SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In one of the more stunning moves around these parts, DeShone Kizer was benched midway through the third quarter of Notre Dame’s 17-10 loss to Stanford Saturday night in favor of Malik Zaire.
Kizer had just thrown interceptions on back-to-back drives, one of which was returned by Stanford cornerback Quenton Meeks for a touchdown and another that gave the Cardinal the ball inside Irish territory. He was largely ineffective through the air at that point, completing only seven of 16 passes for 99 yards with two interceptions.
And this is the state of desperation for a 2-5 Notre Dame team: coach Brian Kelly thought the best way to spark a lagging offense was to insert Zaire, who played three meaningful snaps since Week 1 against Texas, into the game in favor of Kizer, who's been pegged by some as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017.
“I just felt like it was important to try to get some energy back,” Kelly said. “We lost some energy, and I thought going to Malik would do that.”
Notre Dame lost four yards on two three-and-outs with Zaire in the game, and center Sam Mustipher flung a snap over Zaire’s head and out of the end zone for a safety, too. Kizer left the game with a 10-7 lead; he re-entered it for a last-ditch drive late in the fourth quarter down by seven.
Kizer marched the Irish all the way to the Stanford eight, but took a sack, spiked the ball and was stuffed on fourth down to end the game. After the game, Kelly said there’s not “really a question” about who Notre Dame’s starting quarterback will be going forward.
“DeShone is the starting quarterback,” Kelly said. “Each game is treated as a game in itself. We're trying to win the game. Malik is a really good quarterback. I was looking for a little bit of energy and kind of stem the tide and the flow of the game, but DeShone Kizer is the starting quarterback.”
What makes Kelly’s quick trigger on pulling Kizer even more head-scratching, though, is his unwillingness to insert Zaire — an accomplished running quarterback — into last week’s hurricane-soaked loss at North Carolina State. Zaire only took one snap in the driving wind and rain of Hurricane Matthew, which came after Kizer was apparently banged up following a fourth-and-two conversion.
While putting Zaire into that drenched game perhaps could’ve sparked things in Raleigh, the redshirt junior left-hander didn’t deliver that energy against Stanford. Still, Kelly said he didn’t regret putting Zaire — who he said in August was one of Notre Dame’s five best playmakers — into the game in favor of a scuffling Kizer.
“I think I made it pretty clear that when you're in the throes of the game, you're trying to get the feel for the temperature of the game, and it just felt like we needed some momentum,” Kelly said. “Malik is a really good quarterback, and I just felt like at that time he would provide that for us. And it takes 11 guys, you know, to give you momentum, too, but I just thought he would be a catalyst in that situation. But in no way, shape or form would I regret ever going to Malik Zaire.”