Brandon Wimbush and his passing ability is the hot topic for coaches and players heading into the Citrus Bowl on New Years Day. Everyone wants to know how his mechanics look, where his confidence level is, and if a breakout is coming against the vaunted LSU secondary.
By most accounts, the lack of an efficient passing game is the main culprit of the 2017 version of the November swoon, and that’s hard to dispute given the way the games played out. In the final month and over the span of four games, Wimbush was a 46% passer and threw 6 touchdowns to 4 picks. Not quite winning football.
But, perhaps a more telling stat about what went wrong for Wimbush was as a runner. In the final four games, he saw drops in his yards per carry, yards a game, and touchdowns. And that includes his 110 yard, two touchdown effort against Wake Forest. Over the final three frames, Wimbush was 36 for 126 (3.5 a carry), with one score. Over the previous nine, Wimbush was 101 for 629 (6.2 a carry) and 13 touchdowns. And the run defenses didn’t get better to end the season, they got worse.
Fix The Player, Not The Quarterback
All the talk has been about the mechanics of Wimbush, as though fixing the passing fixes the problem. I don’t believe it does.
We view quarterbacks too often through the prism of how they are as passers. But, quarterback is a skill position, just like running back or receiver. And Wimbush is dangerous with the ball in his hands. He can be play maker for the Irish offense without the ability to throw a perfect slant or dig route. This is what was lost for the Irish offense in the final three games. Wimbush stopped making plays.
He was slow to react on the read option and was too eager to give the ball away, even when the reaction of the defense called for him to keep it. Brian Kelly talked about the issue with Wimbush not being mental, but a tell tale sign it was is his reluctance to take the game into his hands on the ground. This is something we’ve seen from a guy like JT Barrett at Ohio State throughout his career. He can will a victory as a runner when his passing is off target. Wimbush is a good enough football player to do this. And Brian Kelly should focus on that, instead of talking about his mechanics every time he can. One of their best players stopped being a weapon over the final three weeks, and wouldn’t you know Notre Dame just stopped being good on offense over that same period.
It’s Easier To Get The Mind Right Than The Mechanics
I don’t know a lot about playing quarterback, but Wimbush has struggled with accuracy all season. Those are unlikely to drastically change over the course of 15 bowl practices. And let’s not pretend that it hasn’t been a focus all season. It has been, entire periods of practice are devoted to these things. Why, then, focus so much on it during bowl prep within the media, when the player is clearly struggling mentally? He’s played good football this season, even given his accuracy struggles, so take what you have and move on. This is what he is this season, build on that.
The USC contest is a perfect illustration of what I meant. He was a paltry 9-19, and 120 yards and two touchdowns. But, he also ran for 106 and was constantly threatening the defense on the ground. He was far from perfect through the air and throws were missed, but he also threw two beauties for touchdowns to St. Brown and Stepherson. He was leading them. So take his warts and build him up with what he can do.
This isn’t a call for designed runs or any sort of game plan. This is a call to remember their quarterback is a dangerous weapon who can affect games in the positive whether he is an efficient passer not. Stop talking about his deficiencies and emphasize his strengths. Fix the player, not the quarterback.