moves into the No. 2 spot with Montgomery VanGorder, son of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, the new No. 3. Kelly said reps would increase for Wimbush this week but Kizer is Notre Dame’s clear starter.
In terms of how Notre Dame’s offense will change, Kelly hinted the run game would be enhanced under Kizer and that the sophomore can be a big part of that. While admitting Kizer doesn’t have the elusiveness of Zaire, Kelly said his new starter could log 10 carries per game.
“There’s no reason we can’t win with DeShone Kizer,” Kelly said. “Anybody that we lose, we believe we have guys that step up. It’s DeShone’s time. I know I’ve got confidence in him and I know our players do.”
Kizer went 8-of-12 for 92 yards and two touchdowns against Virginia, including that 39-yard game-winner with 12 seconds remaining. It was the latest game-winning touchdown in Notre Dame history. Kizer’s other score came off a fake field goal pitch to Durham Smythe, who is questionable this week with an ankle injury.
Kizer will remain Notre Dame’s holder.
Kelly’s history in South Bend suggests he can make Kizer thrive while keeping Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff chase. Now ranked No. 8 in the AP Poll, the Irish are 15-1 under Kelly when starting a freshman or red-shirt freshman quarterback (Tommy Rees 4-0, Everett Golson 10-1, Zaire 1-0).
Notre Dame hosts No. 16 Georgia Tech this week.
“I think just making sure that we put our guys in a good position, not trying to do too much,” Kelly said. “Playing to the strengths of what we have around the quarterback.
“We're going to have to play really good defense, and DeShone is surrounded with some good players. We saw that on Saturday. He managed the game very well for us, made some key plays, and I think we can continue to do that this year with DeShone.”