On The Beat: Kizer Outshines Zaire In Season Opener
AUSTIN, Texas — Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly wanted to use two quarterbacks. It turned out his offense was better suited for just one, at least against Texas.
Though junior DeShone Kizer and senior Malik Zaire split the repetitions in the first half, the Irish offense took off after halftime with just Kizer at the helm, fighting back to overcome a 17-point deficit and hold a lead for more than seven minutes in the fourth quarter.
“It’s never easy playing two quarterbacks,” Kelly said after the game.
The seventh-year coach said he needed a game situation to evaluate the two quarterbacks. What he saw was Kizer go 15-of-24 passing for 215 yards with five touchdowns, while also producing 77 yards and a score on the ground.
Meanwhile, Zaire, appearing in his first game in almost a calendar year, connected on only 2 of 5 throws for 23 yards, while rushing three times for zero yards in his three series.
Kelly, though, wasn’t ready to name Kizer the full-time quarterback moving forward.
“DeShone played a lot more than Malik. We’ll have to go back and watch the film and evaluate it,” Kelly said. “There were a lot of plays out there that DeShone would like to have back, too. We just have to sit back and find out whether it’s a one quarterback situation or two.”
Both Kizer and Zaire were frustrated when the decision was made in mid-August that the reps would be split against Texas. That was still the case in the week leading up to the opener.
Kizer got the start against the Longhorns and led the Irish on a 78-yard touchdown march. The offense stalled, though, whenever Zaire put his helmet on and entered the game.
Notre Dame finished with 444 total yards, 22 first downs and 47 points. With Zaire in the game, the Irish tallied just 40 yards, three first downs and zero points. All three of Zaire’s drives ended in Tyler Newsome punts.
But despite the lopsided statistics in favor of Kizer — who fell to 8-4 as a starter — Kelly wants to see the film before a decision is made.
“I want to play better at the quarterback position,” Kelly said. “This is not centered around one position. I want to play better at all of them. If it means playing two, if it means playing one.
“Now we have something that I can go and evaluate. We’ve got film to watch, and now I can go and make some informed decisions moving forward.”
Kizer said in the weeks leading up to the opener, he focused on eliminating rhythm from his game in an effort to prepare for the two-quarterback plan against Texas. His system seemed to work, while he looked effective against an aggressive Texas defense.
“I just went out and played when they asked me to,” Kizer said. “I don’t know how coach plans on moving forward. We just want to win games, and this is a performance where I felt as if I laid a lot out there but obviously came up short.”
Zaire was not made available to the media following the game.
Texas head coach Charlie Strong — who rotated his own quarterbacks effectively against the Irish — gave his take on the Notre Dame signal-callers. The coach said Kizer was the key to the comeback.
“Zaire, he gave us a lot of problems because he can run and throw. We knew that. Kizer can run out there, but when Zaire was in the game, we felt like we could load the box and take away his run game.
“But I knew that they would rotate Zaire. We felt like they would rotate him the way they did. But at the end when they wanted to come back and win the game, they left Kizer in because he’s a more productive thrower.”
Kizer said he’s not sure about his job status after one game. Like Kelly, he’ll evaluate where he is off the film.
“There’s a lot of good things I did in this game, but right now I’m only focused on the bad ones, because those are the things that are on me,” Kizer said. “The number of bad plays here is unacceptable.
“There’s a lot of points we left out on the board today. Obviously putting up 35 points offensively is a goal of ours and we plan on putting up as many throughout the season. There’s 21 more that are just sitting there, and that’s what hurt.”