Fear not, Irish fans: Future starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush is not expected to burn his redshirt (again) and DeShone Kizer – he of the 4-to-1 touchdown-to-turnover ratio, will retain his starting job, the latter confirmed by head coach Brian Kelly Tuesday.
Order has been restored. Expectations, however, remain unchanged.
“His standard of play is not where we want it to be for him. I think I made that pretty clear after the game,” said Kelly of his junior triggerman. “There is a standard that is set for a player, and that standard is based upon what he believes and what we believes should be acceptable for him, and (avoiding) turnovers and his ability to continue to grow as a quarterback sets that standard.”
Kizer has produced an aggregate 47 touchdowns (16 turnovers) in his 15 career starts plus a heroic relief appearance to launch his career. Including that relief victory over Virginia, Notre Dame has won 10 and lost six under Kizer’s leadership. In the six defeats, foes scored 24, 38, 41, 50, 36, and 38 points vs. the Irish, respectively.
“If he was a first-time starter or he didn't set the pace that he had set last year, maybe the standard would be a little bit lower. But he has set a standard of play that we believe he needs to meet and exceed every time he goes out there.”
Redefined Expectations: Asked Tuesday if backup quarterback Malik Zaire has continued to meet expectations after losing the job to Kizer earlier this season, Kelly offered, “You know, it's a tough role. It's a tough role. He is understanding what needs to do in that role, let's put it that way. It's evolving. It's evolving.
“Ask me Thursday,” (the end of the practice week) he added.
Kelly’s utterance post-game that there was but one player, backup sophomore running back Dexter Williams, playing with an acceptable level of passion during Saturday’s loss apparently went way beyond the relative rookie’s bruising touchdown run.
“Special teams, the way he played. His commitment to special teams,” Kelly began. “The way he practices during the week, his energy, his enthusiasm, his attitude, all the things that I'm looking for in this football team he embodies that right now.”
Williams last met with the media prior to his arrest on August 19, noting that his approach to the game is based on such passion.
“I have a voice (as a sophomore),” he began. “I’m always encouraging my teammates, pushing them to do better. Making sure we stay above the line. That’s the motto for the whole team, making sure we stay above the line and I’m making sure we hold everyone accountable.
“I had to step up my game in order to be that dude and have a voice. I can’t go out and say things and not show the actions toward it. I had to work hard off the field and then translate it to on the field. “
Kelly continued praising Williams for his efforts Saturday, albeit in a limited role.
“We missed two blocks and he ran through two unblocked players (for a touchdown). That's what you do on defense! That's how you tackle! You run through a "would be" ball carrier. You defeat a blocker and you make that tackle. You don't get reached in the three-technique (defensive tackle).
“That's how you play this game, with that kind of heart and that kind of energy. He embodied that. That's going to spread throughout our team, and that's why I singled him out.”
Williams carried just five times for 24 yards including the referenced 13-yard score. He has 13 carries for 86 yards (a team-best 6.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns this season.
A new defensive coordinator. A new play-caller, who, incidentally, doesn’t appear to be the defensive coordinator. A renewed focus by the head coach on the defensive side of scrimmage.
And a new attitude.
That’s Kelly’s road map this week for the next phase of Notre Dame’s defense. What does he expect will be the end result?
“Keep the points down, play with great energy. I want to see guys celebrate together. I want to see guys having fun and enjoying playing the game,” he said. “If we get to that end, good things are going to happen defensively.”
They’ll happen with interim defensive coordinator Greg Hudson on the sidelines in communication with linebackers coach Mike Elston in the booth.
“Mike has a great understanding of the defense, certainly, so (Hudson) will be working close with Mike Elston,” Kelly offered.
Working on a system already in place but with a different emphasis.
“It will have more of my stamp on it,” Kelly began. “Greg has been empowered to bring the energy, the enthusiasm, the passion, the morale, the camaraderie. I need those things from Greg. That's what I need. I want our kids to be excited when they step on that field against Syracuse.
“I'll worry about the implementation, the scheme. I'll take care of that for him right now. As he gets more comfortable with what we have and what our system is about, then he will be much more involved in what we do.”
Asked how it will impact his influence on the offense, Kelly offered, “At the end of the day, I'm 1-3 as a head coach. So I'm not going to all of a sudden abdicate my duties in overseeing offense and special teams.”
Said Kelly of Hudson: “He's got passion for Notre Dame. He loves Notre Dame. I've been able to observe him in an analyst role and his demeanor, just all of the things that I'm looking for in our guys. We mentioned one guy that brought that attitude and demeanor was Dexter (Williams). He brings that as a person, as a staff member. He's going to be able to continue that fire that we need with all of our coaches as well.”
A TOUGH SPOT
While Notre Dame fans removed the situation inside the program’s walls have rejoiced in the removal of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, his former boss – and friend – offered the unfortunate reality of a coach’s life.
Asked how VanGorder’s defenders responded to the news, Kelly offered, “I didn't poll them individually, but as I mentioned before, players are a resilient group. I'm sure there are some that were more disappointed than others.
“Nobody wants to see anybody lose their job. This is real. He bought a home and has a family and this is, you know, this isn't fairytale. This isn't reality TV. Somebody lost his job. He's a friend of mine, and this is real. It's not pretend. I didn't go around and poll the group.”