Notebook: There's no eye (infection) in team for DeShone Kizer

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

GLENDALE, Ariz. — DeShone Kizer wore big glasses with thick rims, but even then, the difference was plain to see.

His right eye: clear, focused, unaffected. His left: half-shut, swollen, like Rocky Balboa after a round where he rarely lifts his gloves.

When Notre Dame’s sophomore quarterback woke up on Wednesday, his left eye was suddenly infected. And though he didn’t see this particular obstacle coming, Kizer also wasn’t surprised.

“It’s just something with me,” he said at Notre Dame’s Media Day at the Fiesta Bowl with an exasperated chuckle. “During big games, something ends up coming up, whether it’s a migraine during the week or an exam coming up.

“I thought everything was running smoothly, and now I have an irritated eye. It’s just kind of expected with my body, but we’ll figure it out and clean it up before the game.”

Notre Dame certainly can’t afford to lose its starting quarterback, who passed for 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns this season and rushed for 499 yards and nine more scores.

And two days before the seventh-ranked Irish (10-2) take the field against No. 8 Ohio State (11-1) in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl, Kizer guaranteed that another “next man in” won’t be necessary.

“I’m 100 percent good,” he said. “I’m just ready to put some drops in it and clear it up, because I feel like I look like an idiot up here. Other than that, I’m fine. I don’t feel any different. I’m not sick or anything. Vision’s good. Everything’s fine.”

Still, the sturdy 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback couldn’t help but laugh. In a year where adversity has been an overwhelming theme, why should bowl week be any different?

“All year, we’ve been trying to overcome injuries and situations where we want to go out and win games,” Kizer said. “Now I have to figure out how I’m going to overcome a little red-eye.”

Hitting his stride

C.J. Prosise heard the question a hundred times, and he was thankful each time he did.

How’s the ankle? How’s the ankle? How’s the ankle? Rinse. Repeat.

Notre Dame’s senior running back, who will return for the Fiesta Bowl after missing one game with a high ankle sprain, can take the monotony, especially considering the positive response.

“I’m glad people keep asking me,” Prosise said, “just so I can continue to let everybody know that I’m back and ready to play Friday and ready to go.”

Saying it, though, has never been enough. Prosise — who rushed for 1,032 yards and 6.6 yards per carry in 10 games this season, scoring 12 touchdowns — will have to show it on Friday against Ohio State, the No. 22 rushing defense nationally.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly, for one, expects a rejuvenated runner.

“He looked pretty good yesterday,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “I think yesterday was his first day that he really showed … the best way to put it is that he looked like C.J. That was the first time yesterday when we saw him cut and look explosive.

“I think the timing is good. We've got a couple more days, but I expect to see him do some things for us offensively. He's going to share carries. He's not going to be a workhorse in the sense that he's going to get 20 carries like he did maybe in the middle of the season. I think we're going to definitely see him have an impact in the game.”

Prosise, who said that he received feedback from the NFL Draft advisory board but declined to elaborate on his grade, expanded on Tuesday’s breakthrough.

“We were in team periods, and I had a run where I cut and hit the hole and accelerated,” he said. “I definitely felt more like myself. Before, it wasn’t like that. I was still nervous about cutting on my ankle and stuff like that. I definitely think yesterday at practice was a big day for me and a big step for me.”

The next step, you ask?

Letting his play answer all the questions.

“I definitely feel like I’ve got a fresh body,” said Prosise, who added that he feels as healthy as he has since the season opener. “The runs I was having early in the season where I was pushing the pile, I think I can get back to those.”

Dual absences

The tables were lined up in neat, tidy rows, each one accompanied by a placard featuring the name of a Notre Dame starter. Durham Smythe. Joe Schmidt. Quenton Nelson. On and on and on. Along the walls of the Camelback Resort’s gaudy auditorium, with its high ceilings and colorful patterned carpets, five players were singled out with personalized backdrops: Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, Will Fuller, Ronnie Stanley and Kizer.

But two established Notre Dame starters were nowhere to be found: free safety Max Redfield and nose tackle Daniel Cage.

Redfield, of course, was sent home on Tuesday after being pegged with a “violation of team rules.” During media day, Kelly briefly expanded on the situation.

"Max knows he made a mistake, and he's fully accountable for his actions,” the head coach said. “There's no ripple effect (throughout the program). Guys are accountable, and we'll move on."

The Irish will move on, hopefully, with Cage in tow. The 6-1, 315-pound nose tackle sprained his ankle during the first week of bowl practices. Sophomore defensive end Andrew Trumbetti took his place at Media Day.

“He's a Cincinnati kid. He wants to play,” Kelly said of Cage. “So I think he'll be fine on Friday. It's similar to what Ohio State has to figure out, when you have (senior defensive tackle Adolphus) Washington out, do you move (defensive end Joey) Bosa inside at all? Well, it minimizes what you do on the outside.

"We're the same way. We don't want to use Isaac Rochell on the inside, because it minimizes what you do on the outside.”

The initial plan at the nose guard position is to rotate Cage, freshman Jerry Tillery and senior Jarron Jones, the latter of whom is back after missing the regular season with a torn MCL.

The end goal, of course, is to slow down Ohio State junior running back Ezekiel Elliott — no matter what, or who, it takes.

Onwualu bounces back

James Onwualu is used to being hurt, but not injured.

In his football career, Notre Dame's junior linebacker said, he has had concussions. He has broken his jaw. He broke his wrist prior to last season's Music City Bowl victory over LSU.

And in all cases, he didn't missed a game.

That is, until this season, when a sprained left knee suffered in the Senior Day victory over Wake Forest on Nov. 14 forced him out of the following two games, against Boston College and Stanford. Onwualu, who made 36 tackles with two sacks in 10 games, was forced to watch.

He isn't good at watching.

"They told me that I don’t need surgery, so you’re like, ‘Geez, so I can do this, but I can’t do this?’ You just have to heal," Onwualu said. "It’s a part of the game. Understanding that’s a part of the game is tough, but as a competitor you want to be out there.”

And soon, he will be. The 6-1, 232-pound linebacker hasn't missed a practice in bowl preparation and is set to start on Friday against Ohio State.

For Onwualu, as well as fellow returners Jones, Durham Smythe and Prosise, the New Year can't come soon enough.

"Every game (I missed) was so tough for me, because I love playing with Joe (Schmidt) and Jaylon (Smith)," he said, "and I know there’s only so many opportunities left. It’s crazy how close you get to these guys and how much you’re immersed in these game day experiences. I definitely missed that.”

The Fiesta Bowl trophy is a very large thing.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) December 30, 2015

Special podium set-ups for Fuller, Stanley, Day, Smith and Kizer.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) December 30, 2015

Sheldon Day stole a Showtime camera to shoot Elijah Shumate.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) December 30, 2015

I'm told this is Ohio State's backup quarterback.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) December 30, 2015

#NotreDame RB Josh Adams seemed pretty at ease in his first bowl media day.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) December 30, 2015

Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer (14) woke up with an eye infection Wednesday, but vows it won't affect him in Friday's Fiesta Bowl matchup with Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)