Notebook: Brian Kelly-coached QBs have fared well in 1st starts

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — DeShone Kizer has history on his side Saturday, when the redshirt freshman make his first collegiate start.

Brian Kelly’s history.

The last seven quarterbacks to make their starting debuts under the sixth-year Notre Dame head football coach have all ended up on the winning side of the ledger. That includes four at Notre Dame — Malik Zaire (LSU, 2014), Everett Golson (Navy, 2012), Tommy Rees (Utah, 2010) and Dayne Crist (Purdue, 2010).

Rees’ and Zaire’s starts came against ranked teams and in games when the Irish were underdogs. Kizer’s start Saturday against 14th-ranked Georgia Tech (2-0) will be too, even though No. 8 ND (2-0) is the higher-ranked squad.

Zaire, ND’s junior starter, was lost for the season with a broken ankle, suffered Saturday in a 34-27 Irish win at Virginia. He underwent surgery Sunday morning.

Crist’s victory broke a four-game losing streak by Notre Dame first-time starters (Evan Sharpley, Jimmy Clausen, Demetrius Jones, Brady Quinn).

Overall, Irish QBs are 21-10 in their first starts dating back to Sept. 15, 1975, when Rick Slager’s 72 yards in total offense (all passing) was enough to coax the Irish to a 17-3 win over Boston College. Less than a month later, a QB named Joe Montana amassed 19 yards in total offense in his first start, a 10-3 loss to Michigan State.

Three Cincinnati quarterbacks — Zach Collaros, Chazz Anderson and Tony Pike — started the Kelly win streak with newby starters.

The last Kelly-coached QB to lose his first start, and the only one to do so in the 12 seasons that Kelly has been coaching on the FBS level, was Central Michigan redshirt freshman Dan LeFevour in 2006.

He made what was technically his relief debut in the season opener, coming in on the Chippewas' second offensive play against a Boston College team that went on to finish 10-3 and was quarterbacked by eventual first-round draft choice Matt Ryan. And LeFevour threw a scare into the Eagles before Central Michigan eventually fell, 31-24.

The actual first start came for LeFevour the next week in Ann Arbor, Mich., a 41-17 loss to a Michigan team that won its first 11 games and rose to No. 2 in the polls before being edged by No. 1 Ohio State, 42-39, in its regular-season finale.

“It would be hard for me to put a finger on in particularly the wins and why we won the game,” Kelly assessed when pressed to deliver a common thread. “It could have been the opposition. Maybe we played great defense.

“Maybe it had nothing to do with the offense. But I can tell you with quarterbacks that are going to go out there for the first time, you're really going to play to their strengths and what they do well. So everything that we do will be part of the system.”

Kizer was 8-of-12 for 92 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday against Virginia and ran the ball twice for a net of one yard. That included a three-yard sack, but also a four-yard run for a first down on fourth-and-two during the game-winning drive.

Against Texas on Sept. 5, in pure mop-up duty, Kizer threw an incompletion on his only pass attempt and ran twice for 10 yards.

“We recruited DeShone Kizer, because he can run the system of offense that I like to run,” Kelly said. “So we're going to run our system. That's what we do.

“He does things a little bit different than Malik does, but they all are within the realm of the offense. It's just we'll choose a little bit from different chapters within the offensive system.

“I think DeShone will do quite well. We'll just feature some of the things that he does a little bit better or that are considered his strengths as a quarterback.”

Personnel matters

For those wondering if Kelly might try to keep freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s redshirt possibility open as long as possible, the coach indicated Tuesday that quite the opposite is true.

Kelly said he’ll look for opportunities to play Wimbush, his newly anointed No. 2 signal-caller, sooner than later.

“He's going to have to play this year,” Kelly said. “Let's try to get him as much experience as possible and we're going to prepare him this week as if he's going to play and go from there.

“He's got very good speed. He's got a strong arm. He's tough. And I think there are some things that could enhance our offense with him in the game as well.”

• Grad linebacker Jarret Grace’s presence on the field has been spotty over the first couple of games. And it has nothing to do with performance.

“Jarrett has been hampered by an ankle and a bit of a hamstring,” Kelly said of ND’s starting middle linebacker in 2013, whose first game back since a season-ending injury in October of that year was Sept. 5 against Texas.

“So he has not been healthy the last week or so and he's still not a 100 percent.”

• Kelly said ND has made personnel and schematic changes on his kickoff return team, which ranks 115th out of 127 in the FBS at 15.0 yards per return.

But those changes don’t involve primary return man Amir Carlisle, at least not yet.

“It's natural the first guy you're going to look at is the returner, and I get that,” Kelly said. “But upon further evaluation, we think there are some things you've got to coach a little bit better, and we think there are some guys that we needed to replace on that team before we look at the returners.

“Then if we feel like we're doing it right there, then it goes to the returners.”

Bryant watch

As ASA Miami takes aim at its fifth opponent on its 10-game schedule, Advance Prep Academy this Saturday, former Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant is still trying to gain eligibility clearance to play for the fledgling Florida junior college program.

Bryant began practicing with the team the week that followed the Silver Storm’s season-opening loss to Blinn College on Aug. 22. They’ve won three times in his absence against a schedule heavy in post-graduate prep schools.

Bryant was suspended in June for ND’s first four games, then later in the summer declared academically ineligible for the entire 2015 season. He did have the option to remain at Notre Dame and take classes.

Once he enrolled at ASA Miami, he posted on his Instagram account that he was reopening his recruiting after he righted himself academically. That seemed to rule out an eventual return to Notre Dame.

The junior from Delray Beach, Fla., was ND’s second-leading rusher in 2014, with 289 yards on 54 carries. Converted wide receiver C.J. Prosise, who leapfrogged Bryant on the depth chart last spring, has almost matched those numbers in two games (253 yards, 37 carries, 1 TD) this season.

Notable numbers

Season-ending injuries to quarterback Malik Zaire and tight end Durham Smythe helped reshape Notre Dame’s national title odds this week.

The Irish were 14-1 last week, after their 35-point victory over Texas, but are now 33-1, per Bovada.LV.

Zaire is obviously off the board in the Heisman Trophy odds after being listed at 14-1 last week, but the Irish have a new entry. Junior wide receiver Will Fuller, fifth nationally in receiving yards per game and second in TD receptions, is new on the board and at 33-1.

Former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, now at Florida State, is also at 33-1.

Ohio State remains a 7-4 favorite to win the national title. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin (17-2) is the new Heisman favorite, replacing OSU quarterback Cardale Jones.

• Notre Dame has put together back-to-back rushing efforts of 200 yards or more for the first time since the final year of the coach Lou Holtz Era (1996).

• Since Kelly replaced Golson as the starting quarterback, the Irish offense has logged three consecutive turnover-free games.

• Georgia Tech is one of only four teams nationally that has not had a three-and-out possession on offense. The others are Ole Miss, Arkansas, and coach Bob Diaco’s UConn team.

In 2014, Georgia Tech had the fewest three-and-outs in the FBS at 7.9 percent of its possessions. Oregon was second at 13.5 percent.

• Tech is one of seven FBS teams this season to have converted 100 percent of its red zone trips into TDs (12-for-12).

Lott of love for Smith

Notre Dame junior linebacker Jaylon Smith has been named the Lott IMPACT Player of the Week, awarded to the defensive player with the best performance nationally.

While the Irish labored overall on defense last Saturday, Smith shined with 11 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, in ND’s 34-27 victory at Virginia.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Will redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer on Saturday become the eighth successive Brian Kelly-coached quarterback to win in his first college start (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)