SOUTH BEND, Ind. — At first glance, it seems a bit odd to hear Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly talk about how quarterback DeShone Kizer isn’t playing up to expectations.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound junior is coming off a career high for passing yards, throwing for 381 in a 38-35 loss to Duke. He is on pace to break school records for passing efficiency (167.6) and for points responsible for per game (24) on an offense that is averaging 37.2 points a game — just below the school record of 37.6 points set in 1968.
So why was Kelly talking about the possibility of playing sophomore quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who he hoped to redshirt this season, following the loss Saturday?
Because Kizer had a sloppy fumble that led to one Duke touchdown and took a sack that led to a third-and-20 play where he threw an interception that led to the game-winning field goal. Kizer also threw another pass a Duke cornerback dropped.
Kizer, who led the Irish to nine victories and a No. 11 ranking last season, has lacked the spark that ignited Irish comeback victories last season against Virginia, USC and Temple and near misses against Clemson and Stanford.
The biggest reason Kelly is unhappy with Kizer’s play, though, is because the Irish, who started the season ranked No. 10 with national championship aspirations, are 1-3 heading to play Syracuse (2-2) at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
“His standard of play is not where we want it to be for him,” Kelly said. “If he was a first-time starter or he didn’t set the pace that he had set last year, maybe the standard would be a little bit lower. But he has set a standard of play that we believe he needs to meet and exceed every time he goes out there.”
Kizer agrees he hasn’t played up to expectations. He believes he has been trying to do too much, saying he has been trying to emulate Peyton Manning and Tom Brady both on and off the field.
“I wanted to come up here and talk to you guys as if I was the head coach of this team. But I’m just the quarterback. All I’ve got a do is go out and do whatever the guys upstairs are telling me to do and that’s it,” he said.
Kizer hasn’t been able to come up with the big plays when he needed to against Texas, Michigan State and Duke. He said his biggest problem has been he’s not getting the Irish in good position in early downs in the final minutes. He also said that when opposing defenses give him a new look he’s been overthinking.
“You lose your mechanics. You might rush some things. You’ve got to shy away from that,” he said. “I’ve got to focus in on my fundamentals, trust in what I see and rip the ball.”
He said his focus this week as the Irish try to turn their season around is on trying to have fun.
“Hopefully you’ll see a little more of that. Because if we are out there having fun and playing the way we know how to, we’ll go out and we’ll start winning games, and those smiles and those moments will come back,” he said.
Online: AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org