SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly hasn’t made a decision, or at least a public one, on whether or not to make DeShone Kizer his undisputed No. 1 quarterback going forward.
But that doesn’t seem to be about a highly paid, veteran coach dragging his feet on a decision that seems obvious after Sunday’s 50-47 loss at Texas. Instead, it’s more about Kelly not having had a chance to meet face-to-face with Kizer and Malik Zaire as of his Tuesday press conference.
“We plan on having two really good quarterbacks the rest of the year,” Kelly politically said. “I haven't sat down and talked with either one of them, so before we do that we don't have any plans to make any decisions.”
Kizer wasn’t perfect on Sunday — Kelly pointed to a couple of missed “cupcake” throws and some uncharacteristic missed protections that led to sacks, for example — but he threw for five touchdowns and rushed for another while NFL evaluators salivated watching him on a nationally-televised broadcast. Fox Sports ran the headline: “How DeShone Kizer ended Notre Dame’s QB battle by shredding Texas,” and in that article by Bruce Feldman, a former NFL scout said Kizer “showed why he belongs in the conversation when it comes to the top QBs in college football."
But without that conversation with his quarterbacks having taken place, or practice for Nevada beginning, Kelly was left to answer hypothetical questions during his 30-minute meeting with the media inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex.
If Notre Dame indeed moves forward with Kizer as its No. 1 quarterback, Kelly said he’ll need to see his backup (in this case, Zaire) approach that role with the right kind of attitude.
“Your attitude has to be such that whoever the No. 2 is, whether he's the No. 2 quarterback or the No. 2 running back, you're one play away from being in there,” Kelly said. “So you can't let your teammates down and you can't let yourself down. You have got in the way of yourself from preparing the way you need to to lead your football team. That's really 99 percent attitude and accepting the role that you have.
“If you can't accept the role then you need to move out of the way and let somebody go into that role that can accept it and prepare themselves accordingly, so when they are called upon they're ready to play.”
While Zaire — who didn’t seem to be a fan of the dual-quarterback offense in the first place — would be disappointed in the decision to be squarely behind Kizer, Notre Dame coaches need to do everything they can to foster an environment in which the redshirt junior will have that right kind of attitude. Kelly pointed to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s brutal, freakish season-ending injury last week as an example of the need for a backup to be ready, though it would’ve been just as easy to call back to Notre Dame’s quarterback situation a year ago.
That was when Zaire had command of the No. 1 job until he fractured his ankle in Week 2 against Virginia, after which Kizer threw a game-winning heave to Will Fuller and powered a 10-win season for the Irish. If and when Kizer is named Notre Dame's starter, it'll have to make sure Zaire is in a place where he can enter a game and be effective in case of an emergency.
“(The backup’s) gotta be engaged and ready to go at a moment's notice,” Kelly reiterated. “He's got to prepare himself as if he's the starter.
“So I think all of that is about your attitude and how you accept that role and how it's embraced. That to me is the most important element of this.”