DeShone Kizer’s reality didn’t mesh with his results.
It would be tempting, certainly, to focus on the stat line and forget everything else. In his team’s 6-1 start, Notre Dame’s revelatory sophomore quarterback completed 65.4 percent of his passes and threw for 1,370 yards and 10 touchdowns, while running for 175 yards and three more scores. Simultaneously, he righted a ship and shattered expectations.
And yet, when the bye week hit, Kizer needed it — perhaps, more than anyone.
“He was running on fumes, and not just the academics,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “There’s a lot thrown on him, being the quarterback at Notre Dame. This was all new to him, having a camera (on him), being the center of it. He needed a break.”
More specifically, he needed a return to familiarity, and that’s what Kizer got. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback ventured back to his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, where he floated like a ghost through the halls of Central Catholic High School and reunited with his couch at home. His parents put him right to work on construction projects around the house, just as they would if he were still Malik Zaire’s back up.
He was just a kid, albeit with a Showtime boom mic hovering over his head.
“Things are moving pretty fast for me throughout this whole season,” Kizer said. “The adjustment from being a backup to being a starter, some big (games), a tough loss … things just go so quickly that you don’t really get to evaluate what you’ve done.
“This last week, being home and getting the support from my city when I was back home, really showed the position I’m in right now.”
Credit the home cooking, the physical healing or the therapeutic self-reflection. But when Kizer returned to Notre Dame last weekend, he brought a different mindset.
“I think my biggest adjustment that I’ve evaluated for myself is having a mindset of not only being a good quarterback, but to take it to greatness,” Kizer said. “I need to be able to prepare to be the best quarterback in the nation every week. 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.
“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 (do that). There are some times where I fall down and I limit myself and I don’t play at the highest of levels and I can’t allow that to happen anymore.
“In order for this season to be great, everyone has to play great and starting at the quarterback position, I’m going to try my hardest to be the best quarterback in the country every time I step on the field.”
Kizer’s next opportunity to do that will come on Saturday night, when No. 9 Notre Dame meets No. 21 Temple in a prime-time duel inside Lincoln Financial Field. The undefeated Owls present another formidable threat, ranking eighth nationally in scoring defense (14.6 points per game) and 14th in total defense (307.7 yards per game).
Kizer isn’t surprised.
“This is the reason that we come to Notre Dame, to play in big games like this,” he said. “You look at the schedule before the season this year, and you don’t necessarily circle Temple. But the way that things are set up and the way that Notre Dame plays football, somehow, some way, something like this ends up happening where you take a team that you didn’t expect to be as good as they are, one of the most talented teams in the country playing against an undefeated team, a sold-out crowd in an NFL environment.
“This is why we’ve had the success that we do, because we have to prepare as if every game is a big game. We don’t have to pretend that these teams are great. We are playing great opponents.”
And in turn, Temple’s defense is playing against the best quarterback in the country.
At least, that’s the mindset.