Notebook: No snap judgment from DeShone Kizer on center play

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

RALEIGH, N.C. — Atrocious.

That’s how seventh-year Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly described his team’s inability to snap the football in its 10-3 loss to North Carolina State on Saturday. That falls largely on the considerable shoulders of 6-foot-3, 310-pound junior center Sam Mustipher.

But should it? Two of Mustipher’s shotgun snaps resulted in fumbles in crucial situations. Early in the second quarter, Notre Dame was driving at the N.C, State 22-yard line, when it appeared the ball slipped out of Mustipher’s hand and bounced around on the soggy turf. The Wolfpack recovered.

On the final Irish drive of the game, and ND trailing 10-3, Mustipher again faltered. The Olney, Md., product snapped the football before junior quarterback DeShone Kizer was ready, sabotaging a fourth-and-8 play from the Wolfpack 20-yard line.

But despite Mustipher’s repeated gaffes, and Kelly’s harsh words afterward, Kizer continued to support him.

“There’s a lot on your mind (as the center),” Kizer said. “He has just as much responsibility as I do with his five guys up front. To have the ball spinning left and right, to have your ball be sitting almost in a pool of water out there and still have to snap the ball, there’s a lot out there (to worry about).

"I can’t wait to talk to him and let him know that, 'Hey, it’s part of the game.' (If) a lot of the snaps that you did snap other than the last one were in a typical game, I’m going to make those plays. It was a tad bit high and I wasn’t able to get my hand on two of them. I can’t wait to talk to him, because there’s not much that needs to change.

“When you go through a game like that and coach calls you out, you like to put it all on yourself. But we’ll move forward, and I can guarantee that we won’t have Hurricane Matthew in South Bend when we get back.”

Plummeting passing game

Last season, Kizer had success throwing the football (321 passing yards, two touchdowns) in a steady rain at Clemson.

This wasn’t Clemson.

“Clemson was spurty. There’s times where it was raining sideways. There’s times where it was dry out there,” Kizer said. “But to have the constant rain like it was doesn’t allow the ball to have much time to dry off in between drives. Against Clemson we were able to have somewhat of a dry ball every snap that came in.

“For this one, by the time that ball got from the sideline to us trying to use it and play, it was soaked. So it was a lot different and definitely worse conditions than Clemson.”

On Saturday, Kizer completed just 9 of 26 passes for 54 yards, while being sacked five times.

“With the defense that North Carolina State was playing against us, they were putting an extra hat in the box,” Kizer said. “The safety is dropping in. They were throwing some blitzes at us. The best way to combat that is to throw the football, and we stayed true to who we are and took what the defense gave us.

“Tonight it was throwing the ball. We just weren’t able to do that well.”

Plenty of energy

In the 38-35 home loss to Duke on Sept. 24, Notre Dame was flat, and Kelly noted it.

Saturday’s game brought the same result, but for different reasons.

“The kids were in great spirits, great energy,” an unusually subdued Kelly said following the loss. “I felt terrible that we (the coaches) let them down. I thought we let them down in the sense that they were prepared for another noon start. They had great energy. They were played with great heart on defense. But North Carolina State made the big play with the punt block.”

Kelly said that he didn’t regret attempting 26 passes on Saturday, nor did he regret leaving senior quarterback Malik Zaire on the bench in the kind of atmosphere that might have suited his read-option skill set.

But he did feel that the team’s coaching left something to be desired.

“When your team is flat and not playing with that energy, you kind of sense it,” Kelly lamented. “But they were excited to play today, and you want to be there for them. You want to make the right call. You want to put them in the right position. You second-guess yourself.

“Maybe we should have been in a three-man wall there (when Tyler Newsome’s punt was blocked), you know, instead of rugby (style). You second-guess yourself in games like this when your team is ready to play and excited to play. That’s what I was meaning by that.”

Difficult conditions

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Prior to Saturday’s game, N.C. State’s official Twitter account tweeted that the Wolfpack would change socks and cleats at halftime and estimated that between 500 and 1,000 towels would be used before, during and after the contest. In an attempt to keep the footballs relatively dry, the officials also rotated in 36 different footballs, twice the usual number.

All the footballs in the world, however, would likely not have improved the quality of play.

“I don’t think you can prepare for this,” Kelly said. “I thought the officials did a great job of getting dry balls in. We used 36 balls. It’s generally an 18-ball rotation. I thought, from that standpoint, it was managed terrifically.

“Both teams turned the ball over in very difficult conditions. Both teams had a tough time moving the football. Both field goal kickers managed to eke one over both of the uprights in sloppy conditions. We give up a flippin’ blocked punt for a touchdown, and that’s the difference in this one.”

Moving forward

How can a wounded Irish team lift itself out of the muck that accompanies an uncharacteristic 2-4 start?

“Each guy has to continue to work hard,” said senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey. “We’ve got to take ownership of your job and take ownership of the team around you. You have to make sure that nobody else is taking for granted what we have here at Notre Dame and taking for granted what goes on. It’s just a matter of regrouping, everybody together and chipping away at the block one man, one play at a time.”

Added senior defensive end and fellow captain Isaac Rochell: “What’s my message to the team? It’s, ‘Win games.’ At this point the record’s not good, not what we want to be, and I told the guys in the shower, ‘Let’s just focus on beating Stanford.’

“Even if we beat Stanford, we’re 3-4. It’s still not good. The focus has to be winning games just to win games.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

NC State's Dexter Wright (14) grabs a blocked punt and returns it for a touchdown during the Notre Dame's 10-3 loss to N.C. State, Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, NC. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)