From an optimistic viewpoint, DeShone Kizer’s two worst games of the season came at an opportune time.
Against Wake Forest, Kizer only threw for 111 yards as Notre Dame’s offense played conservatively against a mediocre-at-best defense. In Boston, Kizer threw three interceptions — a career high — as, for the first time in his college career, he couldn’t seem to stop the turnover-induced bleeding.
Both Wake Forest and Boston College have three wins and are in the ACC’s basement. Notre Dame was firmly in control of both games — even though it only beat Boston College by three — not because of an offense it's relied on all year, but because its opponents weren’t good.
“This is very humbling, very humbling,” Kizer said from Fenway Park’s weight room Saturday. “There’s a lot to learn from. (It’s) a position I haven’t been in the year. I can’t wait to get back and evaluate what my mistakes were and what my good things were and hopefully prepare myself to continue to try to accomplish the mission.
“At the end of the day, today’s missing was accomplished. It was a very, very ugly way of getting there, but I believe there’s been a lot put on me and once I adjust my play, we’ll come out and play great ball.”
If Notre Dame is able to roll into Palo Alto and beat Stanford to finish the regular season 11-1, it’ll need Kizer and its offense to return to form. This is a group that, after four turnovers at Clemson, hung 41 points on both Navy and USC. It’s been in this position before, but not with Kizer at the center of the turnover issues.
The first of Kizer’s trio of interceptions came on Notre Dame’s first drive when he rolled right and inexplicably threw directly into the hands of a Boston College defensive back, who easily had [target] covered in the end zone. His second came when he heaved an arm punt under duress over the middle of the field — a “completely idiotic” throw, as the redshirt freshman said. And his third came at the cusp of the home plate end zone when he failed to properly read Boston College’s zone defense and went ahead with a screen pass that was tipped into the hands of a waiting Eagles defender.
Coupled with C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams’ fumbles, Notre Dame only managed 19 points despite racking up 447 yards against one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. Kizer’s teammates, though, saw the Toledo native continue to display the same trademark poise that he’s shown since throwing that game-winning touchdown to Will Fuller at Virginia in Week 2.
“DeShone’s a real confident guy,” receiver Amir Carlisle said. “Regardless of the mistakes, adversity’s going to come in this game of football and he really just stayed laser-focused and rallied us around on the sideline and said we gotta go down and score. He never really lost that focus and his confidence level.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Notre Dame fans!]
“There’s always going to be ups and downs in a career and DeShone’s ceiling is incredibly high,” added safety Matthias Farley. “Up to this point he’s played incredibly well. One game doesn’t define him as a player, as a quarterback, as a leader.”
But Notre Dame’s offense has only generated four touchdowns in its last two games. It’s a reminder that Kizer, for all the success he’s had this year, remains a work in progress.
“It’s a hard job playing quarterback at this level, and he learned a lot,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He was humbled a little bit (Saturday), and I think it's going to be really good for him. He's going to take this and really build on it.”
Kizer’s been described as a one-mistake guy, someone who is able to quickly correct whatever errors he makes. His decision-making in the red zone previously lapsed at Temple, and he took a flamethrower to Pitt’s defense a week later with six total touchdowns (and four touchdowns in four red zone attempts).
That same progression will have happen this week and produce some success Saturday in the Bay Area. The mistakes Kizer made flew against Boston College, but won’t against Stanford with a possible playoff spot on the line.
“(Quarterbacks) can go one of two ways, right — they can become a bit shell-shocked and withdrawn in a sense,” Kelly said. “He was not fazed at all. He stayed aggressive and stayed in the moment.
“… Some may never benefit from a game like this. This will do great things for him, and he will benefit greatly from it.”