Even QB DeShone Kizer feeling the heat after Notre Dame's 1-3 start

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — No one is safe.

When it comes to the struggling starters on Notre Dame’s 1-3 football team, job security has all but disintegrated. That’s what happens when you lose at home to a team you were favored to beat by 20 points. It’s the necessary result of two consecutive home losses as well as five in the last six games. It’s the justified side effect of a listless performance that invited hearty boos from the Notre Dame Stadium bleachers.

In the wake of overwhelming disappointment, everyone will be evaluated — quarterback DeShone Kizer included.

“Below standard,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said, when asked to assess his junior quarterback. “It’s not acceptable, his play.”

In Notre Dame’s 38-35 defeat on Saturday, Kizer completed 22 of 37 passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns. He led the Irish with 60 rushing yards and another score, his fifth in four games.

He also threw a fourth quarter interception and lost a fumble that led to a Duke touchdown.

There was some good, and some bad.

Duke head coach David Cutcliffe focused on the former.

“I think he is terrifically talented,” Cutcliffe said after the game. “He’s got great talent. He’s got some great people around him, and he’s a young quarterback still. I think his best years are ahead of him, but he can flat light you up.

“Being a quarterback guy, I like watching him … but on TV from now on.”

But if Cutcliffe flips on a Notre Dame game in the future, is Kizer the guy he’ll see? Senior quarterback Malik Zaire didn’t do himself any favors on Saturday, after he was inserted in the game alongside Kizer and ran for four yards on one play and was tackled for a 12-yard loss while attempting to throw the ball on another.

When the two quarterbacks competed for the starting position in fall camp, Kelly did not rule out the possibility of playing them both simultaneously.

He’s ruling it out now.

“We’ve got some plays (for a two-quarterback attack), but that’s short-lived now, too,” Kelly said. “After (Zaire) taking the ball and not throwing it away after we sprint out and move the pocket for the specific reason that if there’s any kind of pressure, he can throw the ball away. You won’t see that again.”

So if Kizer was “below standard” and Zaire was “below standard”… is there a chance highly touted sophomore Brandon Wimbush might find his way into a game?

“That’s a possibility,” Kelly said. “That’s definitely a possibility.”

It’s Kizer’s job not to let it happen. Through four games, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior has passed for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns with three interceptions, while running for 186 yards and five more scores.

And, considering the state of his defense, those theatrics haven’t been good enough.

“(Kelly) has given me the keys,” Kizer said, surrounded at a podium by a swell of cameras. “He’s given me the offense and let me run with it. To go 1-3 and not come up (with points) on some big drives at the end of games, it all falls on me as the commander of this offense. It’s my job to execute every time I touch the ball, and I haven’t done that well lately.

“I have to play complete games and be more consistent if we’re going to win games from here on out.”

Regardless of NFL Draft rankings or gaudy measurables, there’s no guarantee Kizer will get to play complete games moving forward.

He can’t play cornerback. He can’t stop the run or rush the passer. For a 1-3 team with 14-0 expectations, Kizer can’t do everything.

But he still has to do more.

“My mentality and my poise is something that this team isn’t benefitting from,” Kizer said, willfully accepting accountability. “I’m going to have to be more verbal. I’m going to have to make sure I take my job and put a little more effort into it, in the sense of the energy side of things.

“If guys are going to go out there and feed off of me, then I need to make sure I have the energy that it takes for all 11 guys to go out and play well, not just myself.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer (14) reacts after turning the ball over on downs during the Notre Dame-Duke NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA