Kizer or Golson: Examining a Notre Dame QB hypothetical

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – OK, Notre Dame fans, time to play some hypothetical football.

You’ve had four games (three starts) to see what DeShone Kizer is all about. You had two seasons — 2012 and 2014  to get a feel for Everett Golson.

Who would you rather see at quarterback for the Irish now, Kizer or Golson?

Take that question to the tailgate before Saturday’s Notre Dame-Navy game, and there’s sure to be plenty to debate.

Don’t let the final weeks of Golson’s roller-coaster ride in South Bend color the positive experiences he had. Don’t hold his bail out on his final season of eligibility at Notre Dame against him.

Despite 22 turnovers last season; regardless of an obvious erosion of confidence over the final four games of the ’14 regular season; Golson’s performance in 2012 was special. He was 11-0 (missing the BYU game with an injury) as a starter during the regular season, before the nightmare in South Beach ruined everything.

Of the four tight games  Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and Pitt  the Irish played that season, Golson was around at the end for just one of them. Tommy Rees had a lot to do with wins over Purdue, Michigan and Stanford. Golson threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, ran for a two-point conversion, then scored the game-winner in the third overtime against Pitt.

His defining, come-of-age game was a 30-13 victory at Oklahoma.

Golson engineered quality last-minute drives against Stanford, Florida State and Louisville last year. A 23-yard TD pass to Ben Koyack with 1:01 left in the game pulled out a three-point win over Stanford. Kyle Brindza misfired on a 32-yard field goal with 53 seconds left that would have sent the Louisville game to OT. And, everyone remembers the flag at Florida State.

The turning point of Golson’s season/career came at Arizona State in a 55-31 loss  22 of 41, 448 yards, two touchdowns, four interceptions (two pick-sixes), and a fumble. It was bad.

Golson’s confidence was rocked. The memory of him at the podium, taking the heat for the loss, is still vivid. He was a beaten warrior that day, and it just got worse.

Losses to Northwestern and Louisville wore on him. When he took the field against Southern Cal, the confidence issue was obvious. Coach Brian Kelly, who had staunchly defended Golson all season, had no alternative but to send in Malik Zaire for the second half.

For all practical purposes, the Golson era ended that day.

Lots has happened since then. Golson left as a graduate transfer to Florida State and, while guiding the Seminoles to a 4-0 record (wins over football factories like Texas State, South Florida, Boston College and Wake Forest), has put up some pedestrian passing numbers — 68 of 106, 786 yards and seven touchdowns … with no interceptions.

Meanwhile, at Notre Dame …

Zaire’s time in the Showtime spotlight lasted all of two games. A broken ankle against Virginia opened the door for Kizer, a redshirt freshman, to be the next man in.

In his three-plus games as the main man, Kizer has already navigated two successful last-minute drives. He hit Will Fuller for a 39-yard game-winner with 12 seconds left in a relief role against Virginia, then connected with Torii Hunter, Jr., with 7 seconds to play against Clemson. Only difference, a failed two-point conversion cost the Irish the game.

Quite a start for a first-time college player  63 of 99, 862 yards, seven touchdowns and three picks.

Kizer is ranked 22nd in the country in passing efficiency (154.0), while Golson is 33rd (148.2). Golson, who ran for 581 yards and 14 touchdowns at Notre Dame, has 24 carries for minus-seven yards at Florida State. Kizer has carried 32 times for 114 net yards and two scores.

Soooooo … All things being equal, who would you rather see under center for the Irish against Navy and the rest of this season: Golson and his two-plus years of experience, or Kizer and the potential that comes with three more years of eligibility?

Intangibles make all the difference in the world. Confidence can’t be underestimated.

Golson, who was devastated a year ago, is a project right now. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher is trying to slowly put the pieces back together.

It’s a process that Irish coach Brian Kelly wouldn’t have had the luxury to inch along. Instead of Texas State and South Florida, Notre Dame was playing Texas and Virginia. Instead of Atlantic Coast Conference rivals BC and Wake Forest, Notre Dame was playing Georgia Tech and Clemson.

Kizer was the right guy for the job. He has made mistakes, but he has maintained his poise. He has had adversity, but never backed down.

Best of all, he has a future. Every investment made in Kizer this season will pay longterm dividends. Nobody knows his ceiling.

The most interesting piece of the puzzle: What happens next year when a healthy Zaire, Kizer, and Brandon Wimbush all compete for reps in the spring?

Sounds like another debate to save for April.

Who would you rather have quarterbacking the 2015 Irish: DeShone Kizer or Everett Golson? (AP Photos)