What Is Wrong With The Notre Dame Passing Attack?

A disclaimer right off the top: I’m not some kind of quarterback guru. Never played it, never coached it, and I’ve got a terrible arm. So this piece isn’t going to include arm angles, plant legs, or square shoulders. It will involve game clips and data though, so if you’re into it then lets take this ride.

I don’t want to beat around the bush. The Notre Dame passing game stinks right now. They are currently 124th nationally in quarterback rating, sitting below 50% completion percentage (49.5%), and a miserable 121st in yards per attempt. Yuck.

I wanted to look at the reasons why. Where are things going wrong, is there hope to get better, and what are they missing?

Brandon Wimbush Has Got The Yips

There is always a debate as to whether the problem is the quarterback or the receivers when the passing game falters and while the receivers haven’t been perfect (I’ve got 9 drops on the season), Wimbush has really hurt them the last two weeks throwing the ball.

I charted all the incompletions from the first three games and tallied up all the instances where an incomplete pass resulted from receiver error, quarterback error, and good coverage. Receiver error is what you’d think, basically did the receiver run an obviously bad route, or drop a pass that should be fairly routinely caught. Quarterback error is a bad throw or a terrible read, like the interception against Temple. Coverage includes instances where there is a good throw and a good route and the defense breaks it up, or there is a throw away because of a good rush or solid coverage.

As you’ll see, Wmbush started out ok against Temple, and has gotten worse in every game since.

Receiver ErrorCoverageQB Error 
Boston College0.080.150.77

The alarming thing about the Boston College performance was it came largely from a clean pocket. Wimbush often ran into trouble when his initial read broke down and when he hung in the pocket he was simply inaccurate. Notre Dame isn’t helping him by rolling him to his left so much, away from his throwing shoulder, but the routes he’s being asked to complete in these instances don’t require much.

Most people noticed he had trouble finding his top receiver, Equanimeous St. Brown last week, missing mostly high and one low on a deep out route. St. Brown only brought in one pass for three yards but was targeted countless times and had Wimbush been more accurate he was in line for a pretty big game. This is good news on the one hand, while St. Brown struggled some against the Georgia secondary, he has been consistently open, but just missed. He was overthrown for a touchdown against Temple, under thrown for a touchdown against Georgia on the opening play, and had Wimbush thrown a strike on his interception right before the half, with the safety in a bad spot and St. Brown running away from him, another probable touchdown was lost to a bad throw.


Offensive Line Concerns

This is less of a concern in practicality or more of a concern for Wimbush that is affecting his judgement in the pocket. In my opinion, it’s no surprise Wimbush had happy feet coming off the beating he took against Georgia, and he didn’t show the trust needed in his line throughout the Boston College contest. On the second offensive snap, Wimbush drops back, looks for St. Brown, sees him covered, and bails out of a perfectly clean pocket.


Trust in the line is something that can be overcome and Wimbush isn’t the first inexperienced quarterback to get happy feet following a rough game. But, it’s causing him to make poor decisions and is likely affecting the way he processes information. It means he wants to get the ball out quickly, which means he’s going to stare down a receiver and throw to the first read he sees.

It doesn’t make for a very efficient passing attack.

Problems At Receiver

If you’re a defensive back, who scares you on this team? St. Brown would give me a concern, he’s shown himself to be a playmaker, but other than him, what are you afraid of? No one who is not wearing #6 has shown the ability to run by anyone, and Notre Dame hasn’t shown the willingness to try to get anyone behind the defense. Wimbush took a deep shot, sort of, to Chris Finke last week and overthrew him by about five yards. Zero deep balls to Chase Claypool, Cam Smith, or Michael Young (who Kelly has been raving about) and that just gives defensive backs license to hug up on receivers and jump every thing short.

I mentioned in my “Personnel Problems” column from last week that the influx of players at the receiver position, in addition to the tight ends, made it difficult for Wimbush to develop a relationship with anyone not named St. Brown and the fear is in season it is too late to develop that relationship.

And all of this goes without saying there is a guy sitting on the bench, who has apparently been suspended for the first four games, who could also be added to the mix very soon in Kevin Stepherson. It would certainly be nice to add a guy who took a simple slant route against Miami and had their talented secondary on roller skates for 54 yards.

It has so far been the case that while Wimbush hasn’t been sharp, his receiving core hasn’t made life easier for him and outside of Stepherson coming in and providing a spark, it’s hard to know where that relief is going to come from. While there is potential, no one has proved any kind of consistent play during games that matter.


A green quarterback meets a green receiving core, mixed with an offensive line the quarterback doesn’t fully trust leads to what we’ve seen the last couple of weeks.

Inaccuracy wasn’t the book on Wimbush leading up the season, so the sense is he has better play within his abilities. But, now he’s pressing and there is no obvious pick me up at receiver. The coaches can probably get more creative with their route concepts to use the physical talents of the receivers to their maximum, but if Wimbush doesn’t have the patience to wait for routes to open up, then it doesn’t really matter.

In truth, every facet of the passing game stands to improve in some area, but for it to really make a change in the right direction, Wimbush just needs to play better. And I get the sense from his body language he knows that. It should be noted he struggled as a first year starter in high school as well. He figured it out then, so he can figure it out now.

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  1. Fascinating how psychological this position has become for ND. Golson with the turnovers, the self inflicted drama affecting Kizer’s security with the Zaire fiasco, and now Wimbush with his accuracy. Maybe that is the problem with ND, the QBs are too smart for their own good and become their own worst enemy. In HS Wimbush was a far more prolific passer than running QB, so I am not going to make any permanent judgments based upon three games. Water under the bridge, but it is a real shame that when we burnt his red shirt that we never had situations where he could have played more and got some experience.

  2. If you’re playing a team that you can run up 500 yards on and your qb is a little nervous you run up the ground yardage and keep the qb on a short leash and give him his head slowly – he’ll be ok.

    I hope.

  3. Right now WIMBUSH is very slow on his reads and release. he has a very hard time going thru his progressions in the pocket. Only game experience can help with this. And up to now he has shown no progress. I agree with DAVID R it is what it is but lets hope the luck of the IRISH can pull him thru! This weeks game will b very revealing.

  4. Thoughts/observations: Happy feet and success running=more running is likely. Accuracy is very poor. These may be related.
    Concerns: He’s had two years in college and the system already, including two springs and two summers = he may not get
    much better.
    Recs: Slow the game down for him – short, quick hitters, to facilitate getting into a rhythm and experiencing sustained success, meaning over more than one offensive series. Allow him time on the sideline to be able to observe how the game flow is playing out as Ian Book gets a series or two. If no progress, and if Book shows potential under fire, groom BW for playing running back; ?? can he catch (as in out of the backfield)…..his talents may be better suited to playing RB.

  5. Wimbush really hasn’t shown he can put air under the ball or complete touch passes. Unfortunately, what I have noticed in fifty something years watching qb play, an inaccurate qb usually will always be an inaccurate qb. It is what it is.

  6. He will be fine. I think we need to relax. ND should get to USC 5-1.

    If he’s really bad Saturday at MSU and/or is still struggling by USC, then it’s a different conversation.

    We should start to see improvements each week. Get some easy throws early, work the TE’s in the middle of the field. Keep running the ball and the outside shots will open up.

    1. Don’t make him throw on the run? So we should limit our playbook because our QB is not capable of rolling out
      like a college level QB? Good grief.

      1. Pete and Paul,
        Don’t make him throw while rolling LEFT! Set up a rolling pocket to the right (ala Joe Montana, though I don’t think Joe’s rolling pocket was DD’s baby…it was one of his assistant’s concepts). Anyway – roll to the RIGHT. As for rolling out to the left…throw that out of the playbook!

        Bruce G. Curme
        La Crosse, Indiana

    1. Yet you give all the posters here who keep writing Winbush a pass…hunh.
      Grammar Police Academy must be a football factory.

  7. Greg , thanks video. Great designed run by Wimbush at 152.42 mark 4th quarter. Harold Landry #7 all by himself. McGlinchey goes straight ahead , doesn’t even look at Landry. Jones #34 lined up at reciever goes straight for the d-back. Landry sucked in and Wimbush goes around him. Nice blocks by Jones and EQ Brown down field. ND’s #78 also blocking down field. Even Finke was down there at 5 yd line helping out. Another big game this saturday against a tough rival MSU. Irish need this win badly — then beat Miami of Ohio and finish September 4-1. May the Saints of Ireland be with us. Go Irish.

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