DeShone Kizer got away from Notre Dame last weekend without getting away from being the Notre Dame quarterback.
The sophomore returned home to Toledo during the Irish bye and brought a Showtime camera crew with him to document the homecoming, the pep rally speech and the photo ops around Central Catholic. It was all part of the new normal for Kizer, a reality that still suits a player expected to be third-string back in April.
“Things are moving pretty fast for me throughout this whole season,” Kizer said. “The adjustment from being a backup to being a starter, some big wins, a tough loss, things just go so quickly that you don't really get to evaluate what you've done.”
What Kizer has done has been statistically spectacular, regardless of whether he’s managing Notre Dame’s offense or actually leading it. His passer efficiency rating (156.9) ranks 14th nationally and fourth at Notre Dame for a single season.
In a combined 208 action plays (passes plus quarterback runs), Kizer has committed just two turnovers. Everett Golson lost 22 turnovers in 541 action plays last season. That’s a turnover rate four times higher than the sophomore with zero game experience.
Now Kizer wants more. A lot more. An almost uncomfortable level of more.
“I think that my biggest adjustment that I've evaluated for myself is having a mindset of not only being a good quarterback but to take it to greatness,” Kizer said. “I need to be able to prepare to be the best quarterback in the nation every week.”
“I was in the position the first half of the year where I was a replacement. I was a guy who was able to manage a game and accomplish a mission in that sense. Now I want to take it into the second half of the year and be the best quarterback in the nation every time I step on the field. Because I know that after evaluating the first half, that I have the ability to.”
If that happens it might change the face of Notre Dame’s offense, which has relied on its offensive line first, C.J. Prosise second, Will Fuller third and the quarterback fourth.
When Notre Dame needed to get back into gear against USC after falling behind in the third quarter, it asked Kizer to observe the comeback more than direct it. In back-to-back 90-yard touchdown drives that put the Irish up for good, Kizer went 2-of-5 for 12 yards and a touchdown to Corey Robinson. He also picked up a critical third down with a 23-yard scramble.
“Once we get things going and we have some sort of a rhythm, it goes to show how powerful and how strong we can be,” Kizer said. “We need to be able to get ahead, stay ahead and push forward.”
With No. 9 Notre Dame headed to No. 21 Temple this weekend and College GameDay set for Philadelphia, Kizer will apply different demands to the season’s unofficial second half. The Irish will likely get shots at back-to-back Top 25 road wins with Pittsburgh to follow. Get those and the conversation about Kizer will be more about him leading a playoff run than just taking over for Malik Zaire.
That’s a heady jump for Kizer, who head coach Brian Kelly said was running on empty after going from backup to beating USC in less than two months.
“He was running on fumes and not just the academics,” Kelly said. “There's a lot thrown on him. Being the quarterback at Notre Dame, this was all new to him, having a camera, being the center of it. He needed a break.”
“There's a lot more pep in his step, and energy and confidence, and it was a welcome break for him.”
However, there hasn’t been a pause in Kizer’s rising self-confidence.
“I think that I'm at the point now where I believe that I fit the role as a Notre Dame quarterback pretty well,” Kizer said. “I believe that it's my spot, and I'm competing with the guy behind me who is pushing me.
“There's not much where I doubt myself and anything I can do right now. There's nothing that I feel like is a true weakness of mine, other than some footwork things that I can adjust on my own. When it comes to understanding my position on this team, I think I'm completely comfortable.”