No time for doubt from QB DeShone Kizer as he replaces Malik Zaire

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Time ticked away without any regard for DeShone Kizer’s status as the Notre Dame football team’s newly-minted quarterback.

So what if he was a redshirt freshman? So what if these were the first meaningful snaps of his college career? So what if Saturday’s game against Virginia was on the line?

The Irish trailed 27-26 with the crowd amped and the clock seemingly on fast forward. A game – and possibly an entire season barely two weeks in – was in the balance.

Ball on the Cavalier 41. A field goal would be enough.

20… 19… 18…

“I didn’t notice the time until right when the ball was snapped,” Kizer said. “Literally, right when the ball was snapped, I peeked up and there were 20 seconds left.

“At that point in time, I had to make something happen. We were right on that borderline – field goal, touchdown range. They gave me a ‘shot’ play, we took the shot, and obviously it worked out pretty good for the Irish.”

Boy, did it.

Kizer’s “shot” play was a 41-yard launch to Will Fuller speeding toward the end zone. Fuller ran underneath the well-placed heave and rescued the Irish with a 34-27 victory over Virginia.

“It was kind of a blur,” Kizer said of the final play. “Once I let go of the ball, I thought I underthrew him. That’s instinct: You throw the ball to (the speedy) Will Fuller, you underthrow him. When I saw him striding out, chasing the ball down, I knew there was a good chance he was going to catch it.”

Remember 2012 and games like Stanford and Pitt when the Irish should have lost? Well, this could be the 2015 version.

Last week it was running back Tarean Folston who was lost for the season with a knee injury. Saturday, it was quarterback Malik Zaire who was sidelined for the remainder of the schedule with a broken right ankle late in the third quarter.

Next man in. No excuses.

Kizer refused to be timid about the monumental task that awaits him over the next 10 games.

“Since Day One, which started way back in June, I was preparing as if I was going to be the guy,” said the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kizer. “I tried to compete my butt off against Malik all camp, expecting for my time to come throughout the season. Now, it’s here.

“I’ve been ready for a while. I have all the confidence in the world in my ability to be the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

He’s not the only one. Head coach Brian Kelly lamented the loss of Zaire because of the relationship the two had formed since last spring, but shrugged about what he expects from Kizer.

“Teams have to overcome injuries,” said Kelly. “It is unfortunate, but it is what it is. We will find a way to put it together. We’ve said we can win games with him, but we want to win a championship with him; elevate to the next level.”

Likewise, Kizer’s peers – the leadership contingent of the Irish – made sure the youngster understood when they stand.

“I looked him in the eye and I told him, ‘I trust (you); I believe in (you),’” said junior captain linebacker Jaylon Smith. “I looked him dead in the eye. He said it stuck with him.

“It’s great when your leaders talk to the younger guys and give them confidence. I truly believed he was going to get the job done.”

“Jaylon’s words really stuck with me,” Kizer said. “Jaylon came up to me and said he trusted me. Jaylon doesn’t say too much. He only speaks up when spoken to, and when he’s put into a very serious position.”

On the first play after Zaire was injured, running back C.J. Prosise ran 24 yards for a touchdown. Kizer, who completed 8 of 12 passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns (which includes a seven-yard pass on a faked field goal that turned into a TD pass to Durham Smythe), struggled on two drives before engineering the 80-yard, eight-play, game-winning march.

Kizer’s a different sort of athlete than Zaire. He’s not the accomplished runner who’s as likely to tuck the ball and take off, as he is to throw it. But the sturdy, strong-armed youngster won’t hesitate to go after the big play.

Just like the way he handled his first opportunity.

“It’s kind of weird,” Kizer said, recalling his emotion when he saw Zaire was injured. “I expected I was going to be very nervous when that time came. I go to bed, every night before a game, preparing myself for that moment to happen.

“I was kind of blank. It was time to play football, that’s the way I was looking at it.”

Not a bad approach to the challenge.

Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer (14) runs over to some fans after the Fighting Irish's win over Virginia Saturday, September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville. SBT Photo / BECKY MALEWITZ