SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — DeShone Kizer didn’t intend to be a running quarterback at Notre Dame.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore picked the school because he saw how the Fighting Irish offense ran under Tommy Rees, one of the least mobile quarterbacks in school history, and figured it fit him perfectly. He’s a thrower, not a runner.
Someone forgot to tell the Irish coaching staff.
Kizer has carried the ball 54 times for 259 yards the past four games, leading the No. 8 Irish (7-1) in rushing in two of those games. Heading into the game Saturday at Pittsburgh (6-2), Kizer is second on the team in rushing with 318 yards on 72 carries, a 4.4 yards per carry average.
He rushed for 143 yards against Temple last week, three yards shy of the school record for a quarterback set by Jim Etter against Navy in 1969. That included a 79-yard touchdown run — 74 yards longer than Rees’ career long — in which Kizer expected the whole time to be caught.
“You normally get about 25 yards and someone hawks you down from behind, takes out your legs. I peeked up at the (video) screen and I had a couple of yards and I started running for my life and it end up in a touchdown,” he said.
Kizer, who grew up a fan of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, isn’t against running. He has five rushing touchdowns and has become Notre Dame’s best short-yardage runner with Tarean Folston out for the season.
“Whatever the coach is going to throw out there for me, I’m going to be prepared to execute,” he said.
Teammates are enjoying his success. Center Nick Martin describes Kizer as “sneaky athletic.” Running back C.J. Prosise said Kizer has “shown people he has some speed.”
“DeShone is a physical guy. He likes to get in there and lower his pads and run it,” Prosise said.
Kizer’s shown he can get it done with his arm also, throwing a game-winning 17-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller with 2:09 left against Temple last week. He also had a 39-yard TD pass to Fuller with 12 seconds left to beat Virginia. His pass efficiency rating of 152.1 places him 20th in the nation.
But he also threw two interceptions in the red zone against Temple that allowed the Owls to stay close.
“I’ve got to make better decisions down there,” he said.
Kelly knew the development of Kizer would be key after Malik Zaire went down with a season-ending ankle injury in the second game.
“I don’t know that you forecast your backup quarterback to be in the position he’s in right now: ranked nationally, leading his football team. You’re excited and happy for him,” Kelly said. “I think the thing that is great is to watch him learn each and every week.”
Everett Golson was a first-year starter when he helped the Irish get to the national championship game in 2012. Kelly said Kizer is ahead of where Golson was at this point.
“Just the confidence, I think more than anything else, is probably the big difference between the two,” Kelly said. “Everett was a great athlete, could do a lot of things, strong arm. But the makeup of the quarterback position in itself, I think leadership, command, I’d have to give the nod to DeShone at this point.”
The pressure of being a first-year quarterback trying to help his school win its first national title since 1988 doesn’t appear to weigh on Kizer.
“If you catch me on the sideline, I’m smiling,” he said. “This is what I came here to do. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Not everyone gets a chance to go down and try to throw a game-winning touchdown. This is what I live for. This is what I came here to do.”