Lesar: DeShone Kizer, Jarron Jones inject toughness into Notre Dame attack

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Life at the bottom of a pile of large men can be a scary proposition.

Definitely not for the faint of heart.

The Notre Dame football team’s 30-27 win over Miami Saturday was loaded with weird plays and big mistakes. Two teams desperate for victories and respect deserved bloopers that made it unique.

One play, as strange as any, could be considered the face of the game. No matter how many things Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer did well – completing 25 of 38 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns – it all pales to what he did with the game on the line and the ball on the turf with 2 minutes left.

Third-and-three from the Miami 9-yard line, score tied at 27. Kizer hit tight end Durham Smythe over the middle. Smythe headed toward the goal line and extended the ball. Hurricane defender Charles Perry knocked the ball loose before it broke the plane. A scrum ensued. Bodies everywhere.

“We all know what's happening in there,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said of what goes on in that mass of confusion. “But clearly, you can understand that there's… it's survival of the fittest down there.”

“It’s awful,” Kizer said of the bottom of the pile. “I don’t know if it’s possible, but I think a guy bit me (in the neck).

“The (Miami) guy whose leg was under (the pile) was kicking at the ball. I locked his leg up as long as I could. The refs came in yelling “White,” I heard one “Blue.” I let go of the ball to let them not see any more of it. That guy had one leg, all 10 fingers, and maybe a chin on the ball.”

Kizer went on to explain how, after being at least 10 yards behind the play, he got to the pile so quickly.

“After I threw it, I turned to go and cheer,” he said, thinking it was a TD. “My momentum was taking me that way, so I could go up and do a heel-click or something fun. The ball came out. I caught it in the corner of my eye.

“It went through two or three Miami guys’ hands. I saw brown, so I went over there trying to squeeze it.”

After maintaining that possession, it set up Justin Yoon for the game-winning field goal – snapping a string of five losses this season that happened because of failures on the final possession.

That play could have been a metaphor for what the Irish have endured through this rough season.

“I needed some toughness from (Kizer); some mental toughness,” Kelly said. “(That play was) an indication. He was not going to be denied. He was going to find a way to get that football. That grittiness is maybe what we were lacking a little bit. He showed some of that grittiness in the way he went and fought for that football.”

Kelly also got some special play on the other side of the ball. Irish grad student defensive tackle Jarron Jones had the game of his life. Kelly called him a “beast.”

“We're playing a lot more three (down linemen), so he's on the center,” Kelly said. “Jarron is one-on-one with the center. A couple of times, we were able to get him one-on-one. You can't block him one-on-one.”

Miami center Nick Linder was completely overwhelmed. Jones spent most of the night in the Hurricane backfield collecting an astounding six tackles for loss, good enough to earn the game ball.

“(I was) trying to get (Linder) back into the lap of the quarterback,” Jones said. “I knew I was capable of getting massive penetration on him. I had to worry about coming off the ball and shocking him.”

All this from a guy who wouldn’t seem to have a whole lot to play for, given the current state of the Notre Dame football program.

“We’re playing for Notre Dame,” Jones said. “We’re playing for each other. That’s the best part about it.”

He also had a personal reason for an outstanding effort.

“My husband and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary today,” said Lakiescha Jones, Jarron’s mother. “(We) said he needed to do something special for us.

“He’s not used to losing. Things have changed this year. It makes you humble. It gives you a nice slap of reality. Who wants it most? It’s dog eat dog. This game could have gone either way.”

Finally, thanks to Kizer and Jones, the Irish got the bounce this time.

Mr. Gritty and The Beast.

Notre Dame’s Jarron Jones (94) defends during the Notre Dame-Miami NCAA college football Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN