Notebook: Kelly appeals to Kizer's sense of history to spark improvement

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In the gaps between hammering home fundamentals and identifying the next incremental stage of DeShone Kizer’s development, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly talks legacy.

A lot.

And Kizer, ND’s junior quarterback and burgeoning NFL prospect, takes it all in.

“I talk mostly about Notre Dame, and where does he want to be as it relates to the Notre Dame quarterbacks?” Kelly said. “Most quarterbacks are judged by not their numbers, but by their wins. And we’re all, right now, 3-6.”

Statistically, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Toledo, Ohio, product is on an arc to have the best individual numbers across the board of any Notre Dame second-year starter at QB in the past 50 years.

Slightly better than Rick Mirer and Joe Theismann. Way better than Jimmy Clausen, Tom Clements, Brady Quinn and Joe Montana. Stunningly ahead of the entire field if you extract the Hurricane Matthew-tainted loss to N.C. State (his 149.5 pass-efficiency rating becomes 162.8).

But the spark in the distance to drive his improvement, to evolve as a leader is how he’ll be remembered.

The wild card is how soon Notre Dame will be in his rear-view mirror.

Kizer, with two years of eligibility left beyond the current one, has been a staple in spring 2017 NFL mock drafts and big boards as a top 25 prospect, though recently some analysts have begun reassessing that the QB’s high ceiling would be better reached with another year of college football.

“At this point I'm so focused in on doing whatever I can to get us to a position to be bowl-eligible, I haven't really put the time and thought needed to make a decision,” Kizer said Wednesday.

“I know that there will be an opportunity for me to play at the next level, whether or not it would be first round, second round, third round, we have no idea. Once again, I haven't informed myself enough to make a good decision.

“Right now I'm just focused on how I can better myself and what it takes for me to win games here. Obviously, that next level is something completely different, and I don't know where I fit in in that environment. I just know that right now, I fit in this environment pretty well and I've got to do whatever it takes to get a win against Army.”

The Irish face Army (5-4) Saturday in the eighth annual Shamrock Series offsite home game, reprising the series’ year one venue — the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

The Black Knights are among the nation’s top defensive teams across the board, including sixth in passing yards allowed and 18th in the more pertinent area of pass-efficiency defense. But they’ve seen nothing like Kizer and the ND passing game.

The Irish are the first team Army will face that ranks higher than 75th in the 128-team FBS in both pass offense and pass efficiency. The Irish are top 40 in both categories. And Air Force, which defeated Army 31-12 last Saturday, is the only team Army has played that ranks in the top 60 nationally in total offense.

That doesn’t help the Irish defense solve Army’s triple-option offense, but Kizer could sure put pressure on it by flourishing and helping to build an early lead.

“Consistency in the passing game,” Kelly said when asked what Kizer’s next evolutionary step is. “I thought last week was a step in the right direction. I think he was close to 70 percent completion percentage (actually 70.4 percent).

“I’ve said this all along, we set a pretty high bar and a standard of play at that position, and I think at times he’s reached it and exceeded it. And at some other times — through no fault necessarily of his own, some inexperience around him — that he hasn’t been able to reach or exceed those.”

And when the latter happens, Kelly said he tries to take a middle-of-the road coaching style with Kizer.

“Tommy Rees you could hit over the head with a two-by-four,” Kelly said. “He was a coach’s son and had been in it — that was just who he was.

“Everett (Golson) you had to tread lightly. It was a change. I think DeShone, at times, you can get after him pretty good on the right things. But he’s also a very, very bright kid, and you can tell him one time and you can move on.

“You don’t have to beat a dead horse with him. So it’s probably a combination of both (hands on and hands off) with him in terms of some things. I have to be firm with him mostly on fundamentals.

“A lot of this has come to him quickly, and we’ve kind of jumped to the back half of the book or the last couple of chapters really quickly here. And keeping him on task relative to fundamentals is probably the one time where I really have to demand his attention and focus.”

History, and his place in it, apparently already has it.

“I think through the losses, I've learned that in order to be an elite quarterback at the college level, you have to understand and appreciate the success that you do have when you do have it,” he said, “because it can be taken away quickly with a couple aggressive throws, a couple bad checks, a couple balls that end up in the dirt.

“And for me, I think that I have definitely learned that so far this season. And I definitely have a new appreciation for the opportunity that I have to step out and represent Notre Dame.”

Personnel matters

• Starting junior safety Drue Tranquill and starting freshman cornerback Julian Love went through full-contact practice Thursday for the first time this week and both are expected to play Saturday against Army.

Tranquill, with four tackles, and Love, with a career-high eight, had to leave ND’s 28-27 loss to Navy last Saturday in Jacksonsville, Fla., with concussion symptoms.

Junior nose guard Daniel Cage, meanwhile, will miss his second straight game after suffering a concussion Oct. 29 against Miami (Fla.). Kelly said Cage will see specialist Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher on Friday.

• The strange, twisted story line about whether grad senior nose guard Jarron Jones will play Saturday against Army and how much remains sort of in Innuendo-land.

Jones played well against Navy’s triple-option in 2013 and 2014 (and missed ND’s two triple-option matchups last season due to a torn MCL). Last Saturday, he logged just 12 plays and made zero tackles against Navy, but the Irish defense had its best two series of the day when he was on the field.

“This seems to be a big story,” Kelly said Thursday after practice. “You’ve got to keep in mind, he’s going to be really good next week (vs. Virginia Tech). That’s his kind of deal.”

And triple-option suddenly is not?

“Jarron will get in there and he’ll battle, and he’s prepared, but don’t expect 13 tackles for loss. It’s just a different animal that we’re playing.”

Recruiting inroads

An upside to giving up a home game for the Shamrock Series is enhancing ND’s national recruiting profile. And the Irish are loading up on visitors in the junior, sophomore and even freshman classes for the game, though contact with the coaching staff isn’t the same unlimited deal as it is at a normal home game.

It’s more about exposure in these instances.

“I think it’s been very effective from a geographical standpoint,” Kelly said. “I can remember just our last time in Texas (for a Shamrock Series game, in 2013 in the Dallas metro area). And having a number of recruits in that game in itself from the state of Texas, I think, allowed us to begin building relationships in the state that had not been really great in terms of a recruiting area (for ND).”

Another Mirer at ND?

Morrison Mirer, the oldest of former Notre Dame quarterback standout Rick Mirer’s three sons, signed a national letter-of-intent this week with the Irish to play … lacrosse.

The younger Mirer played both football and lacrosse at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly walks off the field with QB DeShone Kizer (14) following Notre Dame's 30-27 victory over Miami, Oct. 29 at Notre Dame Stadium. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)