SOUTH BEND, Ind. — DeShone Kizer came to a fork in the road in the second quarter of his first start.
Notre Dame’s redshirt freshman quarterback drove the Irish inside the 10-yard line but on third-and-goal from the 5, he misread Georgia Tech’s coverage on Corey Robinson and floated a pass into double coverage. Yellow Jackets cornerback D.J. White intercepted it — which was Notre Dame’s first turnover since the second quarter of last year’s season-ending dumpster fire at USC. Four plays later, Patrick Skov dove into the end zone for an equalizing touchdown.
But instead of dwelling on his mistake, Kizer quickly put it past him and led the Irish on a scoring drive that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said swung momentum back in the home team’s favor. Kizer didn’t turn the ball over again as Notre Dame rolled to a 30-22 win over the No. 14 Yellow Jackets.
“Completely flush it,” Kizer said of his post-pick approach. “Honestly we went out there, we had another set of plays we needed to get out there. … We came back out and completely forgot about what happened and moved forward.”
[MORE: Notre Dame makes statement with win over Georgia Tech]
Kizer made some mistakes against Virginia and Georgia Tech, though they’re not the ones that’ll show up in the box score. Those still need to be fixed, of course, for Notre Dame’s offense to reach its ceiling with the Toledo, Ohio native as its quarterback.
But nothing has hurt Notre Dame teams in the Brian Kelly era more than turnovers — the 2011 and 2014 seasons were defined by them, with the Irish going 8-5 in both of those years. Last year, with Everett Golson running the show, turnovers came in bunches and almost had an air of inevitability about them. So how Kizer handled his first turnover was always going to be telling.
“What I liked about him is he immediately takes ownership,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He's not a guy that's looking to say, ‘Well, it's his fault, or, I didn't know this.’ He clearly knew they bracketed him. He got duped. We saw the press on Corey, his eyes got big, on the goal line, I'm throwing that one up there. It was a presnap, postsnap decision. He didn't take his time to see that they bracketed him.
“A great learning experience for him.”
[RELATED: Notre Dame not optimistic on Drue Tranquill’s knee]
Kizer gained the trust of his teammates when he found Will Fuller for a game-winning 39-yard touchdown against Virginia in Week 2, with his composure and poise under pressure universally praised. While Kizer’s offensive teammates are still getting used to him — his cadence was a bit off at times against Georgia Tech, leading to a few uncharacteristic false start penalties — his even mental approach only helps build that trust.
“DeShone’s always confident back there, he’s always poised, he’s always talking to his team,” running back C.J. Prosise said. “I think that really helped him out and he led us to a really great touchdown drive.”
“He knew he made a mistake,” Fuller said, “but he took that out of his head and came right back and played well for us.”
And added center and two-time captain Nick Martin: “He’s young, but there’s no doubt about it: He’s ready.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Notre Dame fans!]
Kizer completed 21 of 30 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and an interception, creating a pretty strong foundation on which to work after he took a stick of dynamite to Virginia in Charlottesville. Notre Dame’s win over a top-15 Georgia Tech side on Saturday had more to do with its defense, but its greenhorn quarterback proved he can play a part in the playoff race to come.
“I'm getting there,” Kizer said. “The team is starting to roll towards me and learn how to be a player underneath the quarterback like myself. So my leadership is definitely starting to set in pretty well. The team will continue to learn and move forward as I move forward. Hopefully the games that come up with that will end up pretty well for us.”