Sept. 17, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - No excuses, says University of Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly
Ultimately, there's no one to feel sorry for the Irish no matter how many starters they lose to injury (the number Tuesday reached four—defensive tackle Jarron Jones, running back Tarean Folston, quarterback Malik Zaire and tight end Durham Smythe—and the Irish previously also lost freshman defensive back Shaun Crawford, who was expected to contribute extensively).
So, instead, practicality rules.
"We're going to run our system. That's what we do," says Kelly. "We recruited DeShone Kizer because he can run the system of offense I like to run."
Where have we come from?
Where are we now?
And where are we going?
That's how first-year Irish quarterback coach/offensive coordinator Mike Sanford this week chose to present the latest novel Notre Dame quarterback scene to his players.
But, first, a brief history lesson is required:
-- When the calendar page flipped to 2015—just two days after Irish quarterbacks Zaire and Everett Golson effectively collaborated to help defeat LSU in the Music City Bowl—then-freshman DeShone Kizer figured to be spending most of his second season in South Bend watching some combination of Zaire and Golson at the quarterback position.
-- Kelly, associate head coach Mike Denbrock and Sanford (he officially came on board March 2) spent the bulk of their time during spring drills preparing both Zaire and Golson.
-- By mid-May the script had been rewritten, once Golson opted to graduate and transfer. So Kelly/Denbrock/Sanford spent their summer working primarily with Zaire.
-- By last Saturday evening the script had been redone once more, with Zaire fracturing his ankle against Virginia, leading to Sunday morning surgery and an end to his 2015 season.
-- Enter Kizer, only nine months ago expected mostly to be 2015 insurance at the quarterback slot.
It's safe to say Kelly, Denbrock and Sanford are earning their salaries as the Irish offensive scenario continues to evolve.
"All quarterbacks have certain things they do better than other people do, and that's true of DeShone, just like Malik," says Denbrock.
"We try to play to the strengths of what he (Kizer) brings to the table. He certainly has the ability to fit within the framework of the offense we currently run. Are there adjustments and tweaks we can make to fit his game? Sure there are. We do those things every week.
"It's business as usual, it really is, in a lot of ways. The players have a great deal of confidence in DeShone, as do the coaches. You don't have to create something or make this into something it's not. Our guys feel confident with him—he has great poise. He was excited for the opportunity and happy to have the chance – and that's a lot different than, ‘Oh my God, I've gotta go in the game.'"
"You can't ignore what happened," says Sanford.
"You set forth the plan for moving forward. We defined the situation and then it's back to business. All we can do is prepare to try to play well against a quality opponent.
"DeShone is very intellectual. We feel very fortunate because we were able to control on our terms when he got his first college action against Texas. That had a lot to do with how he performed in the Virginia game. There's something different in terms of stepping out in front of 80,000 people. He got hit a couple of times in the Texas game, and it's all part of his journey."
Here's what Kizer's high school football coach, Greg Dempsey from Toledo (Ohio) Central Catholic High School, told the New York Post about his former pupil:
"He's going to be fine in the spotlight because he has always handled it well. That's one reason I thought Notre Dame was a good fit, because if he ever ended up being the starting quarterback, he's the guy who can handle everything about being the quarterback at Notre Dame. The off-the-field (responsibilities), the classroom, the on-the-field, the expectations. He's a great fit for the university and the program, as it is for him. I expect to see great things. You're talking about one of the best coaching staffs in the country. Their offensive talent is pretty good, and he (Kizer) has all the intangibles. He's an intelligent kid and Notre Dame is still in very good hands. Malik Zaire didn't have tons of snaps either, and look how he did."
Irish men's basketball player V.J. Beachem, who rooms with Kizer, reported that by Monday afternoon he hadn't witnessed anything too out of the ordinary (yet)—but that the outside of their door was quickly full of Post-it notes with words of encouragement for Kizer.
Yet Kelly know it's about production:
"DeShone's got to play his butt off and we've got to put him in a position to play well. And the other 10 guys around him have to play very, very well as well."
Including 34 previous meetings between the Irish and Yellow Jackets, this marks only the fifth time Georgia Tech has come into its game against Notre Dame ranked (also 10th in 1944, fourth in 1953, 20th in 1978 and 17th in 1998). It's the fifth time both teams have been ranked (first since the Gator Bowl following the 1998 season). It's the third time Tech has come into Notre Dame Stadium ranked (fourth in 1953, 19th in 1959). Tech's only wins in Notre Dame Stadium have come in 1942 (13-6), 1959 (14-10) and the two teams' most recent meeting in 2007 (33-3).
The most comparable previous and recent Notre Dame quarterback injury from a timing standpoint probably was the 2000 season when Arnaz Battle helped the Irish win their opener versus Texas A&M and then suffered a broken wrist in the second game of the year against top-ranked Nebraska (Notre Dame lost that game in overtime). After two starts by Gary Godsey (the first producing a victory over a Purdue club led by quarterback Drew Brees), freshman Matt LoVecchio took over, won all seven of his regular-season starts and led the Irish to a Fiesta Bowl berth against Oregon State. Battle returned to play at flanker the following season.
Georgia Tech comes into the third week of the season boasting an uncommon daily double from a statistical standpoint. The Yellow Jackets lead the nation in rushing (457.5 yards per game) and also pace the country in passing efficiency (285.04 rating, based on 12 completions on 15 attempts). Tech is second nationally in scoring offense (67.0 points per game). Paul Johnson's squad became only the fifth team in college football history (since World War II) to score 65 or more points in its first two games.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame ranks 25th in rushing defense (93.5 yards per game)—and the Irish are 33rd in rushing offense at 233.5 yards per contest. If that Irish rushing average were to hold up for the full season, it would qualify as Notre Dame's best since a 269.5-yard figure in 1996, Lou Holtz's final season as head coach.
No former Irish player had a gaudier stat line on the first weekend of NFL play than Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert. Hurt most of last season after an injury in the 2014 season opener, Eifert caught nine passes Sunday for 104 yards and two touchdowns (13- and eight-yard TD receptions) as the Bengals defeated Oakland 33-13.
Chicago Blackhawks vice president and general manager and University of Notre Dame graduate Stan Bowman and longtime NFL and former Irish football standout Tim Grunhard were inducted Wednesday night into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. The annual induction ceremonies took place at the Hawthorne Race Course in Stickney/Cicero, Illinois. Proceeds from the event benefit the Standing Tall Charitable Foundation and Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame Charities.
Bowman, a 1995 Notre Dame graduate with degrees in finance and computer applications, has been with the Blackhawks for 14 years beginning with the 2000-01 campaign. He has played a major role in the team's three Stanley Cup victories in 2010, 2013 and 2015. After originally working in hockey operations, Bowman became the Chicago general manager in July 2009 and added the title vice president a year later.
Grunhard, who received the George Connor Lifetime Achievement Award, played offensive guard for the Irish from 1986-89 (Lou Holtz's first four seasons as Irish head coach). He's a Chicago product after starring at St. Laurence High School in Burbank, Illinois, and went on to start 164 games at center over 11 seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs through 2000. Originally a second-round NFL draft pick in 1990, he won Pro Bowl recognition in 1999. At Notre Dame, Grunhard started at guard as a junior and senior—helping the 1988 Irish team to the consensus national title. He starred on Notre Dame offensive units that ranked 11th nationally in rushing in '88 (258.0 yards per game) and eighth in '89 (287.8). He won second-team All-America recognition as a senior in 1989 from Newspaper Enterprise Association. Grunhard spent six seasons as head football coach at Bishop Miege High School in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, winning the 2009 Kansas Class 4A state crown, and later served two years (2012 and '13) as an assistant coach on the Kansas staff of former Irish head coach Charlie Weis. He's currently the offensive line coach at Bishop Miege.
Representing Notre Dame athletics at the event were former Irish offensive line coach Tony Yelovich, associate hockey coach Andy Slaggert and senior associate athletics director John Heisler.
Grunhard and Bowman joined a long list of Notre Dame representatives in the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame—including Norman J. Barry, Pete Bercich, Rocky Bleier, Terry Brennan, Tony Carey, Dave Casper, Connor, Ziggy Czarobski, Dave Duerson, Jerry Groom, Tommy Hawkins, Paul Hornung, Jim Johnson, Moose Krause, Bob Kuechenberg, John Lattner, Elmer Layden, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, John Paxson, Nick Rassas, Knute Rockne, Jim Seymour, Dan Shannon, Father John Smyth, Gene Sullivan, Tom Thayer, Renaldo Wynn, Tom Zbikowski and Chris Zorich.
The 2015 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks will be recognized prior to kickoff of the Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game. The Blackhawks for the third straight year are conducting a three-day preseason camp at the Compton Family Ice Arena.
The Notre Dame team will take the field Saturday through a Monogram Club tunnel of former Irish football players.
The Presidential Team Irish Award Saturday goes to Multimedia, while the Notre Dame faculty recognition goes to Peter Jeffery, Michael P. Grace Chair in Medieval Studies, Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology, and Margot Fassler, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Music History and Liturgy, Director of the Program of Sacred Music, Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology.
Top-performing Notre Dame teams from the 2014-15 season recognized Saturday will be the Irish men's lacrosse squad (two straight appearances at NCAA Championship Weekend in 2015 and 2014) and the Irish fencing squad (third at 2015 NCAA Championship), including 2015 NCAA individual fencing champions Lee Kiefer and Francesca Russo.
-- by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director