Campus Check In: Will this be Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer’s last game in South Bend?
SOUTH BEND – Whether in contention for a national title or fighting for a bowl berth, this ceremony is the same at Notre Dame Stadium every year.
The seniors, fourth or fifth year, line up in the iconic tunnel of the stadium and are introduced one by one to the sellout crowd. Brian Kelly stands at the top of the tunnel to snap a picture with every player who then runs out to family gathered at midfield.
All of the underclassmen wait in the tunnel until the seniors have been introduced and then they join them to start play in the final home game of the season.
Kelly will lead this tradition this Saturday at a chilly Notre Dame Stadium for the contest against Virginia Tech at 2:30 PM. Twenty-eight seniors will run through the tunnel for the last time as the 4-6 Irish try to keep their hopes alive for a bowl game.
“They’ve been resilient. I think that that’s how I would put it. They have not cracked at all. They’ve been positive,” said Kelly of the seniors. “They have been — they’ve worked harder than I would say any group that I’ve had, but as hard as any senior group that I’ve had in keeping this football team together, working hard every day. So you want their last home game to be a win.
“And everybody is going to work to that end, there’s no question about it. And they are, too. And they’ll do everything that they can, as will everybody in this room that is part of this football team.”
But there are always some that will be coming out of the tunnel for the final time on Saturday and don’t know it quite yet. Some will leave the program for elsewhere or the NFL – and that’s probably the case for the man taking the snaps for the Irish Saturday.
Projected as high as a second round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, junior DeShone Kizer may very well be playing his last game in South Bend against the Hokies. No decision has been made yet with two and maybe three games left in the season, but even Kizer admits that the though of Saturday being his final home has crossed his mind.
“I can definitely acknowledge that,” said Kizer when asked if he had considered the possibility of Sunday being his last home game. “But I think that with that, you have to treat every game like it’s your last. This season has really shown me that to appreciate every opportunity that you have to step in that stadium. Through a competition with Malik, through a rough start, I think that those opportunities and those experiences that I’ve had in that stadium have been awesome, and I’ve definitely learned to appreciate them.
“But like I said, there’s so many things that you can learn from through this season. I think one is to take each game for the game it is, to look ahead and to say that this could be my last game, that would add a lot more pressure than is already out there.”
ILLINOIS: A QB’s Final Contest
CHAMPAIGN – No matter what, Wes Lunt’s home career at Memorial Stadium ends on Saturday.
The senior quarterback, whether he starts or not, will trot out onto the turf in Champaign for the last time as the Illini face Iowa at 11 AM.
To say that it’s been a topsy, turvy run for Lunt at Illinois would be an understatement. After sitting out a year after transferring from Oklahoma State, the Rochester, Illinois native played eight games in his first year but dealt with a fractured fibula midseason.
Then came the Tim Beckman firing a week before the season in 2015 and interim coach Bill Cubit leading the way. Lunt made it through the entire season throwing 14 touchdowns and passing for 2,761 yards as the Illini went 5-7.
A back injury derailed his final season, costing him four games. Finally he returned to the lineup last week when he replaced a struggling Jeff George Jr. in a 48-3 loss to Wisconsin.
But in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Lunt said he has little to regret about his time at Illinois. While not revealing whether Lunt would start or not, Smith was happy to get Lunt back on the field as his senior year comes to an end.
“He hadn’t played in a while so it was a first time to get back,” said Smith of Lunt. “We’ll need to play better this week. As a team we’ll need to play better this week. Tough situation, you know, we’re down like that but again, you have to have your first time back and he got that out of the way.”
NORTHWESTERN: Carr becomes a star
EVANSTON – The State of Illinois’ breakout college football player in 2016 has made a habit out of finding the endzone in 2015.
After all Austin Carr is leading the Big Ten in every major receiving category through ten games.
He’s got a conference-high in catches (75), yards (1,102) and touchdowns (12). That last number puts him sixth in all of FBS and has already set the Northwestern record for receiving scores in a single season.
That’s made the Benecia, California who is now a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award for the nations best receiver. Not bad for a walk-on who Pat Fitzgerald admitted wasn’t even on the team’s radar when Carr showed up on campus back in 2012.
In fact, it was the receiver who called the football office just hoping for a chance to walk-on to the team.
“We really didn’t know who he was, so we did some quick research,” said Fitzgerald of getting to know Carr. “We would categorize him as a great walk-on, a guy that probably should have been a scholarship player maybe at the lower levels out of high school.”
He stayed patient after reshirting in 2012 and then seeing no playing time in 2013. In his sophomore season, Carr was able to see time in all 12 games and made seven catches with his biggest honor coming as a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar having posted a GPA of 3.7 or higher.
“He showed up and went to work. He’s been a terrific attitude guy, great work ethic early in his career,” said Fitzgerald, who first watched Carr grow on special teams.
Carr continued to work his way into the lineup more in 2015 as his catches went up to 16 with 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This year he’s broken out as one of the best receivers in the conference and maybe the country as well.
While praising Carr for his improvement, he does credit the rapport he’s built with quarterback Clayton Thorson as a reason for his success.
“Just waited his turn. He’s worked diligently and now has just been really consistent not only throughout this year and also last year,” said Fitzgerald. “I think his play and his improvement is a direct correlation of the play of Clayton. I think they’ve got great chemistry and are doing a really good job.”
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: The Rally Huskies
DEKALB – There are many signs that this has been an off-year in with Northern Illinois football.
For one the team will not finish with over a .500 record for the first time in nearly a decade and will need some major help to qualify for a bowl game.
There has also been a rash of injuries that have depleted the Huskies’ quarterback ranks which has hindered the team in route to a sub-par 3-7 record heading into the their game with Eastern Michigan on Wednesday.
But Rod Carey’s team put that behind them for one night with a memorable comeback against the Eagles. Down 21-0 at the half and running their offense with backup quarterback Daniel Santacaterina along with backup running back Jordan Huff in the game, Northern Illinois came up with a memorable rally.
Huff ran for 173 yards and a trio of touchdowns and scored the eventual game-winning touchdown in overtime to give the Huskies a 31-24 victory.
It marked the biggest comeback for the Huskies since the 2011 MAC Championship against Ohio in Detroit and upped their record to 4-7. Northern Illinois faces Kent State on the road on Friday, November 25th to end their regular season.