With Notre Dame on fall break and the football team getting a well-deserved week off, it’s a perfect time to take a look at the progress of the Irish. Sitting at 6-1 and squarely in the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff, let’s take a look at the play and statistics of each position group.
Notre Dame’s quarterback position is one of the surprises of the season. Starter Malik Zaire was one of the ultimate wildcards this season for Brian Kelly’s sixth squad, a first-year starter after Everett Golson decided to play out his eligibility in Tallahassee. But Notre Dame’s plans went awry when Zaire broke his ankle against Virginia and redshirt freshman DeShone Kizer‘s ascent into the starting lineup took him from third-stringer to leader of the offense in short order.
Here’s the stat-line for Notre Dame’s quarterbacks:
Big Picture: All things considered, the fact that Notre Dame’s quarterbacks are completing over 64 percent of their passes for an average of 264 yards a game with 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions has to be viewed as a tremendous success for new quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
Powered by big-play receiver Will Fuller and a running game that’s averaging 235 yards a game, the quarterback has been able to be more than a game manager, but hasn’t been forced to carry the load. That’s allowed both Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer to take the offense in pieces, both essentially first-year performers experiencing things for the first time.
Early Season MVP: DeShone Kizer
This is probably the most obvious statement I’ll make in our snapshots, but the play of Kizer has been one of the best surprises of 2015. With Malik Zaire going down against Virginia, Kizer managed to take Notre Dame down the field for a game-winning touchdown and has played more than solid football from that day forward. Even against Clemson, Kizer looked poised as he rallied the team in a driving rain storm, far from the biggest reason the Irish lost.
Of all the “Next Man In” opportunities the Irish have had this season, Kizer’s play might be the best of them. And he’ll create competition in the program at a position that thrives from it.
Biggest Disappointment: Malik Zaire’s injury
You can’t help but feel awful for Zaire’s bad luck, a season-ending injury suffered on a designed quarterback run against the Cavaliers. The junior quarterback will be back in time for spring practice and has impressed anybody who has been watching the Showtime series by how engaged he’s been at both practice and during the games.
After a sizzling start against Texas, Virginia managed to confused Zaire with coverages and he struggled throwing the football. But he was just getting rolling as a runner, something that’ll likely be even more prominent next season, especially with Kizer’s experience allowing more risks to be taken.
Room for Improvement: Kizer’s Passing Efficiency
With five games to go and facing a collection of run-stopping defenses, Kizer will likely face numbers in the box as team’s make sure to slow down C.J. Prosise. That should open up some opportunities for Kizer in the passing game, a place where Kizer continues to evolve and get more comfortable.
“I have no hesitation of making a call for him to throw the football. I think there are certain situations that he is still learning,” Kelly on Sunday. “But no hesitation to put him in a position to make a play.”
Only Wake Forest ranks outside the Top 40 in rush defense, with Boston College (No. 1) and Temple (No. 8) inside the Top 10. So after watching Clemson plug the interior of the offensive line and force the Irish to adapt after halftime, Kizer’s ability to challenge defenses will be key.
Wildcard: Any room for Brandon Wimbush?
The talented freshman has already seen the field, dazzling with his legs against UMass and nearly making a few big plays in the passing game as well. With a redshirt already burned, can Notre Dame’s offense get anything out of the lightning-quick quarterback?