SOUTH BEND, Ind. — DeShone Kizer completed 22 of 37 passes for 381 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, and rushed 11 times for 60 yards with one touchdown and a fumble. Are those perfect numbers? No, especially not with the two turnovers.
But the Kizer-led offense found the end zone five times Saturday against a Duke team that scored 13 and 14 points in its last two games. Even so, coach Brian Kelly said Kizer had a “below standard” game in Notre Dame’s 38-35 loss to Duke.
“It’s not acceptable, his play,” Kelly said.
While Kelly has said he won’t pin Notre Dame’s chances of winning on the redshirt sophomore quarterback, it’s clear Kizer is going to have to do almost all of the work to pull Notre Dame out of its September tailspin. For the second consecutive week, Notre Dame made mistakes on special teams and defense, and Kizer fell just short of neutralizing and overcoming those shortcomings.
So by the standard of needing Kizer to be close to perfect for Notre Dame to win games, yeah, he was below it.
“We're always held to a higher standard,” Kizer said. “What he (Kelly) comes in and tells the media is one thing, but we understand that in order for to us win football games we're going to have to come out with a fire and a sense of urgency, the thing that's he's been preaching all week.”
Kizer’s inexplicable fumble — he lost the ball when he turned after taking a snap deep in Notre Dame territory — led to Duke taking its first lead of the game midway through the second quarter. His interception came on a third-and-long arm-punt from the Irish end zone, which allowed Duke to drive 44 yards for the game-winning field goal (the Blue Devils probably would’ve had similar field position had Notre Dame punted, though).
And down three with 84 seconds remaining, Kizer threw incomplete on fourth-and-three from the Irish 44 to effectively end the game. Duke took a knee and erupted in a rapturous celebration that was in stark contrast to the stunned, dour mood on the Irish sideline and in the stands at Notre Dame Stadium.
In addition to Kizer’s two turnovers, sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown lost a fumble in Duke territory in the third quarter.
“There's not a lot of things to really point out other than the obvious, three turnovers,” Kelly said. “All of them impacted the game.”
Notre Dame’s defense allowed 38 points to a Duke team that scored a combined 27 in losses to Wake Forest and Northwestern, and the Blue Devils averaged 6.7 yards per play after entering Saturday averaging 4.8 yards per play against FBS teams, which ranked 98th. And just as was the case against Texas and Michigan State, there was a spurt in which the Irish defense did enough to put the offense in a position to take control of the game before coughing up a few points (in this case, 10, courtesy of Devin Studstill’s missed tackle on a 64-yard touchdown and Duke’s game-winning field goal).
Couple those persistent defensive issues with another special teams gaffe — this time, it was allowing a 96-yard kick return up 14-0 that swung momentum in Duke’s favor — and Kizer and Notre Dame’s offense were once again asked to be nearly perfect. They weren’t. And now Notre Dame is 1-3, Kelly is threatening to take the redshirt off Brandon Wimbush (which would be a mind-numbingly extreme measure) and Kizer is again left searching for answers after delivering plenty of them on Saturday.
“I think my mentality and my poise is something that this team isn't benefiting from,” Kizer said. “I’m going to have to be more verbal, I'm going to have to make sure that I take my job and put a little more effort into it, in the sense of the energy side of things. Guys are going to go out there and feed off of me and I need to make sure that I have the energy that it takes for all 11 guys to go out and play well, not just myself.”