SOUTH BEND, Ind. — How desperate are things at Notre Dame?
Apparently to the point that coach Brian Kelly pulled DeShone Kizer for Malik Zaire in the second half of Notre Dame’s implosion of a 17-10 loss to Stanford Saturday night. The Irish are 2-5 and enter the bye week with uncertainty at the one position that hasn’t had it since the second half of Week 1.
Kizer, to be fair, was ineffective through the air when he was pulled from the game with 7:26 remaining in the third quarter. Notre Dame held a 10-7 lead at that point. Kizer exited the game having completed seven of 16 passes for 99 yards with those two interceptions, and rushed eight times for 79 yards with a touchdown.
And while everything that happened after he entered the game wasn’t his fault, Zaire oversaw two three-and-out possessions while Stanford pushed back to take the lead.
Notre Dame jumped out to what looked to be a comfortable early lead with Stanford’s offense sputtering. A 32-yard rush by Kizer — the first run of 30 or more yards allowed by Stanford’s defense this season — and a 16-yard ground gain by Folston set up Kizer’s eight-yard touchdown run.
Torii Hunter Jr.’s 33-yard reception on third down set up a Justin Yoon 29-yard field goal that put Notre Dame up 10-0. And while Notre Dame’s offense slowed toward the end of the half, Cole Luke’s interception of Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns capped an impressive defensive showing in the first 30 minutes.
Then the self-inflicted mistakes started happening.
On Notre Dame’s first drive of the second half, Kizer, trying to find Equanimeous St. Brown, was picked off by Stanford cornerback Quenton Meeks, who returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
An under-pressure Kizer was intercepted on Notre Dame’s ensuing possession, a throw that got him yanked from the game. Jarron Jones’ titanic sack, strip and fumble recovery gave the ball back to Notre Dame and gave way to Zaire midway through the third quarter.
A first down holding penalty on Quenton Nelson immediately put Zaire in a tough spot, and in his first series the Irish went three-and-out.
Things went from bad to worse on Notre Dame’s next offensive series, which began at the four-yard line, when center Sam Mustipher snapped the ball over Zaire’s head and out of the end zone for a safety, which pulled Stanford within one.
The Cardinal offense then broke through against Notre Dame’s defense, marching 67 yards on 11 plays into the end zone to take their first lead of the game. Stanford converted its two-point try to take a seven-point lead.
The second of Zaire’s three-and-outs came on the next possession, and Stanford was able to sit on the ball for a little over four minutes. Notre Dame’s offense with Zaire in the game ran six plays for minus-four yards.
Kizer re-entered the game with 3:44 remaining and Notre Dame down seven, and quickly moved the Irish inside the Stanford 40. A screen to Chase Claypool moved Notre Dame to the Stanford 25. A six-yard completion to Kevin Stepherson then set up a fourth-and-two try from the Stanford 17 with 41 seconds remaining.
Josh Adams plunged three yards for a first down, then Kizer found Equanimeous St. Brown for a six-yard completion. But Kizer was sacked on second down, had to spike it on third down and was stopped on fourth down.
At 2-5, making a bowl game no longer is the primary objective for Notre Dame. It’s avoiding a season on the level of 2007 in terms of being a complete, unmitigated disaster.
And even a Christian McCaffrey-less Stanford side couldn’t slow Notre Dame’s descent into the dark depths of college football.