DeShone Kizer got sacked on his first snap against Massachusetts.
He was barely pressured the rest of the game en route to a 15-of-22 passing performance that included two touchdowns and one interception. Kizer was pressured just once on those throws, and even that was light when he rolled left to connect with Will Fuller for a 26-yard score.
That dynamic figures to change Saturday night at Clemson, even with Notre Dame’s stout offensive line.
The Tigers put up five sacks against Louisville two weeks ago, perhaps rediscovering a stride after replacing all four starters along the defensive line. Clemson put up 45 sacks last year, a total topped only by Utah, Washington, Virginia Tech and Stanford among Power 5 conference teams.
“If you're out there thinking about the distress in the pocket, you're not going to be throwing the balls you need to be throwing,” Kizer said. “This is probably going to be one of the better defensive lines that we play this year, but once again, I have complete trust in my offensive line. They've seen it all before.”
Kizer has not.
The red-shirt freshman making his first road start may be an easy story heading toward Saturday, but it’s something more familiar that has Kizer’s attention. Since taking over for Malik Zaire at Virginia, Kizer has shown a curious inaccuracy on short-to-medium passes to his left.
Against UMass, Kizer went 2-of-6 for 38 yards on passes to his left that travelled 6-to-20 yards. When throwing to his right at that distance, Kizer went 6-of-6 for 45 yards and the touchdown to Chris Brown. In that window against Georgia Tech, Kizer went 3-of-5 for 22 yards throwing left and 3-of-6 for 30 yards and an interception throwing right. That pick was the misread of Georgia Tech’s bracket coverage on Corey Robinson.
One intermediate miss against UMass stuck out most when the Minutemen jumped a slip screen to Fuller to Kizer’s left, leaving Amir Carlisle running free. Kizer missed the wide-open slot receiver short by a couple yards.
“I was just sped up, completely sped up,” Kizer said. “Clock is rolling. We had a motion. I had to get the motion across. I started clapping for the ball to get in my hand. Didn't necessarily get the right grip on the ball. Expected Amir to throttle up a little more than he throttled up. He ran the route like he was supposed to. I put the ball behind him. Completely on me.”
Kizer said some of his inaccuracy comes from disjointed footwork, taking too long of stride before delivering the football. Against Georgia Tech, that led to some of Kizer’s passes short-hopping receivers. Against UMass, Kizer said the problem was more about his vision, looking for inside receivers and readjusting outside too late.
Smoothing all those bumps is Kizer’s ideal.
Notre Dame might need that job done by Saturday night.
“I think that right there is what takes a quarterback and separates the good to great, that gap right there,” Kizer said. “If I’m understanding the defense and understanding why we’re running the plays a little more, then those balls will make it out there in time, and that’s all going to come with me understanding the game plan this week and understanding why we're calling the calls that we're making.”