SOUTH BEND — Congratulations, DeShone Kizer. You’re officially Notre Dame’s new full-time starting quarterback.
Now, go ahead and play like you did in last week’s six-touchdown performance. Oh, and you might not have your top wide receiver available.
That’s a reimagining of a conversation that took place Wednesday between Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly and Kizer when Kelly told the redshirt sophomore to be ready to take every snap in Saturday’s home-opener against Nevada.
“It means a lot,” Kizer said of finally emerging victorious from an extended position battle with redshirt junior Malik Zaire.
“In the last eight months, I’ve learned quite a bit about myself as a quarterback, as a leader, as a teammate. And from that I think I’ve definitely developed into someone I wanted to be for this season.”
Just as Notre Dame cleared up its quarterback situation, the status of its most experienced pass-catcher, redshirt junior receiver Torii Hunter Jr., remains foggy for Saturday as he works his way back to form after suffering a concussion on a vicious hit late in the third quarter against the Longhorns.
While Hunter’s absence would disadvantage Kizer in his formal reintroduction as the starting quarterback, he does have a group of young receivers anxious to bolster their burgeoning reputations.
Sophomores C.J. Sanders and Equanimeous St. Brown are in their first seasons as starters and eager to put their prints all over this offense. Both of them made memorable plays on special teams last year as true freshmen, and, judging from the Texas game, they have morphed seamlessly into bigger jobs as No. 1 wideouts.
The 5-foot-8 Sanders turned in 55 yards and an impressive touchdown on a screen pass in the first overtime. St. Brown’s first reception of the year was a 13-yard touchdown pass from Kizer, and he went on to collect another touchdown and a team-high 75 receiving yards.
“I think it just adds a little more confidence that me and C.J. already had coming into the game because as receivers we put in the work,” St. Brown said. “We had good camps, so we were confident in our ability, but now that just solidifies it and I think we’ll be more confident.”
Sanders, with his small frame and exceptional open-field maneuverability, and St. Brown, an athletic 6-foot-5, boast prototypical traits for their positions, ‘Z’ and ‘W,’ respectively. Those skills are sure to be put to use against the Wolf Pack as Notre Dame looks to replicate last week’s production of 444 yards and 47 points.
As for Hunter’s ‘X’ receiver spot, his backup on the depth chart is true freshman Kevin Stepherson, who did not record a catch in Austin, Texas. St. Brown said many of the receivers know the offense well enough to be interchangeable at multiple spots, although Kelly previously said St. Brown will be sticking at ‘W’ to develop chemistry with Kizer.
Redshirt freshman Miles Boykin, junior Corey Holmes, Stepherson, true freshman Chase Claypool and sophomore Chris Finke all are candidates to have more balls thrown their way this Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter who is in there, they’re going to make plays,” Sanders said. “Even the young guys — Stepherson, (true freshman Javon) McKinley, Claypool — they can always step in and make an impact as well. Like we always say, ‘Next man in,’ and everybody’s really prepared because of (wide receivers) coach (Mike) Denbrock.”
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