DeShone Kizer develops into potent runner for Notre Dame
DeShone Kizer wasn’t always a maestro on the move.
Notre Dame’s sophomore quarterback said it himself, standing at a podium on Oct. 7, mere weeks into the forced commencement of a budding college career.
“I never really wanted to be a run-first guy. I never will be a run-first guy,” Kizer said. “But I'm a guy who believes that each play is never over. There's always going to be a new opportunity for something good to happen.”
“Something good,” in most cases, meant a pass. An improvisation. Kizer ran to create time for his receivers. Essentially, he ran to throw. And every once in a while, he’d turn up field, gain a few extra yards and move the chains.
In his first two starts, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound sophomore ran a total of 14 times, most coming almost by accident.
In the six starts since, he has run 78 times — an average of 13 carries per game — with the success of an armored tank flattening ill-positioned traffic cones.
The difference isn’t just in temperament, though Kizer has admittedly embraced his mobility more and more as the victims mount. Head coach Brian Kelly’s use of the read-option in the red zone, too, has proved bothersome for opposing defenses.
“We're running option down there. A true read-option,” Kelly said. “Didn't do it with (Everett) Golson. Didn't do it with Tommy Rees. Didn't do it with the other quarterbacks who were here.
“He's 235 pounds. He's big, he's strong. And down there, if you're going to go double out some really talented receivers, you get friendly boxes to run the football.”
The results have been darn near historic, as Kizer has chugged for eight touchdowns — all coming in the last seven games. He may not be of a run-first mind, but the Toledo, Ohio, native sits one score shy of tying Tony Rice and Rick Mirer for the single season record for an Irish quarterback nonetheless.
Only, don’t tell him that.
So far, no one has.
“The only time we hear about records is when you guys bring them up in these questions,” Kizer said. “I have no idea what records are even out there. I know that some of the guys around me are playing spectacular and I know that it's eventually probably going to lead to some records, but we're just worried about how we can come out and win the day.”
When the Irish are winning, Kizer is running — and that’s not by accident. Whether a defense is doubling Will Fuller or loading the box on C.J. Prosise, an effectively mobile quarterback can alleviate pressure on everyone else.
With 338 rushing yards on the season, and five touchdowns in his last three games, Kizer has been the constant in his team’s November success.
“As a runner, you've got to be patient out there,” he said. “I'm not a guy who's going to be able to blow past guys with speed and be able to make mistakes and just run past them and do things like that. I've got to be able to think through runs and try to cut off of guys and understand the blocking scheme.
“I have just continued to develop as we move forward. And if the opportunities are there for us to have a quarterback-run-driven game, then we're going to have to do it because guys are going to try to put extra guys in the box to stop our running backs right now.”
Kizer’s evolving mobility was on display last Saturday, when the once-anonymous quarterback took a shotgun snap, waited for his blocks to clear and busted through a gaping hole. He cut back to his right at the 10-yard line, maneuvered through a crowd and emerged victorious at the goal line.
After scoring the game’s first touchdown, Kizer sprinted to the back of the end zone, stopping a few feet shy of the band. He lifted his right arm and waved an imaginary baton, quietly conducting the orchestra.
To no one’s surprise, the maestro had arrived.