SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Pregame Six Pack: Notre Dame (and Mother Nature) head to Clemson


As the East Coast braces for Hurricane Joaquin, Notre Dame prepares for a gigantic football game. The Irish head to upstate South Carolina on Friday, ready for the elements, not to mention a football game with No. 12 Clemson.

The Irish practiced with a wet ball this week. They worked out on natural grass. They drilled down and tried to cover everything, from squib kicks to rain delays, any potential scenario they might face, on or off the field.

“We booked a hotel for a couple extra days just in case,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “We’ve got a place Sunday or Monday, we’ll be down there and ready to play.”

After a week of work, Kelly is confident that his team won’t be worried about the weather. After all, the Tigers seem to be challenge enough.

So as DeShone Kizer gets ready to lead the Irish into Memorial Stadium and a rain-soaked Death Valley, let’s get to the Pregame Six Pack. (Hopefully you brought an umbrella.)


Forget about Hurricane Joaquin. All Irish eyes should be on DeShone Kizer.

There is no single player more important to the Irish’s fate this weekend than quarterback DeShone Kizer. The sophomore is coming off three performances where he’s looked at home in the pocket, never displaying any of the shakiness you might expect from a first-time performer.

But traveling to Clemson will be different. As will the elements. Kizer covered both parts of this equation on Wednesday, sounding not all that worried about any slickness that might come with a wet football.

“I’ve never really had too big of an issue when it came to rain. I have pretty good-sized hands where I can grip the ball pretty well,” Kizer said this week. “We’ll definitely prepare for that with using wet balls in our practice and understanding that the wind is going to come into play and things like that. But it’s all going to be a mental mindset.”

Dealing with the crowd is another point. After recalling the feeling that came when he heard his first Tomahawk chop at Doak Campbell Stadium, Kizer expects this crowd to be even louder, giving him all the more reason to do his best to quiet them down quickly.

“Doing the extra small things—making sure you’re being quick in getting up there and relaying the play a couple times down. And getting back into your stance so you can be able to make a check,” Kizer said. “Also with that being said, the best way of quieting a crowd down is making big plays…so we’ve got to make sure that we get things rolling as soon as possible and hopefully at least take it down a couple of notches on the loudness scale.”


It’s been since 1977 since Notre Dame and Clemson did battle. Let’s hope this one is as good of a game as the one 38 years ago. 

It’s a trip beyond Memory Lane for me, but the last time Notre Dame traveled to Clemson, Joe Montana led the Irish to an epic victory that helped spring a national championship. Trailing by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, Montana put the team on his shoulders, running for two touchdowns to pull out a 21-17 win, their closest game in their national championship season.

(Fun fact: Montana faced off against his professional teammate, TE Dwight Clark, that evening in Clemson, collegiate opponents before becoming one of the game’s historic QB-TE connections, including “The Catch” from the 1982 NFC Championship game.)

But while Montana’s comeback is all that remains in most stories, one controversial call still stands above the rest. On a critical 4th-and-goal from the one-yard line, Clemson looked to be stuffed just shy of the end zone (feel free to watch for yourself). But the referee found a way to block Notre Dame’s defender from making the tackle, allowing Clemson’s Lester Brown to get to the pylon before the Irish could chase him down.

It’s the type of play that would’ve likely melted the internet (certainly more controversial than the illegal pick called last season) today, with screams of home-cooking surely to last for years to come. Instead, the Irish pulled the victory out, rallying from the 10-point deficit to turn the play into a forgotten footnote.

Are we in for a game as memorable as that one? Check out this spooky stat:


Keep your eye on the trenches. While the Irish offensive line is stout, Notre Dame’s front seven might hold the key to victory.

Clemson’s offensive line is a work in progress. While the Tigers skill talent is among the best Notre Dame has faced, the guys protecting Deshaun Watson are still figuring it out.

So while most of us have wondered if Harry Hiestand’s boys can continue their dominance up front, take a look at Notre Dame’s front seven, because there’s a chance this group is the one that wins the game for the Irish.

Clemson starts a true freshman at left tackle. Mitch Hyatt was a blue-chip recruit and a Top 100 player, but at this time last year he was playing at North Gwinnett high school, not in the ACC. A matchup with Sheldon Day or Isaac Rochell might be a good one for Notre Dame.

Starting center Ryan Norton is out with a knee injury, replaced by junior Jay Guillermo. Even veterans Eric Mac Lain and Joe Gore, both fifth-year seniors, hardly inspire much confidence.

In their preview of the offensive line before the season, Shakin’ the Southland had this to say about the veteran duo.

Eric Mac Lain was a failed tackle experiment that moved inside to guard and has still struggled at times in the pass pro department. Joe Gore looks like Tarzan but for the most part has played like Jane throughout his career.

Notre Dame’s front controlling things could be key this weekend. And facing an offensive line that finished last season ranked 101st in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards and has had to deal with injuries and replacing two key starters? This might be a place where the Irish could take control of the game.

For all the join a conference talk, Notre Dame is still plenty comfortable in the ACC. And they should be, considering the Notre Dame alums running athletic departments across the conference. 

It’s not exactly a story that’ll impact the play on the field this weekend. But Dabo Swinney’s non-comment comments about Notre Dame and the ACC stirred up a bunch of old news, namely complaints from other coaches that the Irish should join a conference.

The Irish did join a conference, in all sports but football. And Notre Dame’s made a quick home in the ACC, a partnership that has all parties involved saying nothing but good things. That ACC commissioner John Swofford accepted partial-admittance in exchange for five regular season football games raised a few eyeballs. But no group of athletic directors likely understand the value of the Irish to the conference more than the ACC.

We see that this week, in ticket prices. We saw that in Notre Dame’s trip to Virginia. And as the Irish continue their tour of ACC opponents, they’ll play to packed houses, not always the norm for an average Saturday in a conference that isn’t as rabid as the SEC.

In this week’s game notes from Clemson, Tigers Assistant AD and football SID Tim Bourrett (a 1977 Notre Dame grad) points out the Irish alums in leadership positions inside the conference, likely a reason the move was such a good fit to begin with.

Georgia Tech’s athletic director Mike Bobinski is a 1979 Notre Dame graduate. Florida State’s AD Stan Wilcox graduated from Notre Dame in 1981, playing for Digger Phelps on the 1977-78 basketball team that reached the Final Four. North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham played golf for the Irish and earned both a bachelors degree and a master from Notre Dame. He also spent over 15 years in the Irish athletics department.

So while some head coaches inside the conference may not understand why Notre Dame’s allowed a unique relationship with the conference, don’t worry—their bosses do.

Going up against a tough Clemson defense, Notre Dame’s offensive line knows it has a chance to make a statement. 

Notre Dame’s running game has taken college football by storm. Expected to be a backup, C.J. Prosise‘s 600 yards are the most in school history through four games. His yardage, touchdowns and average per carry all are within the nation’s best dozen statistically.

That work has been fueled by the offensive line. Both Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin look like top NFL prospects. The Irish rank 12th in the nation in rushing offense at 284.8 yards per game, the most through four games for an Irish team since 1992, exactly 23 seasons ago. (Another fun fact: Not a single player on Notre Dame’s team was alive for that season.)

Center Nick Martin talked about the mindset the Irish offensive line has as they head into their most challenging environment of the year, facing their most capable opponent.

“It’s a sense of pride. As an O-lineman we love to run the ball. We like when we have success,” Martin said. Our running backs, the way they run, you guys have all seen it. It’s unbelievable.

“Up front, we work our butts off to try and make holes and do our best. But beyond that also, it’s about the people that come before you, too. The O lines, having guys like Chris Watt, Zack Martin, Christian Lombard, those guys, and even before that, the O line at Notre Dame, especially in the 90s and ever since then, has always been a sense of pride, and we just try to carry that on.”

Saturday evening, with a 99 percent chance of rain in the forecast, the offensive line will be asked to dictate terms. After earning the game ball last week, Martin and his linemates couldn’t be happier for the opportunity.


With the hype machine turned up to an 11, every little thing counts. And it’s certainly added some fuel to the matchup of Will Fuller against Clemson’s talented secondary.

We’ve already talked about Will Fuller vs. Mackensie Alexander. Clemson’s top corner is ready for the receiver that Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables is calling perhaps “the best receiver in America.”

Alexander’s teammates are also ready. They took this tweet by Fuller and used it as fuel, a slight only understandable with an advanced degree in social media and youthful hashtags.

“I actually ‘favorited’ the tweet,” Clemson safety Jayron Kearse told local media on Monday. “They’re talking a lot. Obviously they don’t know what we do down here in Death Valley, so I’m looking forward to this.”

The Tigers have put together quite a winning run at home over the past few years. But Fuller has also dominated college football these past two seasons as well, scoring more touchdowns than any other receiver in college football since the start of 2014.

So Saturday night, something’s got to give. And with the weather, the Irish and the Tigers all set to do battle in Death Valley, it’s got the ingredients to be a classic.


Notre Dame’s big play offense key to Saturday night


Big chunk plays. They are a key part of Brian Kelly’s offense, a unit that prides itself on eating up large chunks of yardage in both the running game and through the air.

The Irish have had their fair share of big playmakers. Receivers like Michael Floyd and TJ Jones. Tight end Tyler Eifert. Running back George Atkinson had big-play potential every time he touched the football.

But no Notre Dame football team has produced big plays at the rate of this 2015 offense. And through four games, the Irish have already set season-highs for the Kelly era, a trend the Irish coaching staff hopes continues through the next few critical weeks of the season.

Notre Dame has scored seven touchdowns this season of at least 50 yards, more than any other season under Kelly, passing the 2012 team who had six 50-plus yard scores. They’ve come from big play-machines Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise, through the air and on the ground, and from a talented group of freshmen, with CJ Sanders, Josh Adams and Brandon Wimbush all getting into the act.

Kelly was asked about this success on Tuesday, and he talked about how the Irish have managed to create so many big plays. And it’s been a surprising mix of not just throwing the football deep, but getting big runs from Prosise, who has shown home-run speed when he hits the second level.

“Not to take away anything from our backs over the last couple of years. They’re very good backs. But C.J. has another gear that he can kick into,” Kelly said. “And then the utilization of Will Fuller, certainly, in his ability to get over the top of most defenders.”

That duo will be front and center on Saturday, likely the two biggest factors (outside of quarterback DeShone Kizer) in the Irish offensive attack. And as we speculate about game plans and Clemson’s strategy to slow-down Notre Dame’s offense, it’s hard not to think about some of Notre Dame’s matchups with the ultra-aggressive Michigan State defense over the past couple of years.

While the weather will likely determine how effective the passing game will be, assuming a safety-first passing attack for Kizer might be foolish. With Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables likely stacking the box and daring Kizer to beat his unit, Kelly could take a page from his Spartans playbook, attacking it vertically and throwing the ball to his one-on-one matchups on the edge.

Here’s what Kelly said in late 2013 about playing Michigan State, with the Irish providing the lone blemish on the Spartans’ Rose Bowl-winning 13-1 season.

“You try to get big-chunk plays,” Kelly said. They’re just not going to give up enough for you to win playing that kind of game. They’re just too good up front. They commit so much to the front in terms of safety support. You got to try and get the ball outside and do the best you can and try to get big chunk plays.”

Clemson’s defensive line is talented. But it isn’t the one that was anchored by Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett. So you’ve got to think Kelly is confident that his offensive line can continue opening holes for Prosise, who has gone five-yards without being touched on 24 of his 74 carries.

The strength of the Tigers defense is its back seven. But that was the same with Michigan State’s “no-fly zone” secondary. And Kelly showed a willingness to take shots with his receiving corps, and he earned five pass interference flags for his efforts in 2013.

Will the flags fly as easily in Memorial Stadium? Probably not. But then again, they likely won’t have to, with Notre Dame’s ground game in a much better place today than it was in 2013.

But as Brent Venables likely picks his poison—challenging Kizer to beat his defense in his first start outside of Notre Dame Stadium—it’ll leave some oppotunities down the field for the Irish.

Kelly believes his team can continue making big plays. If they do on Saturday, it’ll likely mean Notre Dame is leaving Death Valley 5-0.


Hyperbole aside, does Notre Dame have a talent advantage against Clemson?

Deshaun Watson, Alex Gray

With two full days of practice left before Notre Dame boards a flight and heads for South Carolina, we’re reaching the summit of Mt. Hot Take. (Or at least let’s hope.)

It’s only Wednesday and we’ve already hit every water-cooler (that’s so 1980s) Twitter troll’s debate points:

* Comparing cupcakes— Wofford vs. UMass! Is Wofford better?

* Dabo thinks Notre Dame should play 13 games—but spends 350 words talking about how he could (it’s actually couldn’t, Dabo) care less if Notre Dame joins the ACC.

(I’ll let Dan Wetzel of Yahoo or Dan Wolken of USA Today handle that one.)

Today’s topic seems to focus on the atmosphere inside Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. With 81,500 sought-after tickets, Swinney quipped that he couldn’t even get Jesus a ticket.

Notre Dame knows it’s going to be rowdy. Maybe that’s why last week’s against UMass the Irish went with a non-verbal cadence. So when asked about entering Death Valley, Brian Kelly fully acknowledged the preparation for noise in his Tuesday press conference.

“We’ll be working nonverbal cadence as if it were the loudest environment that we’ve ever played in,” Kelly said.

Loudest environment we’ve ever played in? That sounds like Notre Dame is taking things seriously.

This afternoon, quarterback DeShone Kizer talked about preparing for an electric environment. He pointed to last season’s battle of two undefeated, top- five teams, and how getting to travel to Tallahassee and watch Everett Golson take on the elements will hopefully pay dividends.

“I’ve never heard anything so loud in my life,” Kizer said, when talking about big moments. “It feels like your insides are shaking on third down.”

In a week like this, apparently that wasn’t enough reverence.

In many ways, this feels like a bizarro scenario. It’s usually trips to Notre Dame Stadium that this kind of non-story gets the major build up, with opposing coaches asked the stock question about watching Rudy, talking about Rockne or giving their team a history lesson about the Four Horsemen.

(I’ll answer on behalf of all opposing coaches from now until eternity. “No, we didn’t do any of that.”)

So while we won’t know until Saturday if the moment gets too big for this Irish team, with College GameDay, the prime-time ABC slot and two undefeated teams, it’s curious that the one angle we don’t seem to be talking about is the matchup on the field.

It’s clear that since Swinney took over the Clemson program in 2008, he’s elevated its position nationally. No longer do we hear punchlines associated with the program. Instead, it’s put together a near-historic run of winning teams, averaging 10.5 wins a season over the last four years, including bowl wins over Urban Meyer and Ohio State, Les Miles and LSU, and a five-touchdown pasting of Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma team last season.

But this is also a program that’s loss a ton of talent. Brent Venables has eight new starters on his defense, gutting the core of the nation’s best statistical defense. When asked about how that made him feel this spring, he said, “It was depressing.”

While Deshaun Watson is back and healthy, the group protecting him is breaking in three new starters. That kind of thing doesn’t show up against Wofford or Appalachian State, but it certainly could explain why Watson’s off to a slower-than-expected start.

That takes me to one of the more under-the-radar statements that’s been made this week that surprisingly hasn’t picked up much traction. ESPN’s Todd McShay had this to say, pointing to a pretty significant talent disparity between the two teams.

“For some perspective, 10 of our top 150 draft-eligible prospects will be playing in this game on Saturday, and all 10 of them will be wearing gold helmets.”

That’s a bold statement. And one that certainly flies in the face of conventional logic, especially with Notre Dame being down six big-time contributors.

So while most of this week’s discussion has been on everything that doesn’t seem to matter, one of the more interesting—and controversial statements—made this week doesn’t seem to have garnered any attention.

I’m going to Twitter to complain.

And in that corner… The Clemson Tigers

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 19:  The Clemson Tigers enter the stadium before their game against the Florida State Seminoles at Memorial Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The Irish are headed out of town this weekend, no ordinary road trip as they head to South Carolina and Clemson’s Death Valley. Notre Dame will put their undefeated 4-0 record on the line in one of the most difficult stadiums in college football to come out a victor.

With over two weeks to prepare, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney brings in an unbeaten team as well, surviving a Thursday night in Louisville their last time out. With both teams understanding that they’ll need to play their best to win one of the early-season’s premier showdowns, now is as good a time as any to get the other perspective on how Saturday night in primetime will shake out.

Joining us is Shakin the Southland‘s Brian Lewis. On a really busy week, Brian was kind enough to revisit our conversation from earlier this summer, and also to look ahead to this weekend as we get ready for Notre Dame’s first visit to Clemson in almost 40 years.

Hope you enjoy.


When we spoke this summer, you talked about this being one of the biggest games on the schedule this year. Then on Sunday, Dabo Swinney said the Tigers were going to prepare just like this was… Wofford (or App State or Louisville).

I get that from a coach, but can you actually believe him? And do you expect that Clemson maybe held a few things back from a scheme perspective for this game?

Dabo is a very big fan of coachspeak, but in this case I think he’s right. Back in 2013 we hosted 2 big games that saw GameDay come to town. Clemson-UGA and Clemson-FSU. Against UGA we were relaxed and ready to play, against FSU the team let the moment get to them and it culminated in a rather depressing beating. I think the coaching staff will be able to treat this as just another game.

The staff has definitely held a few things back, but I think that is also because of our opponents. The first two games were always going to see basic plays on both sides, and gien what Louisville does on offense and what they tried to do defensively, I don’t think we’ve seen the full Clemson playbook yet.


The preseason perception of this Clemson team was a strong offense and a young, rebuilding defense that would grow as the season went along. That hasn’t necessarily been the case. The offense (on paper) struggled moving the ball against Appalachian State, and against Louisville it was the defense that seemed to thrive.

Sticking on the offensive side of the ball, can you give us a progress report on how the Tigers have played after replacing Chad Morris?

This year the biggest surprise has been the running game. Morris always talked about having a power running game to complement the passing we see in a HUNH (Hurry-up, No-huddle), but it never materialized. This year we finally have a group of RBs that seem to negate the poor play of our OL. In the passing game, I think the issue is more of Watson just being off. The playcalling has been pretty comparable to Morris, and now it comes down to execution.


Defensively, the game against Louisville sticks out. Again, we’ve only seen three games with two against FCS (and now Sun Belt) competition, but that Thursday night in Kentucky had to feel really good, right?

Thursday night games are always tricky on the road, especially for Clemson. Getting the win felt great, but there was definitely a little bit of missed opportunity surrounding the team. The poor special teams play and Deshaun Watson‘s inconsistency made many fans think Clemson should have done better. That said, a win against one of our top competitors in the Atlantic Division is always a good thing.


Here’s a matchup I’m excited to see: Will Fuller against Mackenzie Alexander. Brent Venables called Fuller the best receiver in the country last week. Is this the key matchup for the Tigers defense or is it slowing down the Irish running game?

I’m honestly not that worried about Fuller. He’s definitely talented and plays a very physical game, but if he’s beating us then I suspect we have a lot bigger problems with stopping the run. Alexander will have some help from the safeties, even if it isn’t needed, and we will likely put 7-8 in the box to stop the run.


Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is back after an ACL tear. How has he looked so far? Specifically from an athleticism POV? Notre Dame’s secondary is asked to play aggressively in Brian VanGorder’s scheme and can give up big plays. Is this where you expect the Tigers to attack?

Watson has seemed fine athletically, but we haven’t really seen any designed runs from him. Most of the time he’s taken off because of a breakdown in the play or very good coverage. Those runs he’s seemed fine, but he also wasn’t laying out against a team like Wofford or App State. The big worry has been his timing and accuracy. Some of his passes seem to be just a half step slow, but hopefully it is more about mechanics than anything physical.

I think the big guy to watch out for is Artavis Scott. The receiver has a silly amount of speed and is used on all sorts of sweeps and pitches. He could have a big game if Notre Dame gets a little too aggressive in defense.


Notre Dame brings DeShone Kizer into Death Valley, his first road start after taking over after Malik Zaire went down with a season-ending injury in week two. Just how daunting do you expect this atmosphere to be?

(It took me a while to find the last home losses for the Tigers, they fell to Florida State in 2013 and South Carolina in 2012—so two dropped games in going on four seasons..? That’s impressive.)

If Kizer can handle this atmosphere then Notre Dame fans should never worry about how he’s going to handle any other college stadium. A night game at Death Valley is always a treat, and this one is going to be even more special. The cheapest tickets are going on Stubhub for close to $200 and everyone I’ve talked to is planning to tailgate all day, even if they don’t have tickets.

The big thing for Kizer is not going to be avoiding mistakes, but rather making some plays. Just avoiding mistakes isn’t going to quiet the crowd. He’s going to need to knock back Clemson a bit with some excellent play. If he can do it or not is going to be the big question, especially if Clemson can score first or make a big defensive stand early.


Last question: Having only watched the Louisville game and highlights from the Wofford and Appy State games, I still am not sure what I know about this Clemson team. You’re much closer to the situation. Do you have an idea as to how good this team is? Is this as big of a litmus test for the Tigers as it is for the Irish?

The defense is definitely better than expected, but the offense still has a question mark. I’m fairly confident is saying we have a talented defense that may be a bit thin in some positions, but that depth problem only seems to come up when we have injured players.

On offense this game is absolutely a litmus test. We’ve been waiting to see Deshaun Watson at 100%, and hopefully we get that this weekend. After seeing it in a few games last year all Clemson fans know what he can do, and hopefully he’s just taken a few weeks to get acclimated.

I don’t do pure predictions, but I will say this, the score stays within seven points. It is hard for me to see either team coming out and absolutely dominating. There are too many question marks for both teams to see that happening.

Trip to Clemson represents biggest moment of DeShone Kizer’s career


DeShone Kizer is Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, a scenario that six months ago would’ve shocked even Kizer himself. The sophomore quarterback has not just emerged from a sea of self-doubt that engulfed him this spring, he’s shown a resiliency and on-field demeanor that have people mixing him up for a grizzled veteran, not a redshirt freshman who has started just two football games.

Kizer was an unlikely hero against Virginia, rallying the Irish with a game-winning touchdown pass to Will Fuller that stole a victory from the Cavaliers.  He followed that relief appearance up with two solid home starts, giving Brian Kelly a consistent performance from his quarterback as the offense continued to churn, all while Kizer’s comfort level seems to exponentially grow.

But with all apologies to the Yellow Jackets and Minutemen, Notre Dame’s trip to Clemson is another beast. Asked to lead his teammates into Death Valley, a place where opponents have only emerged with victories twice since the 2012 season, Kizer will have the weight of Irish nation on his shoulders as he prepares to lead Notre Dame to their third 5-0 start in four seasons.

For some, the moment could become too large. But Notre Dame’s head coach believes his second-year quarterback will be ready.

“He has a presence about him, a commanding presence that, when he goes out there with the other ten players, you don’t feel like you’re putting a freshman quarterback out there,” Kelly said.

“I see that every day he goes out there, he takes control of that offensive unit. It’s not meek. It’s not weak. It’s a presence that he brings when he goes out there, and I think that that’s what he’s brought.”

That Kizer finds himself filled with confidence is a credit not just to the quarterback, but to the coaching staff and teammates that have helped rebuild him. Six months ago, Kizer was closer to rock bottom than the leader of the Irish offense.

The odd-man out as Malik Zaire and Everett Golson battled for the starting job, Kizer even began to wonder if football was for him.

“Going into the summer, I literally hit rock bottom,” Kizer told Jac Collinsworth for our Stay Gold podcast. “I mean, I wasn’t throwing the ball well. I was the third-string quarterback. Am I even playing the right sport? I was thinking that to myself—why did I even play football?”

“I went one-for-five for three yards in the spring game. I got a safety, what dual-threat quarterback goes backwards and gets tackled in the end zone? I was so down. Finally I was like, ‘Look. There’s no more redshirt next year. There’s no more Everett Golson versus Malik Zaire. There was nothing.’ The only thing that was stopping me from playing was myself every time.”

Kizer built from that moment, working with new position coach Mike Sanford to reconstruct his confidence. He also fed off the work his teammates put in. A year after some competitive uneasiness in the position room, Kizer’s kinship with Zaire and freshman Brandon Wimbush was a significant change that’s been noticed by players and coaches alike.

“Those guys spend a lot of time together. Really it’s a room that I sit in every day and I can tell you that they have a very close relationship. When Malik went down, the first guy that was in the room to see him was Brandon and DeShone,” Kelly said Sunday. “It’s just a group that it’s a bit unique. Last year it wasn’t like that but this is a different group of kids, and they are pretty close.”

With Zaire down, it’s now Kizer’s position to carry. And while he’s still a first-year player seeing and doing things for the first time, Kelly’s confident that Kizer—along with the help of a dominant offensive line and explosive running attack—can do enough to go out and win this weekend.

“He’s learning along the way. There’s things that he hasn’t seen before. There will be mistakes that he makes this weekend as well,” Kelly said. “But I think that it’s his presence that allows the other ten players to have a great deal of confidence that they can go out and be successful.”