SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly caused a social media stir after Notre Dame’s 38-35 loss to Duke when he said quarterback DeShone Kizer’s play was “not acceptable” and below standard.
This was after Kizer threw for a career high 381 yards and accounted for three touchdowns (two throwing, one rushing) to lead the Irish offense to 35 points, which in reality should’ve been enough to beat a middling Duke side. Kizer made mistakes — Duke scored 10 points off his fumble and interception — but the point total speaks for itself.
But Kelly’s standards, Kizer said, aren’t as high as the ones he sets for himself. So the redshirt sophomore quarterback didn’t have a problem with Kelly saying his play was substandard, because it wasn’t in his own mind.
“I've always had very high standards for myself, and I'm never satisfied,” Kizer said. “That's the best part about playing the sport in general, the challenge that there's always something better you can do. There's no such thing as perfection in football. To a certain extent, standards are never met, unless you have a ring on and you're undefeated. That's kind of the only goal.”
So for Kizer, merely playing well isn’t enough. There were things he could’ve done better against Texas (like score after Jarron Jones’ miraculous blocked PAT) and Michigan State (like avoid that mid-game lull) that could’ve put Notre Dame in a better position to win both of those games. Against Duke, his fumble was a glaring mistake that led to a Blue Devils’ touchdown; his arm-punt from Notre Dame’s end zone was bad, but Duke still probably would’ve marched downfield for the game-winning field goal had that pass fallen incomplete and Tyler Newsmen punted.
For almost everyone outside of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex — and, judging by Brian VanGorder’s firing on Sunday, some in it — the defense has been the problem for Notre Dame this year. Forcing Kizer to be as close to perfect as possible perhaps seems unfair, but he doesn’t necessarily think it is.
“On the offensive side of the ball we have some really good stuff up and going, and we haven't come near where we can go, and that potential is what's fueling us to go out and compete and to get better each week,” Kizer said. “And to go out and put up five to six touchdowns a game knowing that you can go and put up four more is what allows us to go into practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to do whatever we can to figure out how we're going to execute more this quarter every time we touch the ball. We don't want to punt the ball. We know we have the ability to score every drive, and we have the confidence that we are going to.”
Of course, having a quarterback with good-to-great statistics isn't always enough. Just ask 2009 Jimmy Clausen: He threw for 3,722 yards with 28 touchdowns (and only four interceptions) and was second to Tim Tebow in quarterback rating as Notre Dame skidded to a 6-6 season. More of the same from Kizer may result in an outstanding season and the Toledo native becoming a first-round draft pick, but it might not be enough to get Notre Dame to a bowl game.
“If we are 4 and 0 right now, standards are met to a certain extent, because we won four games,” Kizer said. “If I throw for 500 yards, standards are met to a certain extent, but there's so many other things that go into that that we all see now that caused us to be below standard, and to sit here and find it and try to focus up on those would be a mistake on my part because by focusing up on things that aren't relevant to us winning a game is not good for the team.
“All I need to do, my standard right now is to do whatever I can to help lead the offense to get a win. We're 1 and 3, and that's unacceptable, and my only goal right now, my only mission is to buy in to everything that's been said in this meeting room right here to get a W on the board because that's all that matters at this point.”
Kizer has proven to be one of the nation’s very best quarterbacks ever since he threw that heroic game-winning heave to Will Fuller in 2015 at Virginia. He’s made improvements to his game on a week-to-week and year-to-year basis — just look at how good Notre Dame’s been in the red zone this year for an example — and with those has raised his standards higher. They’re designed so he probably won’t meet them until he wins a College Football Playoff championship game or Super Bowl.
But if he can meet Kelly’s standard, maybe Notre Dame will be good enough to overcome a shaky defense and win enough games to be bowl eligible. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but it is.
“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 turnovers and his ability to continue to grow as a quarterback sets that standard,” Kelly said. “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.”