NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Three quick takes from Notre Dame’s 39-10 blowout of Nevada as the Irish got back on track but didn’t come close to pitching a perfect game. Yet Brian Kelly has plenty of reason to feel good moving toward Michigan State, starting with his starting quarterback.
Kizer Expectations: Elevated
When DeShone Kizer exited the game midway through the third quarter he didn’t get a standing ovation or even much of an acknowledgment. The cheers that came during the quarterback change seemed more for Malik Zaire’s work as Kizer’s clear backup, a difficult demotion the senior handled well on his opening weekend as a true No. 2.
And yet, Kizer earned it.
Such is life for Kizer now that he’s popping up on absurd mock drafts as next year’s No. 1 overall pick. He finished with as many total touchdowns as incompletions, yet the performance was met with little more than a shoulder shrug.
“You’re never satisfied,” Kizer said. “There’s a lot of room to improve. A sloppy first quarter is something we don’t want to do. That comes a lot off on me.”
Final line: 15-of-18 passing for 156 yards, two touchdowns, one interception; 10 carries, 35 yards, one rushing touchdown.
That Kizer’s production is now taken for granted is actually a good thing for the future of Notre Dame’s offense. It means games like Boston College at Fenway Park are likely extinct in his box scores, and Brian Kelly needs to bank that in his game plans moving forward.
Notre Dame turned six red zone trips into five touchdowns against Nevada. The Irish went 3-of-5 in red zone touchdown conversions at Texas last week. At 8-of-11 for the season (72.7 percent), that production represents a nearly 14-point jump from last season. For the sake of comparison, the current Irish red zone touchdown percentage would have ranked No. 9 nationally last year.
And Kizer’s second year starting is driving the whole thing.
“I think he was a little bit more patient in certain areas,” Kelly said. “He slides in the pocket well, especially in the red zone. Now he’s had touchdowns in the red zone where he’s been really patient and hit his third and fourth option. I think that’s showing itself to a higher completion percentage down there.
“I think the other thing, he’s taking what’s available to him in a sense of not trying to do too much.”
Adams In No Rush For No. 1
Josh Adams said he doesn’t worry about being Notre Dame’s lead back.
Brian Kelly doesn’t either, although the sophomore is making it harder and harder on the head coach not to see Adams as Notre Dame’s best backfield choice.
After two games it’s hard to make an argument for anything but installing Adams atop the depth chart. Last week it was his beautiful touchdown catch off a DeShone Kizer lob. Today it was 10 carries for 106 yards, including that 43-yard stampede through the secondary.
“He’s good. You can call him whatever you want,” Kelly said. “I think we’ll keep it balanced in there, but Adams looked good today.”
Tarean Folston finished with 10 carries for 27 yards while Dexter Williams got eight attempts that covered 59 yards to go with a touchdown. Williams’ work came mostly with the game already in hand, yet the other sophomore showed an explosiveness in short spaces that might be better than Adams or Folston.
Regardless of the statistics, it appears Notre Dame has three quality backs.
“It’s definitely something special,” Adams said. “It’s nice to see that this early on in the season. You know that our group is developing the way that we want it to. Looking forward, it’s only gonna make us better, it’s only gonna make us work harder in practice so that we can be ready to games to come.”
Yet if Adams wouldn’t lobby for more work, his head coach at least entertained the idea.
“It's one of those things where Folston had 10 carries, Adams had 10 carries, Williams had (8) carries,” Kelly said. “You can make the argument (Adams) should he get 20. Folston is a pretty sharp guy, too. Dexter is explosive.”
Defensive Backfield In Danger
Cole Luke saw a player down in the first quarter. His first thought was hope it wasn’t a Notre Dame player. His second thought was hope it wasn’t Shaun Crawford.
But the man down was the sophomore cornerback, who missed all last season with a torn right ACL. NBC reported Crawford had torn his left Achilles tendon, although Brian Kelly only went as far postgame to reveal he’d be lost for the season. It was a cruel blow to one of Notre Dame’s brightest stars after his dramatic debut at Texas where Crawford made an interception and returned a blocked extra point to force overtime.
“It’s sad,” Luke said. “It’s really sad that he has to go through that. You just try to understand what he’s going through. This is like déjà vu for him.”
The same holds true for Notre Dame’s secondary, already down dismissed safety Max Redfield and now down Crawford after fewer than five quarters. The Irish were forced to return to sophomore Nick Coleman, who was again targeted, plus freshman nickel back Julian Love.
It’s going to be that way the rest of the year too, with freshman safety Devin Studstill starting alongside Drue Tranquill. Freshmen Donte Vaughn and Jalen Elliott saw action too. They’ll see a lot more now.
“We don’t have time for you to have your freshman year, your comfortability year where you just get your feet wet,” Luke said. “We gotta go now. We gotta go full throttle. We don’t have time to waste.”