Evaluating Notre Dame’s Quarterback Situation

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Photo: Ryan Meyer/TNNDN.

There was little doubt about who would be Notre Dame’s quarterback in 2017. After the departures of DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, junior Brandon Wimbush stepped into the Notre Dame spotlight. It’s fair to say that Wimbush, like the rest of the Irish, had an up and down season.

As the Irish entered 2017, the coaching staff knew Wimbush was a special, but unproven, talent. Let’s take a look at where Wimbush was, how he progressed, and where he is now.

The Upside

Wimbush entered 2017 as a relative unknown for Irish fans. His inexperience was a concern, but his athleticism and upside were second-to-none. Still, the Irish fans had high hopes for their new signal-caller. After all, their first introduction to Wimbush was impressive. This was his second play from scrimmage and his first throw as a Notre Dame quarterback:

This play ended up being reviewed and was later called incomplete. Still, though. That ball was on a rope.

As if that wasn’t enough, then Irish fans saw his running ability:

Even on incomplete passes, Wimbush showed the ability to deliver the ball with confidence:

If Wimbush could pull off plays like the ones above on even a semi-regular basis, the Notre Dame offense was going to be just fine.

The 2017 Season

Being the starting quarterback at the University of Notre Dame is a little more difficult than the type of mop-up duty Wimbush saw in 2015.

After early-season struggles against Georgia, Wimbush seemed to be trending in the right direction. There were hiccups and the numbers weren’t always there, but Wimbush was plenty good enough to lead the Irish to convincing wins over ranked opponents such as Michigan State, USC, and North Carolina State. The progression was trending upward. And then the Irish traveled to Miami.

Against the Hurricanes, Wimbush struggled badly. He missed open throws. He threw puzzling interceptions. He failed to lead the team when the game mattered most. At the time, it seemed like an indictment on whether Wimbush would be the type of signal-caller the Irish truly need.

After a weird game for the Irish against Navy, Wimbush had an opportunity against Stanford to silence some critics. He had the opportunity to take momentum into temporary off-season before a bowl game. He had the ability to show his resolve and his progression.

The Stanford Tape

It’s clear that Wimbush was uncomfortable in the season finale, something that likely didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence among the Irish coaching staff as the regular season drew to a close.

Inability to make Stanford pay for stacking the line of scrimmage

Take a look at this next play. Nothing screams “lack of confidence in the quarterback” like running the ball on 3rd and 3 with 8 Stanford defenders near the line of scrimmage. This play had no chance:

People cite a variety of problems that plagued the Irish as the season went on. The health of Heisman candidate Josh Adams was clearly one of those problems. The bigger problem, though, is that Miami exposed Notre Dame for what it was: An offense that was unable to execute in the passing game, even with a stacked box. Nothing changed with the Irish except the way opponents played them.

Inability to pull the trigger and throw receivers open

Sticking with the theme of a lack of confidence, Wimbush doesn’t have the confidence to pull the trigger on this throw. It seems as if Wimbush had Durham Smythe open on a corner route on the right side of the screen. Instead of getting through his progressions quickly, Wimbush scrambles and eventually he gets sacked.

If Wimbush saw Smythe and didn’t have the confidence to throw it, that’s bad. If he never saw Smythe at all, that might be worse. Either way, this isn’t getting the job done.

Overall inaccuracy

And then there’s this throw to Equanimeous St. Brown. It’s pretty clear that Wimbush feels the pressure from his right. He rushes the throw just a bit and the ball flutters. If it’s more on a line, St. Brown comes down with the pass in bounds.

There isn’t enough pressure here to significantly impact the throw. Again, this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Week 12.

The Positives

Wimbush is a super athlete. Those who watch Irish practice on a daily basis insist that Wimbush has the ability to make the right reads and make every throw he needs to make. The problem: He has yet to demonstrate that on the field on a consistent basis.

A major benefit in playing Wimbush is his running ability. In this clip, Wimbush executes a nice zone read and Josh Adams serves as the lead blocker. The Irish have 7 blockers to Stanford’s 6 defenders in the box. This allows All-American Left Tackle Mike McGlinchey to get to the second level and block Stanford’s middle linebacker. Wimbush picks up 12 yards and a first down.

This aspect of Wimbush’s game is something that backup Ian Book can’t duplicate.

TheĀ  Resolution

In the weeks between now and the bowl game, the Irish coaching staff will spend a great deal of time evaluating the quarterback position. What they likely will conclude is that there are ways Wimbush can improve, but that what he brings to the table is valuable.

How Wimbush responds to the extra coaching he receives between now and Notre Dame’s bowl game will show a lot about how much he can progress going in to next season. If the results are disappointing, Irish fans shouldn’t be surprised if the quarterback evaluation leads to a quarterback competition next spring.

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