Analysis: Powlus helps shape DeShone Kizer's world at Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

As DeShone Kizer continues to ascend statistically and renownedly, even on a bye week, one of the assertive voices in his ear is that of former Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus.

It’s actually part of Powlus’ job these days as ND football’s director of player development — the renowned part, not the statistical part.

That latter realm belongs to QBs coach Mike Sanford, associate head coach Mike Denbrock and head coach Brian Kelly. And Kizer improved in that area without playing a game this weekend, moving up two spots in the national pass-efficiency standings to No. 14.

The team he quarterbacks, the 6-1 Irish, also moved up a couple of spots, in the latest AP poll — to No. 9, in advance of their, yes, showdown at 21st-ranked Temple (7-0) Saturday night (8 EDT; ABC-TV).

The last time the Irish played a team that was 7-0 or better was 2004 (USC, a 41-10 Irish loss and the last game Tyrone Willingham coached at ND). The last time they beat such a team was 1993 (Florida State, 31-24), Powlus’ freshman season at Notre Dame, when a broken collarbone in preseason prompted him to take a medical redshirt season.

His world changed dramatically the following September, when he racked up a 231.85 pass-efficiency rating in his college debut — a 42-15 rout of Northwestern.

Also significant in that game, the former top recruit in the country was saddled with the projection of winning multiple Heisman trophies by effusive ESPN analyst Beano Cook, though surreal expectations had been percolating from the moment he signed his national letter-of-intent.

“The thing for me that I had to get used to — and coming from a successful high school program (Berwick, Pa.) helped — but you’re always on,” Powlus said last week of his toughest adjustment to playing QB at Notre Dame.

“The whole world’s watching, and you have to get used to that. And that’s something, even if you come from a world where a lot of people are watching you in high school, it’s still different here.

“That’s a good thing. If you embrace it, you have a good time with it. And if you fight it, you’re going to struggle.”

Those are the kinds of conversations Powlus is having with Kizer these days.

Whether it was dealing with the outside world or opposing defenses, Powlus’ numbers came back to mortal as he finished 1994 with a respectable but not spectacular 139.18 passer rating that season. That was a little over a year before the now 19-year-old Kizer was born.

Kizer’s 156.9 rating remains on a trajectory to be the third-best, single-season mark of all time at the school (minimum 100 pass completions), behind only Jimmy Clausen’s 2009 season (161.4) and Brady Quinn’s in 2005 (158.4).

Powlus was Clausen’s QB coach that ’09 season and was at ND in an administrative role for Quinn’s standout season. He’ll have a chance to be the common thread in the three best pass-efficiency seasons on record if Kizer can hold or improve over the final five regular-season games and a postseason opponent.

“You do have to get used to always being evaluated and scrutinized,” Powlus said.

All five of ND’s remaining regular-season opponents (Temple, Pitt, Wake Forest, Boston College, Stanford) rank in the top 35 nationally in total defense, something Kizer and the Irish faced only once in their first seven games (Clemson, 4th).

Temple is actually comparable to Clemson across the board defensively — sixth in rush defense, ninth in pass-efficiency defense, 14th in total defense, eighth in scoring defense, eighth in sacks. Clemson is 13-3-4-7-27 in those categories.

The difference is Clemson has a potent offense to go along with that (28th total offense, 16th scoring offense). The Owls (108th and 51st, respectively) do not.

There’s a functional rooting interest for Kizer’s numbers to maintain or improve through the run through those high-rated defenses. It’s a factor that could help separate the Irish in the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s eye test, specifically from the two-point loss at Clemson on Oct. 3 and the 34-27 scare at struggling Virginia on Sept. 12.

Utah’s 42-24 loss at USC and Florida State’s 22-16 last-second collapse at Georgia Tech Saturday night, as well as Texas’ recent muscle-flexing in the Big 12, all help ND’s perceptual cause for a playoff push, too. Navy (5-1) could contribute toward that in the coming weeks, when it visits unbeatens Memphis and Houston.

Still, it’s impossible to project whether 11-1 is good enough for the Irish to make the top 4 playoff field. The two biggest reasons?

• The committee may not view ND’s résumé the same way the AP and the Amway coaches polls do. (Its first poll comes out Nov. 3.)

• You can’t account for what the teams competing with the Irish for those playoff spots are going to do, moving forward.

Currently there are 12 undefeated teams in the FBS, including Temple. That’s the most at this juncture of the season in the 18-year BCS/Playoff Era (hat tip to CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon) and eight more than at this time last season.

It’s mathematically possible, though unlikely, to finish the post-conference playoff phase of the season with as many as six unbeatens. Half of the teams with unblemished records are currently ranked behind ND.

Only two once-beaten teams (No. 7 Alabama and No. 8 Stanford) are rated ahead of the Irish, and that’s significant if the committee mimics the polls.

The best-case scenario for Notre Dame to make the playoff looks like this:

• Clemson finishes 14-0 and projects as the top team in the nation. The Tigers moved up to No. 3 in the AP poll on Sunday after gouging Miami (Fla.) 58-0 on the road.

• Stanford brings a 10-1 record into its Nov. 28 matchup in Palo Alto, Calif., with a 10-1 Irish team. The higher the Cardinal are ranked, the better, even if it’s at the expense of ND.

• Notre Dame wins impressively at Stanford, with the Cardinal rebounding to win the Pac-12 Conference title game the next weekend in Santa Clara, Calif.

• The Irish improve statistically on defense over the next five games as convincingly as Stanford has done offensively since laying a 16-6 egg at Northwestern the opening week of the season (240 total yards, 85 rushing yards in the loss).

• The top teams in the Big 12 and/or Big Ten cannibalize each other, with parity ruling those conferences in November.

If an 11-1 Irish team falls short of the playoff, its postseason destination will be either the Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1 at Glendale, Ariz.) or Peach Bowl (Dec. 31 in Atlanta).

The same goes for a 10-2 Irish team, but remember the aesthetics of that second loss matter when it comes to New Year’s Six bowls, unlike those bowls in the lower tiers.

The committee picks the participants for the Fiesta and Peach, too, and doesn’t factor in the ND-friendly qualities of how many seats it can fill or how many TVs it might turn on.

Those factors do very much come into play if the Irish slide down into the ACC’s bowl lineup.

Because of rotating playoff semifinal sites, the Orange Bowl is out of play for both the ACC and ND this season. Indirectly, so is the back door into the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl.

So the top landing spot outside the New Year’s Six this postseason is the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando. A 9-3 Irish team likely lands there opposite a Big 12 team.

An 8-4 ND team could also gain a berth in Orlando for the Russell Athletic Bowl, but a two-loss ACC team would ace them out by rule. That could be Florida State from the Atlantic Division or the Duke/Pitt/North Carolina survivor from the Coastal.

A 7-5 or 6-6 Irish team likely slides into the ACC’s Tier One lineup, from which the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., vs. an SEC team would be the most-probable landing spot.

GameDay comes to Philly

As of Sunday night, ESPN officials were still undecided about where to send its wildly popular road show, College GameDay, this weekend.

On Monday afternoon, ESPN officials finally selected Notre Dame at Temple, making it the second time this season the Irish were the road team when GameDay appeared. Stanford at Washington State was the other contender for this weekend.

The show will originate from just outside Independence Hall.

This will be Notre Dame's 27th ESPN College GameDay experience, the 18th as the true road team. GameDay has come to the Notre Dame campus only twice in the last decade — in 2012 for Stanford and in 2005 for USC.

The Irish are 7-10 on the road when GameDay is present. Lee Corso, in his headgear-inspired picks, is 2-5 all-time when picking the Irish, 9-5 when picking against them.


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer (14), here evading a tackle by USC's Su'a Cravens (21) on Oct. 17, gets advice for life off the field from former Irish QB Ron Powlus. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)