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 Error||Coverage||QB Error|
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.