DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame offense continue to impress
Much was expected from Notre Dame considering the amount of top-shelf talent returning to the team. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, defensive lineman Sheldon Day and linebacker Jaylon Smith were all considered high future draft picks even before the season began, QB Malik Zaire ended last season with two excellent performances at USC and against LSU in the Music City Bowl.
Talk of an appearance in the College Football Playoff ended quickly, however, as Zaire broke his ankle during a Week 2 victory over Virginia. With his understudy DeShone Kizer forced into duty the Irish struggled mightily in a loss to Clemson, but have since steadied after four straight wins against Navy, USC, a surprisingly excellent Temple team and Pitt. His steady performance against Pitt this past Saturday was his best yet (+3.7 overall), and Notre Dame once again appears to be in excellent shape to make a run at the national title.
The resurgence of the Irish is not solely due to Kizer’s play, as he’s received significant help from two of the better emerging offensive playmakers in the country. RB CJ Prosise has forced 43 missed tackles this year on his way to 968 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. He left Saturday’s game in the first quarter after his head hit the turf and is currently in concussion protocol, but his backup, freshman Josh Adams, filled in admirably and looked like a natural fit in Notre Dame’s zone scheme (+1.6 rushing).
In the passing game wide receiver Will Fuller has emerged as one of the top game-breakers in the country, as he currently has 900 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns and has had only one game this season (vs. Temple) without a catch over 20 yards. Fuller’s propensity for the big play is evident when analyzing Kizer’s deep passing numbers, as his +10 rating on throws over 20 yards (15 completions on 32 attempts for seven TDs and just one INT) is outstanding.
Kizer’s performance against Pitt was also impressive in terms of decision-making and accuracy, as he did not force any throws into traffic and only one throw was put in a position for a defender to make a play on the ball. These two traits will be the key going forward for the Notre Dame offense, as the Irish simply need him to play efficiently and allow his playmakers to shine.
As long as Kizer continues to progress on his current arc, expect the Irish to be significant players in the coming weeks. Their regular season finale on November 28th against Stanford should be a playoff elimination game.