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Brian Kelly: Notre Dame is still a title contender without Malik Zaire

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The first play of Saturday’s game for DeShone Kizer was sheer nerves. The last was sheer brilliance.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly knows Kizer’s progression into the starting role probably won’t be quite that simple moving forward, but after Malik Zaire was lost for the season with a broken ankle in Saturday’s 34-27 win over Virginia, job No. 1 for Kelly is getting his backup ready to lead the Irish to a title.

“He can win games for us,” Kelly said of Kizer, who tossed a 39-yard touchdown to Will Fuller to secure the win over the Cavaliers with 12 seconds on the clock. “But I want to win a championship with him. We need to get him to the next level.”

Kizer takes over as Notre Dame’s starting QB with just 13 pass attempts to his credit as a college player, but he has already shown his resolve in a big moment, and Kelly said the redshirt freshman has a good handle on the playbook.

“Each quarterback has a list of their top-10 pass plays and run plays, and he’s pretty deep into the playbook,” Kelly said. “He understands the things he needs to do to run our offense.”

This is the second major injury in as many weeks for Notre Dame, as tailback Tarean Folston was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 1 against Texas, but Kelly said he’s confident the supporting cast is strong enough to win a title.

“We lost our starting running back and starting quarterback, but there are a lot of great players around them,” Kelly said. “DeShone doesn’t have to win it by himself.”

In another twist, Kizer will become Notre Dame’s third starting quarterback in five games when he takes the field next week against Georgia Tech. Zaire had replaced Everett Golson in last year’s bowl game, and Golson subsequently transferred to Florida State. The hope, Kizer said, is his supporting cast is used to the turmoil.

“They made a great adjustment from Everett to Malik,” Kizer said, “and now hopefully they’ll adjust to me.”