Notre Dame A-to-Z: DeShone Kizer

What does DeShone Kizer do for an encore? He can start by winning the starting job. Then it’s about cleaning up his turnovers and red zone production. If that happens, Notre Dame may have one of the nation’s best.

Logically, this is DeShone Kizer’s job to lose.

If there was anything surprising coming out of the Blue-Gold Game it was Brian Kelly’s admission that Malik Zaire needed spring practice to get caught up on the playbook. The offense had evolved since Zaire’s injury and Kizer was the force of nature driving it.

“The offense developed under Kizer during the year, not Malik,” Kelly said. “So he was at a bit of a disadvantage coming into the spring, and I thought he caught up.

“So I think now that he has a better understanding of everything that we're doing, I think now you've got the race and that will obviously be decided through camp.”

That begs the question that if Zaire was behind entering spring practice and wasn’t fully healthy during it, how could Kizer not also be ahead entering summer workouts? Presumably the quarterback who led the Irish to nine wins, three fourth-quarter comebacks and nearly into the College Football Playoff improved his game too this off-season.

From outside the Gug it would be a surprise if Kizer doesn’t hold onto the job. But that’s an August decision for Kelly to make. Until then, the junior quarterback is next in Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z series.

Best-Case Scenario

Not only does Kizer pick up where he left off, he’s better. Somehow that seems unthinkable and predictable all at the same time. Remember, we’re talking about a quarterback who completed 63-percent of his passes and accounted for 31 touchdowns last season. It’s easy to see Kizer’s total touchdown production holding steady while his turnovers get cut in half. While getting into gunfights with talented teams like Ohio State will always be a challenge, do you see Kizer throwing three picks against a Boston College or two against a Temple again? We don’t. In fact, Kizer might be so good this season that it could be his last in South Bend.

Worst-Case Scenario

Not beating out Zaire in training camp would be a start considering the senior was supposed to be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback last season before that broken ankle at Virginia. While it’s hard to see Zaire cleanly overtaking Kizer, it’s not hard to imagine Kelly getting sucked into a two-quarterback system to maintain locker room harmony. That could be messy, but it might beat the alternative. We could see the coaching staff feeling compelled to do it. Zaire is popular in the locker room and seeing him relegated to reserve after three career starts (Music City Bowl MVP, crushing Texas, struggling at Virginia) would be brutal.

Career Comparison

There isn’t one. No Irish quarterback has rushed for more touchdowns in a season. No Irish quarterback has a higher career completion percentage or total offense per game mark. Yes, red-shirt freshman quarterbacks have won games before, including Everett Golson four years ago. None of those actually led the offense while doing it and notched three fourth-quarter comebacks. Kizer is a rare breed. If he plays out his collegiate eligibility he will own most of Notre Dame’s quarterback records, if not all of them.

Development vs. Recruiting Ranking

Considering Kizer may ultimately grow into a first-round pick, everybody underrated this quarterback. Yet Kizer was still a consensus four-star prospect out of Toledo Central Catholic, even after Notre Dame waited to offer until the summer before his senior year. Scout.com rated Kizer at No. 263 overall and No. 17 among quarterbacks, with only 247 going higher at No. 162 overall and No. 10 among pro-style quarterbacks. Rivals didn’t have Kizer in its Top 250, but ranked him No. 9 among dual threats. ESPN slotted Kizer at No. 16 among all quarterbacks and gave him the same recruiting grade as Jay Hayes, Daniel Cage and Nile Sykes.

Kizer At His Best

What an incredible list of options. What about those comebacks at Virginia and Temple? Or maybe it’s going snap for snap with Deshaun Watson at Clemson (in a monsoon, in case you forgot) while throwing for 321 yards and two touchdowns? But don’t forget the Stanford game when Kizer accounted for 362 yards total offense and what should have been the game-winning touchdown in the final minute. We’re going with that performance in Palo Alto despite the loss as Kizer looked like a fifth-year senior and future pro.

Quote To Note

“I’m confident in what I’m doing.” – Kizer after the Blue-Gold Game

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