Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was not made available to the media this week heading into Notre Dame.
Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer said plenty.
Kizer, a 6-4, 230-pound redshirt sophomore, has been getting lots of national attention lately as a projected first-round – even top 10 – NFL Draft pick should he choose to go out early after this season. And that’s despite a 2-5 record and shaky performance last game against Stanford that got him pulled for the backup for a brief time.
Kaaya, a 6-4, 215-pound junior, has gotten lots of attention himself. This past summer he was also projected by analysts as a first-rounder – in many cases the second quarterback in the draft behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
Kizer and Kaaya’s numbers are strikingly similar this season, except for one big difference: Kizer can run – and does. He already has seven rushing touchdowns this season and 285 yards on the ground.
UM (4-3) for years has not been nearly as proficient against running quarterbacks (evidence: last week at Virginia Tech, where Jerod Evans ran for 98 yards and a TD and passed for 259 and two TDs).
Kizer has completed 118 of 203 passes for 1,775 yards and 14 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. Kaaya has completed 121 of 196 passes for 1,696 yards and 12 touchdowns, with five picks (the same amount he had all of last season).
But Kaaya’s stock has dropped this season, more glaring after the past three consecutive losses in which he has been sacked 13 times (8 last game at Virginia Tech). UM’s offensive line has not helped one bit, nor has Kaaya’s lack of mobility. Sometimes he needs to get rid of the ball quicker, if even to be prudent and toss it away. But getting pounded doesn’t help a guy’s confidence, nor does injuring one’s throwing shoulder (against FSU on the first play).
Kaaya is a fighter with immense pride and loyalty to his team. Gotta love that. Here’s some of what Kaaya said the last time he spoke, immediately after the 37-16 loss in Blacksburg:
“We just haven’t scored enough points on defense. We’ve got to help our defense out. We’ve got to find a way to get the ball in the red zone. We can’t settle for field goals. We’ve got to make plays.’’
On how he’ll make sure the team keeps moving
“This team has been close even before the season. Right now our camaraderie, our family is going to get tested. We just have to stay together and keep playing and keep grinding, because there’s still five more games left. It’s still a long season. At the end of the day we’re all we’ve got and we’ve always known that.
“…We can’t just sit here and mope around and keep losing. You have to stand up and fight. We can’t be mediocre. We have to do something – find a way to get better.
“…We can’t just put it in the tank… Miami Hurricanes don’t quit no matter what the record is.’’
Kaaya on third down problems: “We just have to come together at every position because it takes all 11. When we do make plays, our offense executes very well. But in order to get to that point everyone has to do their job… If the O-line does their job and gives me time, the receivers run their routes, the running backs keep their blocks, we all come together and do the right thing, if I put it on the money, we’re going to b e successful on third down…It takes all of us.
“…There are times I got smacked tonight and other times I probably could have gotten rid of the ball and made something happen – found a way.’’
“These last couple of outings haven’t been a representation of what this offense if about.’’
Here’s some of what Kizer told reporters this week going into the Miami game:
On if he Kizer was frustrated last game, a loss to Stanford in which the Irish had the ball on the Stanford 14 with 41 seconds left and no timeouts and after a short completion, sack and spike, he ran on fourth down and fumbled the ball away (he also threw two picks, one returned 50 yards for a TD):
“I mean we lost again. The only feeling you have right there is anger. It was a rough game for me. Obviously very interesting getting benched at one point in the game…”
On how to counteract Miami’s aggressive defense: “You’ve got to match their intensity. They’re a bunch of athletes out there who are all fast, and every last player out there is a big-play type of player. We all completely understand that. In order to go out and be successful against a defense like that, we have to come out with that same aggressiveness, that same confidence in ourself to be the better player and to beat the guy in front of you.’’
On what the identity – “the thing that always works” – is for the Fighting Irish: “Our identity is that we have athletes all the way across the board.’’
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN