Notebook: Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey on QB DeShone Kizer: 'He's everything to us'

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Mike McGlinchey chuckled.

It’s not that the reporter had told a joke, but the answer was incredibly obvious.

Just how much does quarterback DeShone Kizer mean to the Notre Dame offense?

“I think that kind of speaks for itself,” McGlinchey said. “DeShone, he's our guy. He's everything to us. Yeah, there's no words that describe how valuable DeShone Kizer is to this offense and to this football team.”

There may not be any words, but there sure are plenty of numbers. Through three games this season, Kizer — a 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior — has passed for 715 yards and nine touchdowns with two interceptions, completing 63.3 percent of his passes. He has also run for four scores, which puts him on pace to break the school record for quarterback rushing touchdowns that he initially set last season.

And though there may be no words to describe Kizer’s value, McGlinchey was willing to try.

“His ability to just be the same guy every day (sets him apart),” McGlinchey said. “His ability to stay cool, calm and collected under pressure. I mean, it's not every day you see a quarterback that gets down three scores or something like that in two games that we've had already this year and somehow figures out a way in the fourth quarter to come back and give our team a chance to win the football game, and he's done that twice now.

“Unfortunately we didn't finish like we wanted to, but it's not just on him. That's on everybody else. DeShone is such a special player. He's a special talent and he's a special kid, and that's what makes him so special. It's the combination of who he is, how he plays and his position on this football team. It's huge for us.”

Basketball school?

Duke is a basketball school.

That is a fact, not a theory. The Blue Devils’ five national championships are proof of this, as are the 16 Final Four appearances. Head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski is the face of the university, and maybe the sport. Cameron Indoor Stadium is college basketball's grand cathedral, and Duke’s students are its parishioners.

With that being said, Duke also has a football team — one Notre Dame shouldn’t underestimate on Saturday.

“They are going to test our receivers, and we've got to make plays again this week,” Notre Dame senior wide receiver and team captain Torii Hunter Jr. said on Wednesday. “They have got a lot of great DBs that can make plays. They have a pretty good turnover margin.

“They are going to be a tough opponent and we shouldn't take them lightly, no matter if they are a basketball school or whatever you want to call them.”

Of course, Notre Dame isn’t in a position to take anyone lightly — not after falling to 1-2 with a 36-28 home defeat at the hands of Michigan State last weekend.

And while the defense continues to burn the Irish, Notre Dame’s offense fell asleep for long stretches last weekend as well.

“I just think that we weren't playing with a sense of urgency,” Hunter said, assessing his team’s offensive inconsistency. “You know, guys were kind of just lackadaisical, it felt like, and there was no spark. You could just kind of sense it on the sideline and I think that's what kind of held us back and what slowed us down.

“Once we came out and made a play or two, that spark kind of came back and that's when the game kind of turned around.”

Indeed, Notre Dame scored three touchdowns in the final 18 minutes, narrowing a 36-7 deficit to a manageable one-score game. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer passed for 344 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores.

And in his return after missing the Nevada game with a concussion, Hunter led the Irish with five catches for 95 yards.

“I felt amazing, man,” he said. “It felt great to be back out there after that first play. I kind of felt a rush of energy just to be back out there with the team. Yeah, it was an awesome experience to be back out there with the guys.”

On the subject of his concussion, Hunter added: “I'm way past that. I don't want to look back.”

Backing VanGorder

James Onwualu hears it.

How could he not? After Brian VanGorder’s defense allowed 500 total yards and 200 rushing yards to Texas and Michigan State (both in losing efforts), the Irish fan base has not been shy in calling for the third-year defensive coordinator’s removal.

But what does Onwualu — a senior as well as a team captain — think about his besieged boss?

“I mean, people say that the defense is too complicated and that he does too much, it’s too exotic and it doesn't work,” Onwualu said. “But you know, as a player, I respect what he does and I think that his system is one that I have enjoyed playing in. It's important to me that I have a coach that's going to continue to give me as much information as possible and give me the opportunity to do as much as I can in the game, and I think that he does that.

“So obviously, there's things on every team that you can fix, and the players have to execute certain things no matter what defense it is. So those are things that you can clean up, but overall I love playing for Coach VanGorder.”

As Notre Dame tries to reverse its free fall, there’s no shortage of things that can be cleaned up. The Irish currently rank 102nd in total defense, 99th in rushing defense, 98th in tackles for loss and 94th in scoring defense.

Perhaps more distressing, its young players — like freshman safety Devin Studstill, freshman cornerback Julian Love and freshmen defensive ends Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara — will continue to be counted on as they rush to absorb the defensive playbook.

“There's more to it than just understanding the playbook,” Onwualu said. “These guys have put the time in to understand the playbook, but these offenses are throwing more at us than they ever have. The offensive game in college football is continuing to evolve, and like you see in Michigan State, they were throwing new stuff at us all throughout the game.

“Usually you get maybe a 15, 20-play script in the beginning of the game, trying to see what we are trying to do against their motions and their different types of offense. But MSU gave us a bunch of stuff throughout the game, so it's difficult for a guy who does a great job of studying but (has to take) our concepts and try to match them into new looks throughout a game.”

Admitting the problem

For McGlinchey, fun is not a habit.

Notre Dame’s 6-foot-8, 310-pound senior left tackle often struggles to focus solely on his job and enjoy the game instead of dwelling on the bigger picture, he said this week.

“I think the biggest thing for me is just not worrying about things that I can't control,” McGlinchey said, “and I think that has gotten in the way of my play a little bit this season. Football is a game, and it's a game that we put our entire lives into, but at the end of the day it is a game and you have to go out and recognize that and have fun with it.

“You saw from our offensive line and myself individually in the second half of that Michigan State game, when all bets were off, it was just time to go play. There was nothing really we could do. We were behind a couple scores. It was, ‘All right, let's go play football and see what happens.’ We had a blast doing it. Watching the game on TV, I'm sure you saw us jumping up and down and celebrating and being the first guys to the ball (after a touchdown), and that's the kind of energy that you need to have at all times.”

Going forward, McGlinchey’s challenge is to narrow his thinking — to focus on the next job, the next play, the next second — and let everything else wash away.

“It's more of a spreading-yourself-too-thin kind of thing,” McGlinchey explained. “It's one of those things where I have to focus on what I need to do, and what I need to do is recognize in the lineman across from me, what he's doing, and then play ball. That's one thing that I wasn't doing as well as I would have liked and I'm starting to improve that.

“It's like one of those A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings. You have to admit the problem and keep working on it.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer (14) celebrates a touchdown during the Notre Dame-Michigan State NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN