With his team trailing Virginia in the final minute, and with Heisman candidate Malik Zaire out of the game with a broken ankle, Notre Dame backup DeShone Kizer did the unthinkable. He led an eight-play, 80-yard, game-winning touchdown drive that culminated with a beautifully thrown 39-yard pass to Will Fuller.
Notre Dame won, 34-27.
It was impressive.
“It was,” South Bend Tribune Notre Dame beat writer Eric Hansen said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “And it was something that if you had asked me last spring, I would have said DeShone Kizer wouldn’t have been capable of that. But once Everett Golson left for Florida State, there was a huge leap in DeShone’s game over the summer through August training camp, where he looked like a completely different guy. Now doing it in a pressure situation and doing it in practice are two different things, but at least we saw the big arm that a lot of teams coveted when he was coming out of high school, including Alabama and LSU. And we saw a lot of poise from him for a young guy.”
Yes, we did. But will we see that this Saturday against No. 14 Georgia Tech (2-0)? The Yellow Jackets run the triple-option offense, they have an experienced quarterback in Justin Thomas, and they have a defense that last season bested Clemson, Georgia and Mississippi State – all of which were ranked in the top 20.
Can Kizer handle this game in this environment? Hansen says yes.
“I think Kizer will be a poised guy,” Hansen said. “I think you’ll see him not beat himself. I don’t know that he’s going to be a guy that’s going to make plays like in the Virginia game to win the game, but I don’t think he’ll lose the game for Notre Dame. I really think this comes down to (Notre Dame’s) defense.”
Georgia Tech has beaten Alcorn State and Tulane by a combined 134-16 in its first two games of the season.
“They haven’t really been tested in their first couple of games,” Hansen said of the Yellow Jackets. “Last year they gave up a lot of points and yards but saved themselves with a lot of interceptions. They had 18 interceptions last year.”
While it will obviously be important for Kizer to take care of the ball, the game likely hinges on Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s ability to shut down, or at least limit, Paul Johnson’s option offense.
“I think that’s where the game is won or lost,” Hansen said. “If Notre Dame can slow down that option, then you don’t have a kid trying to put up 45 points in his first college start. I think that’s a lot of pressure. And honestly, Brian VanGorder’s defense was a disappointment in the Virginia game. They started off very strong and ended up giving up over 400 yards. They looked lost in the secondary at times. So I think that’s where the game is going to be decided.”