We like to take a look each year at all the positional groups and take stock in whether that group is improved, or gotten worse, from the previous season. Given last years dismal 4-8 record, it would be great if there were a lot more “betters” than “worse”. But, lets dive into it and it only makes sense to start with the quarterbacks because everything pretty much does in football.
|1. Brandon Wimbush||Junior||6'1"||226|
|2. Ian Book||Sophomore||6'0"||205|
|2. Avery Davis||Freshman||5'11"||192|
|4. Montgomery VanGorder||Senior||6'1"||217|
I think we all agree that last season’s quarterback battle was an unmitigated disaster that set the stage for the team to fall apart later in the year. It’s actually funny looking back, because the quarterback situation was referred to many times as a “good problem to have.” Apparently not.
Luckily, there are no such issues this season.
Wimbush is the clear starter and Book is the clear backup. Everyone understands their role, everyone knows the pecking order. The team is free to build around what Wimbush brings as both a player and leader, and Book is free to create his own niche on the team as the backup.
This makes for a healthy quarterback room, a healthy team dynamic, and gives the offense the best chance to reach its potential.
This isn’t to say DeShone Kizer was a bad fit for what Notre Dame wanted to do, he obviously fit very nicely, I just think Wimbush fits a little bit better.
First, the higher tempo Chip Long wants to play fits right into the type of player Wimbush is. The first time starter is by far the most dynamic quarterback Brian Kelly has had at Notre Dame. He’s a faster, bigger player than both Zaire and Golson, and more elusive than Kizer. This is the type of thing that can be exploited later in games or drives after the defense tires out. His mere presence out there puts pressure on the defense.
Second, this offense emphasizes down field throws to exploit defenders confusion on run/pass option plays. Wimbush showed the ability to execute such throws in the spring with accuracy and zip.
No matter who was playing quarterback for Notre Dame in 2016, we knew what we were getting, because both guys had played, and started, in meaningful games at Notre Dame. Kizer had started 11 and Zaire three. There is something to be said for that at quarterback, it’s reassuring for everyone.
Wimbush only played a handful of snaps in 2015 in mop-up time, and no snaps last season. This doesn’t preclude him from anything, of course, but it’s not something that can just be ignored. The guy hasn’t played in any meaningful games yet, and we don’t know how he’ll handle 3rd and 7 in a one score game in the 4th quarter. We saw Kizer in that spot, even Zaire was clutch at times against LSU and Virginia.
Not to knock Tommy Rees, who could do a good job as a first time quarterback coach, but the previous quarterback coach is now a head coach at a division 1 school. I think if we got to choose, we’d all rather it was Mike Sanford coaching Wimbush at this point. It’d be silly to say this isn’t a step down.
You would think this would fall into the “worse” category, which I initially slotted it into, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it is pretty much the same if not better now.
On the one hand you had Zaire as a backup last season and Ian Book this season. No-brainer right? Well, that turned out to be not a great situation, because once Zaire lost the starting job to Kizer following week 1 at Texas, he was checked out. He entered a number of games following his demotion and lets just say he wasn’t really into it. It might as well have been me out there.
Beyond Zaire was Wimbush, who Notre Dame wasn’t going to play, so it would have been Montgomery VanGorder. I think the same situation exists this year with Avery Davis a likely redshirt and VanGorder the third option behind Wimbush and Book.
As for Book, he is also an unknown as far as playing time, but not as far as what kind of effort he is likely to give. You know that if his number is called, he’ll be fully engaged and ready to go. Which wasn’t the case with Zaire last season.
If this was just one for one, in a vacuum, you’d have to say Notre Dame is worse this year, due to the loss of Kizer. DeShone Kizer was a damn good player and in my opinion the toxicity of the quarterback battle, plus the overall dysfunction of the program clouded how good of a prospect he was.
But, that’s the thing, the toxicity that killed the team last year is no longer an issue. The program feels new, with a different offense, a new person leading that offense, and a lot of the dysfunction that plagued them last season now eradicated.
Notre Dame is healthier at quarterback overall than at any point last season and are now being lead by the highest ranked recruit to start a game in the Kelly era.