DeShone Kizer’s welcome to college football came a little more than a year ago. The Notre Dame quarterback performed mop-up duty in last year’s season-opening blowout win over Texas, but he was pressed into real action a week later at Virginia after a broken ankle knocked starter Malik Zaire from the game.
The day began for Kizer late in the first quarter and culminated with a game-winning 40-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller. He went on to have one of the best rookie seasons a Notre Dame quarterback has ever enjoyed.
Kizer’s game has grown to the point that many think he could be the top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but in some ways he is trying to get back to the place he occupied on that 2015 day in Charlottesville.
“Everyone goes back to that touchdown against Virginia,” Kizer said this week. “That smile on my face, me going down and cheering on my teammates. Those are the best times of my life and I need to get back to those moments.”
“Those moments” and all the feelings that go with them seem like a distant memory to Kizer and the Fighting Irish after a dismal 1-3 start to the season.
His numbers — 1,096 passing yards, 11 touchdown passes, completing 62-percent of his passes, a 167.6 efficiency rating, 5 touchdown runs, and a 4.3 yards-per-carry mark — all look stellar. Kizer has another standard he’s holding himself to, though.
“I’m substandard to my own standard and that’s all that matters right now,” said Kizer.
The redshirt sophomore pointed the finger at himself in the wake of last week’s shocking 38-35 home loss to Duke. Kizer’s 381 passing yards were a career-high, but he completed just 59-percent of his 37 attempts, and his last two drives of the day ended with an interception and an incompletion that sealed Duke’s upset.
“His standard of play is not where we want it to be for him,” Kelly said of Kizer this week.
Kelly says Kizer’s “standard” is set by what his quarterback believes that “standard” should be. Kizer says it’s about winning and his goal is simply to lead his team to more wins in their final eight games of the regular season.
The Toledo native passed for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns with a school record for a quarterback 10 touchdown runs last year. He’s well on his way to shattering those numbers this season.
NFL talent evaluators love the 6-5 signal-caller. He is projected to go in the top five in just about any current NFL Draft projection. Some have him going No. 1 overall, while others rank Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson slightly ahead of him.
“Size,” “athleticism,” “accuracy,” “mobility,” and “arm strength” are the buzzwords that litter Kizer’s draft profile.
The missing word that should be included is “poise.” Kizer has played with plenty of it in his 15 starts since leading that comeback against Virginia. His body language and attitude have stayed strong — even as the scrutiny has grown through this season’s struggles.
Even in the loss to the Blue Devils, he showed the pre-snap poise of a savvy veteran while changing protections and making reads while surveying the defense.
Kizer may not be happy with his own standard, but for his long-term prospects that’s probably a good thing.