AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer his enjoying some time for introspection.
Life has been a blur for him since being thrust into the starter’s role when Malik Zaire broke his ankle in September, so he is looking forward to having time to dissect his weaknesses in the three weeks leading up to playing Ohio State (11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl.
“I want to evaluate myself. I want to get an overview of this season. I started looking at statistics in different areas of different downs, throws to the left, throws to the right. With a little bit of time you’re able to get a little bit of true numbers and stats,” he said. “I just think it’s going to be an opportunity for me to take the preparation I get that usually last for four days and turn it into 15-plus days and truly learn about their defense.”
Kizer put up some good numbers for a sophomore with three years of eligibility left. He completed 63.4 percent of his passes, which places him 34th nationally and fourth on Notre Dame’s single-season list behind Jimmy Clausen (68 percent, 2009), Tommy Rees (65.5 percent, 2011) and Brady Quinn (64.9 percent, 2005).
He’s also in the top 10 at Notre Dame in touchdown runs by a quarterback (tied for first with Tony Rice, Rick Mirer with nine), passing efficiency (tied for fifth at 151.7 percent), touchdown passes (tied for seventh with 19) and passing yards per game (10th at 216.7).
Where he and his teammates need some work is in the red zone, where the Irish (10-2) are tied with Ohio State for 89th in the nation, scoring on only 80 percent of their chances. Notre Dame has been in the red zone 50 times this season, scoring 28 touchdowns and settling for field goals 12 times.
That includes three field goals in their first three tries against Stanford before finally scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds left in a 38-36 loss in the regular-season finale. Kizer also lost a fumble at the Stanford 23-yard line.
The Irish were just 2 of 7 on touchdowns in the red zone a week earlier in a 19-16 win over Boston College when Kizer threw two red-zone interceptions and Josh Adams fumbled at the 3-yard line.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said the key for Kizer is to focus on doing the little things right.
“I think that’s really what this time is about before you really drill deep into your game planning is to go back, work your fundamentals, and then specifically kind of tune up on some deficiencies,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to expose him to a little bit more red-zone work and then get to work on Ohio State.”
Kizer knows while the odds of scoring in the red-zone increases, the defense has less ground to cover.
“Everyone knows the window shrinks up. There’s not a lot of space to make things happen,” he said. “On my part, when I’m thinking about the red zone, I’m just thinking about opportunities that I could lower my shoulder and grab an extra yard, or opportunities to run through an arm tackle.”
He also believes he needs to make better decisions and keep “the ball out of harm’s way.”
“To really understand that while a field goal might feel like a disappointment from the 4-yard line, or wherever it is, but at the end of the day points are points,” he said. “The objective of the game is to score as much points as you can.”