DeShone Kizer already had enough to think about last week while making his first career start. Brian Kelly gave his new quarterback a few more pointers to ponder anyway, including his footwork.
Kelly wanted Kizer to shorten his stride on intermediate throws to tighten his release. Notre Dame’s head coach believed Kizer got off balance when he widened his base, which had the quarterback throwing “dirtballs”. That happened against Georgia Tech, even if Kizer finished 21-of-30 for 242 yards and a touchdown.
“I believe the more comfortable I get, the better I'm going to get, as my first start … was just OK,” Kizer said. “Quite a few passes that I could have made in that game that could end in some big yards … I could easily have moved up to 24 (or) 25 of 30.”
Still, Kizer extended Kelly’s success with freshmen and red-shirt freshmen quarterbacks, now 16-1 when starting them during the past five-plus seasons at Notre Dame. For that trend to continue through November, it will be on Kizer to make as much progress as Everett Golson did three years ago in helping Notre Dame to the BCS National Championship Game.
For Golson, the issue was nerves. Kelly benched him in both his first two home starts after a rash of turnovers. For Kizer the issue is more mechanical considering his ease in the Notre Dame spotlight, even if he admitted his ascent has been disorienting.
“Crazy,” Kizer said. “I can never dream of all of the stuff that's happened to me in the last couple weeks; the recognition and intangibles that come along with being the quarterback at the University of the Notre Dame. You can never really expect your position at this university to grow as it has.”
Statistically, there were few nits to pick within Kizer’s debut, even if he gave it a lukewarm review. All 30 of his pass attempts came out of Notre Dame’s base personnel, meaning three receivers, one tight end and one running back. He held up against the blitz, completing 12-of-16 passes for 155 yards.
More telling, Kizer didn’t panic under pressure. Despite getting flagged for intentional grounding and forcing an awkward, falling-down pass to CJ Prosise, Kizer went 6-of-8 for 41 yards when Georgia Tech’s rush forced him to hurry his throw or move off his spot.
“There are some fundamentals that need to be cleaned up,” Kelly said. “Ball security, I was a little bit concerned with the ball being a little bit loose at times. Ball came out one time where it was intentional grounding, but we've got to eat that. I think there was another time on a run where the ball came out at the end of a run.”
In terms of hitting all levels, Kizer went 10-of-11 for 60 yards on throws of five yards or less, 10-of-16 for 102 yards and one pick on throws of 6-to-20 yards, and 2-of-4 for 82 yards and a score on passes beyond 20 yards.
Kizer took nine hits in the game mixed among pass rush pressures, scrambles and running the zone read. Notre Dame ran 21 rushing plays from the zone read concept and Kizer kept the ball just once, although that doesn’t include a 13-yard gain in the fourth quarter wiped out by a Ronnie Stanley hold. Prosise exploded for a 91-yard touchdown on the next snap.
There will be an ebb and flow to Kizer statistically moving forward, even if UMass might not be a great barometer. Temple quarterback P.J. Walker passed for a career-high 391 yards last week in a 25-23 win over UMass. In 23 previous games, Walker had broken the 300-yard passing mark just twice.
Kizer hopes having game tape picks up the pace of implementing Kelly’s tweaks, which may come quickly with Clemson and USC looming.
“It's awesome,” Kizer said. “As a quarterback, you can only get better as the game goes on, as you see your ball get to right where it needs to be, as you start feeling the pocket and start getting better.
“It's all going to start in preparation. As a quarterback, I keep preaching, it's all about being comfortable and all about getting into rhythm and the more that you prepare and the more comfortable you get with the defense, the better you're going to be out there. I'm just trying to focus on what I can do today to prepare myself.”