SOUTH BEND, Ind. — DeShone Kizer may not be the focal point of a Notre Dame offense that features a strong offensive line and explosive playmakers in running back C.J. Prosise and wide receiver Will Fuller. But he’s proven to be a capable quarterback, one who completes a good percentage of his passes and can make plays when his number is called.
More importantly, he’s someone who coach Brian Kelly described as a one-mistake player. He doesn’t let turnovers or three-and-outs snowball into a game-killing malaise — something that became a trait of last year’s quarterback, Everett Golson. Part of that is the strategy for the redshirt freshman quarterback implemented by Kelly and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, but another part of it is Kizer’s unwavering confidence in his ability, his teammates and his coaches’ scheme.
“We have too many threats,” Kizer said. “A five-yard hitch route could end up being a touchdown with the guys that we have. So if there is a mistake or if there is a flaw that we end up running into, the next play is normally going to be a play that can pop off into a touchdown.
“So with that mindset, and then understanding that the guys around me are as good as they are, it's kind of hard to get caught up in one mistake.”
Kizer responded well from the four interceptions he’s thrown this year, continuing to push the Irish offense against Georgia Tech after his first collegiate turnover and nearly leading a furious comeback Oct. 3 at Clemson despite a fourth-quarter pick. Against USC, he and the Irish offense stalled in the second and third quarters, but he never lost confidence in his unit’s ability to get back on the scoreboard.
Notre Dame engineered back-to-back 90-yard drives late in the third quarter and into the fourth against USC to blow past the Trojans and secure a 41-31 win. Instead of crumbling under the pressure of losing to a rival while trying to stay afloat in the College Football Playoff race, Kizer rushed for 23 yards on third-and-five to spark a game-tying drive that then largely relied on Fuller and Prosise.
“Once we get things going and we have some sort of a rhythm, it goes to show how powerful and how strong we can be,” Kizer said. “We understood that with a couple formational things that we had going, that eventually things were going to get back into our favor. It's all about just keeping that confidence and taking every drive one drive at a time.”
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Kizer quickly went from being an unknown first-time starter to a reliable member of the Irish offense since taking over for an injured Malik Zaire Sept. 12 at Virginia. His poise and confidence have had plenty to do with that ascension, which have combined with a solid skillset to allow Notre Dame to not experience much of a dropoff with Kizer as its quarterback.
“You can hear the confidence in his voice when he gives a play call and that's huge,” center and captain Nick Martin said.
Kizer’s confidence extends beyond the short-term nature of individual plays, drives and games, too. The redshirt freshman feels like he’s built a strong base in five starts — 100/153, 1,370 yards, 10 TD, 4 INT — and has high expectations for himself heading into Notre Dame’s critical five games to end the season, beginning Saturday against undefeated Temple at Lincoln Financial Field.
“I was in the position the first half of the year where I was a replacement — I was a guy who was able to manage a game and accomplish a mission in that sense,” Kizer said. “Now I want to take it into the second half of the year and be the best quarterback in the nation every time I step on the field. Because I know that after evaluating the first half, that I have the ability to.”