Anyone who watched Notre Dame’s season-opening loss on the road against Texas on Sunday night (and a lot of you did) likely came away knowing one thing for sure. Notre Dame’s offense runs better when DeShone Kizer is playing quarterback instead of Malik Zaire. Just about everybody seemed to agree on that, which made it a little puzzling when Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said this week he will plan on using two quarterbacks once again this week in the Irish home opener against Nevada.
”I haven’t sat down and talked with to either one of them, so before we do that we don’t have any plans to make any decisions,” Kelly said this week.
Keith Arnold of Inside the Irish said it best in one of his postgame recaps of the Sunday night game in Austin. DeShone Kizer needs to be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. I agree. So do you, in all likelihood. Kizer completed 15 of 24 pass attempts for 215 yards and five touchdowns without an interception. He was also Notre Dame’s second-leading rusher, adding one more touchdown on the ground. Zaire attempted just five passes and completed two for 23 yards and rushed three times for zero yards. It can be unwise to make rash decisions based off one season opener, but the difference between Kizer and Zaire was substantial.
So why might Kelly be reluctant to hand the offense over to Kizer on a full-time basis? Let’s try stepping inside the mind of the head coach. First, let’s admit and concede the indisputable fact that Kelly has seen much more of both Kizer and Zaire than anyone else has. He sees these players in practices on a regular basis, watches and breaks down the film, and sees them in action on game day. He talks to these two far more than any of us do as well, so we should probably agree he has a better understanding of what these two options are all about than you or I do. Agreed? Great. Understanding all of that, we can understand in part why Kelly may have the desire to see more out of Zaire and Kizer in a real-game situation.
Maybe Kizer played out of his mind against Texas and Zaire had a down night. What happens if Zaire comes out blazing against Nevada and Kizer all of a sudden begins to struggle? Then Kelly would be justified for holding off on making a decision on one guy. Or maybe Kelly will take a note from what he watched his most recent opponent do and find a way to utilize both of his quarterbacks more effectively in the offense while splitting the plays between them.
That does not appear to be the case. Kelly still seems as though he would like to have one guy to turn to at quarterback, and if Kizer has not yet made it clear he should be the guy, one has to wonder what else Kelly needs to see. Letting this drag on longer than it needs can be a concern as well. All Kelly needs to do is look back to last season when Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer let the quarterback situation play out longer than he needed, or should. (Side note: Remember when Kelly said he liked his quarterback situation better than Ohio State’s last season?) Meyer was faced with deciding between J.T. Barrett coming off injury or Cardale Jones, who played a remarkable three games to help push the Buckeyes to a national championship. The quarterback shuffle led to Ohio State’s offense struggling to get in rhythm the way they were expected to in 2015. Eventually, things sorted itself out, even if Meyer made the wrong call at first by going more with Jones over Barrett. Meyer did Ohio State no favors by creating a distraction that never needed to be there. Kelly is walking down the same path in South Bend the longer he waits to make the call, and it’s not like he’s deciding between quarterbacks who led him to an undefeated season and/or national championship. The call should be for Kizer.
Look. Kelly is getting a ton of money to make some football decisions that appear to be incredibly and painfully obvious to the fans and media alike watching the game from off the sidelines. Maybe Kelly is making a mistake in letting this quarterback indecision drag on. Maybe this is all still going according to plan for Kelly.