It all started with a afternoon text message: Notre Dame might be starting Ian Book this weekend. First it was just a rumor on a site, then it was another site, then it was all over Twitter, and by the time Brian Kelly said both quarterbacks would play this weekend during his Thursday presser, it was assumed Ian Book was starting.
“They’re both going to play. I’ve said that all year. We need both to win, and they’re both ready,” Brian Kelly said when asked about the starting quarterback for Saturday.
Asked specifically about Book, Kelly stated, “We think he’s a good quarterback. We recruited him to Notre Dame to win championships just as we did with Brandon. That’s why we put him in the game against Vanderbilt. If we put him in this weekend, it will be because we believe he can help us win.”
For some this is a little baffling; quarterback changes following wins is out of the norm. For others, this is long overdue. Notre Dame hasn’t been getting consistent play at quarterback during the Brandon Wimbush era. He’s beaten some very good teams, but it’s also hard to predict what we’ll see week to week. That’s a hard way to play. But, Wimbush looked great against Michigan, and Notre Dame is ranked in the top 10 and is undefeated. So why make this change?
Several reasons, actually.
Notre Dame is an offensive juggernaut early in the first quarter and the first drive of the second half and below average the rest of the time. They rank 117th nationally in three and out percentage. They’ve scored 24 points or less in each of the last six games with Wimbush as the starter. There is a debate about how much that has to do with him, but six games is a big enough sample size to say there is higher level of play that can be reached and maybe it’s time to see if the other guy can reach it. Notre Dame simply isn’t getting the most out of their weapons right now and that has to change. Making a move at quarterback seems to make the most sense to see if the offense can take the next step.
Lack Of Big Plays
Part of the allure of Wimbush is his big play potential. He’s dynamite as a runner and he has a big arm. Boom or bust kind of guy. What you give up in sustainability and consistency, you gain in the chunk plays. But the big plays have been hard to come by so far this season. Notre Dame has just four plays–two running, two throwing–of over 30 yards on the season, with a long of 43. They’ve got two scores over 30 yards: the 43 yarder to Finke against Michigan, and the 31 yard run by Tony Jones Jr. against Ball State.
The drives have needed to be methodical and that’s not Wimbush’s game. He can do it, but not time and time again, which is why the team stalls at times. You give an inconsistent player lots of cracks with the whip, you’re going to get a mixed bag of results. So, if the offense lacks punch, maybe it’s better to play the guy better suited to sustain his play.
Poor Decision Making
This has long been Wimbush’s greatest weakness, much more so than his inaccuracy. And I think should a move be made, will be what ultimately did in Wimbush. Interestingly enough, Wimbush has been much more accurate this year. His completion percentage has risen six points from last season, and he hasn’t had the wild misses to open receivers like we saw last season.
Unfortunately, those have been replaced by passes into double coverage, on multiple occasions. He also has struggled with the zone read, and went a whole game only handing off to the running backs on those plays, 18 attempts worth. Wimbush hasn’t always put his team in the best position, and it has led to some stalled drives.
I believe this has been his ultimate downfall: not getting the ball to the right person play after play. That has to be frustrating for the offensive coordinator, who may feel he’s called the right play and it didn’t get to the correct person, or he has the right play in mind but can’t count on his quarterback to get it where it needs to go.
How Much Is This Going To Help?
The thing here is, I’m not sure how much changing the quarterback actually matters. Wimbush hasn’t been that bad and while he played below average against Ball State, his offensive line was also a dumpster fire. Maybe some of that he should have overcome, but would Ian Book have survived better? I’m not sure he would have.
And Wimbush was good against Michigan. He made the throws he needed to make, while under constant pressure, threw a touchdown pass, had another touchdown pass called back because his receiver lined up wrong, and was a huge Alize Mack drop up the seam away from another big scoring drive.
He was also 12-22 against Vanderbilt, with two more drops from Finke and Claypool, and with a receiving corps that largely had trouble getting open. So, I’m not sure changing quarterbacks solves the issue of receivers not beating coverage, or having a line that is inconsistent.
Maybe having Book in there gives Chip Long more freedom to call the types of plays he wants, but lets be honest about the fact that if Book was obviously better than Wimbush he’d have been the starter from Day 1. However, game day isn’t practice and Book has shown the ability to raise his game in big moments.
Whatever the case may be, we know there is another level (or two) for this offense to reach given the players they have and perhaps Ian Book is the one to help them reach it.