The linebacker room will be one man short for the first half of this week’s game as J.D. Bertrand got called for targeting again against the Tar Heels two weeks ago. The rest of the squad has practiced filling in for the senior captain, shifting over and running different packages but a lot of those adjustments have fallen on graduate student Jack Kiser.
The Indiana native has been prepared for a moment like this though. Since high school, he’s played a wide range of positions. Then, he played anywhere from quarterback to defensive back. Now, he trains in every linebacker position and even sometimes in the vyper role on the line.
Having played all over the field, Kiser has a clear perspective on the defense as a whole, their goals and what the Irish need to work on to strengthen their defensive presence through the rest of the season. The main focus, he says, is turnovers.
“If you want to be a great defense, you’ve got to create chaos,” Kiser said. “We haven’t created as much as we want but we certainly do believe when we get the thing rolling, they’re going to come in bunches. Every day we’re reminding people ‘Punch at the ball, rip.’ Anytime you’re around that ball it has to be some type of attempt to create that turnover. That’s something that’s always on our mind. Certainly going into this week it’s going to be just as big as any other week.”
Over the course of his career, the linebacker forced two fumbles and snagged three interceptions. All but one of those turnovers came last season. In both of his 2021 interceptions, Kiser ran the pick for six points, once against Wisconsin and again over Georgia Tech.
Kiser has also been dominant in his tackling. With 26 on the season, 10 of them solo and one of them a sack, he’s had more than half of last year’s total only four games in. He doesn’t miss them either — Kiser has only three missed tackles in his career, all coming back in 2020.
“When I grab on, I’m not going to let go,” he said. “But it’s three too many [missed tackles]. Hopefully this year we can get that down to zero and be perfect in tackling because you have to be.”
Even so, the Irish — Kiser included — have been focused on making sure they don’t lose anyone else to targeting calls and are tackling well.
“It’s super tough. They’re on scholarship, you’re on scholarship. You’re trying to win the game. At times, they’re 230 pounds and you’re trying to get them down, right? At the same time you have to keep in your head there’s a strike zone. When it’s a bang-bang play it’s tough but you gotta know to keep your head up and you’ve gotta avoid their upper shoulder, neck, head area. That’s something that we’ve been emphasizing the last couple weeks,” Kiser said.
While he says honing the technique has been important, Kiser also said they can’t falter worrying about that call being made though.
“You can’t be scared to make a tackle because you have something in the back of your head that tells you not to,” he said. “But you have to be smart and you have to think about it so it’s a tough balance. We’re getting a scholarship to play football and as a defensive player, you’ve got to be able to find that balance… you’ve just got to trust yourself and be confident in your teaching and your ability and your technique to just go out there and play and make the best tackle you can.”
In terms of what else he’s been working on, Kiser said in an interview earlier this season that he’s focused on “using [his] hands, being physical and block destruction.” He’s still working on those pieces while preparing for BYU this week.
Despite not having Bertrand, Kiser trusts the group that will be out there to get the job done this weekend. They had a test run without Bertrand against the Tar Heels as this is his second game in a row with a targeting call.
“I have complete confidence in whoever is out on the field that’s on this defense, they put in the preparation, they put in the work and they’re good enough to be out there and compete. If that’s me, if that’s Marist, if it’s Bo, whoever it is, we’re gonna get the job done and we’re gonna fill in and we’re gonna pick up right where J.D. left off,” Kiser said.
The defense has their work cut out for them this weekend. A scrambling quarterback with receiving weapons has tripped up the Irish defense before this season. Heading into Las Vegas, Kiser said communication will be key.
“The whole back seven, we’re going to have to be on top of our game, communication-wise you know, we can’t have any breakdowns,” he said. “North Carolina week unfortunately we had some breakdowns and we can’t let that happen this week.”
He added though that the need to play perfectly extends to the whole defense, especially this weekend. He feels like the defense knows what to expect from BYU though and they’re prepared to answer it.
“If we can get a rush upfront, that significantly helps the back seven. If we can cover in the back seven, if we can get home up front, it all comes hand in hand. Having that preparation, knowing what they like, what our answers are and creating that chaos. We certainly do believe we can create chaos and we just got to get there. If everyone is playing disciplined football, I think we can do that.”
Contact Mannion McGinley at email@example.com.