Should Brain Kelly Consider a Quarterback Change to Ignite Notre Dame Offense?

Through three games last year, the Irish offense was stagnant.  With a powerful defense, Brian Kelly knew his team had a chance to be great, but he needed to ignite the offense.  So he made the bold move of benching Brandon Wimbush in favor of Ian Book.  The move worked out as Notre Dame went to the playoffs for the first time.  A year later, Kelly might be facing a similar decision this week after another underwhelming performance from the Irish offense in Notre Dame’s embarrassing 45-14 loss to Michigan.

The natural, knee-jerk answer here is clearly, “yes.”  Make the change and see if it can ignite the offense.  It might not be that simple, though.  While the Ian Book wasn’t good by any means Saturday night, he wasn’t the only problem against Michigan.  You don’t get blown out of the water just because your quarterback has a bad night. Notre Dame was terrible in every aspect of the game – sidelines included. Maybe sidelines especially.

Benching Book right now makes the senior a scapegoat for a team that is underachieving in more areas than just at quarterback.  As Greg pointed out on Sunday, Notre Dame’s captains have almost all regressed this year – not only Ian Book. At the same time, it has been a while since we’ve seen the same Ian Book that we saw against Wake Forest last September that looked like a revelation for this offense.

Now that said, Kelly needs to do something to jump-start this offense, and his options are limited with Virginia Tech coming into town this weekend.  The return of Jafar Armstrong, which was thought to be the spark for this offense, hasn’t done anything to improve Notre Dame’s offensive output.  There are no young receivers or running backs that haven’t played yet to throw out there.

Kelly did insert Jurkovec Saturday night once the game was entirely out of hand, but he was quick to tell the media in the immediate aftermath of the bloodbath that Jurkovec’s appearance was only because the game was decided by that point.  He wasn’t benching Book.  In limited action, Jurkovec led Notre Dame on their best drive of the game.

When Kelly benched Wimbush last year in favor of Book, he didn’t announce it during any of his media appearances leading up to the game, and when specifically asked about it by the media the Thursday before the game, Kelly was coy.  So even if he is considering making a switch, we probably won’t know about it until around kick-off.

When Wimbush got benched, the Irish were 3-0, including a win over Michigan at the time and still very much alive in the playoff discussion.  At 5-2 and coming off as lopsided of a loss as any Brian Kelly coached team at Notre Dame, no one should be surprised if Kelly starts thinking about inserting his sophomore quarterback.

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If Book just had a bad night against the Wolverines, no one would even be contemplating this at this point.  However, Book has been trending down since the end of last season once teams got a decent amount of film on him. Brian Kelly, Chip Long, and Book haven’t been able to counteract the adjustments defenses have made.  Pitt created the blueprint, and the Irish offensive brain trust hasn’t had an answer.

In five games against Power 5 opponents this season, Book has thrown just five touchdowns.  That level of production is not going to lead a team to a playoff run.  The last time we saw him at the top of his game was against Northwestern last November in the game that he got hurt.  Against a good Wildcats team, Book completed 64.7% of his passes for 343 yards with two TDs and no interceptions.  He hasn’t had a game against a Power 5 team since then with at least two TDs and no interceptions.

Virginia Tech is ranked 65th in the country in pass defense efficiency.  You can look at that in two ways here: 1) maybe it’s a good weekend to get Ian Book going again or 2) if you’re thinking about making a change, it could be a good time to do it.   Notre Dame won’t face another defense this season that ranks higher than 31st in the country in pass defense efficiency as of today.  And that team is Navy.

  • Virginia Tech: 65th
  • Duke: 42nd
  • Navy: 31st
  • Boston College: 114th
  • Stanford: 108

By the way, the two non-Power 5 schools Notre Dame faced that they threw all over are currently among the worst pass defenses in the country. Bowling Green ranks #129 and New Mexico #126.

With the Playoffs entirely out the window following Saturday night’s debacle, Notre Dame should be playing for the future with an eye on making another run in 2020.  They will have the personnel throughout the roster capable of making a run next year, but there are still big questions about the quarterback position in 2020 and beyond.

We still don’t know what Notre Dame has in Phil Jurkovec, but after 17 starts for Ian Book, we have a pretty good idea of what the Irish have.  Book can be extremely accurate in the short passing game, but he’s struggled in the intermediate to long game. The long ball is mostly not even an option for Notre Dame right now.  As a result, good defenses are stacking the box and daring Notre Dame to beat them deep.  They haven’t been able to when they’ve faced good defenses this season.

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Is Jurkovec the answer?  I don’t know.  I do know that Notre Dame has to do something to jump-start this offense because it’s been stuck in neutral for almost a year now.  At a minimum, Notre Dame should be giving Jurkovec more snaps throughout games, though, since they have nothing left to lose.  Brian Kelly has a history of making quarterback changes throughout his tenure.  Expect to hear a lot of chatter suggesting he needs to make another one this week.

The real underlying question in all of this, too, is whether or not the sidelines is where Brian Kelly should be looking.  Chip Long has had his moments as the offensive coordinator for the Irish, and Nick Saban has called him the last two off-seasons so clearly Long is well regarded.  This is the second quarterback in a row though that Long hasn’t been able to help scheme around deficiencies to execute his offense.

Kelly isn’t going to make a change at offensive coordinator mid-season though, so if there is anything major he may do to shake up the offense, it’s probably at quarterback.


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  1. Storespook 3 months ago

    I usually haven’t been a fan of a 2 QB system, but, some consideration for that might be worth trying. Giving Phil some meaningful playing time by having him in there for a quarter or even 2 quarters of the game along with Book might add a spark and even push Book a bit. There are many facets that need great improvement and one place to start is at QB. I wouldn’t shed any tears if Kelly decided to leave at the end of the season. If Long and Reese left too, I am not using sleep about that. I just wish this program became more feared and played with an attitude of “hating to lose,” which is different then playing not to lose.Maybe it’s time to also let younger guys out on the field who have speed. No CFP chance and I am not holding my breath for a major post season NY’s 6 game either ( he’ll if ND does, I have little faith Kelly could win it).

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  2. Wimbush Fan 3 months ago

    Best article comparing Wimbush & Book. However,
    Ian is still standing, while Brandon was yanked with a
    WINNING record! Check the DATA…check the stats!
    Be fair!! If you’re going to scrutinize, USE THE SAME

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    1. ndcrazymike 3 months ago

      This is the same Wimbush who outright couldn’t get the ND offense going for 2 years and left for UCF only to get beat out there by a freshman!! Stop with Wimbush or sit on the bench with him, let it go!!!

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  3. pete calco 3 months ago

    Notredames goal they claim is to win national championships and be a perennial playoff level team ala Ara Devine and Lous teams. Imo Book is not the answer to win a national champioship.There also is an old saying in football and that is you coach next years team this year. True Phil might or might not be the answer.We really dont know because he hasn’t played.What we do know is Ian Book is not elite has too many limitians.If I’m Kelly I would start Phil this week at home.The other thing I would do at the end of the season is get rid of Long and Reese.Go out and get a great o coordinator and qb coach and give them full control of the offense.This is what TCU and PennState did 2 years ago and what LSU and ohio state did this year. All those teams after the changes averaged 45 to 50 points a game video game numbers.Yes you have to have a very good defense to win a national championship but you also must have an unstoppable offense in today’s college football. The rules favor the offenses. The play calling I saw Saturday night was some of the worst I have seen and I started watching Notredame in 1964. It looked as bad as Gerry Fausts high school offense. How about in the second quarter when Notredame had a 3rd and 12 on their own 26 yard line and Long called the bubble screen to Armstrong for a 2 yard gain. Even our local high school coach wouldnt have called that play.

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  4. david 3 months ago

    For those wringing their hands that “Brian Kelly is as good as ND can do”….consider the tale of Ed Orgeron.
    USC wouldn’t name him permanent HC after Kiffin, snubbing him for Sarkisian.
    When Les Miles quit at LSU, Coach O was again given the job as interim HC. Only after 2 months of really good, tough football, did LSU brass relent (….VERY reluctantly…) and name him HC.

    And just look what Orgeron has done. A guy who the elitist crowd saw as boorish, unsophisticated, no PR skills…not HC material.
    Now ranked #1. Great recruiting class. Players love him.

    What has Kelly done since ND beat LSU in the Citrus Bowl?
    Well, ND was ranked 11th then.
    Now 16th.

    But Brian Kelly is more polished, much slicker on TV. Hooray for Swarbrick.

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    1. Ron Burgundy 3 months ago

      Orgeron 49-36 .576
      Kelly 139-59 .702

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      1. david 3 months ago

        One of those fanbases is happy, hopeful, and excited today.
        And because of that, those fans won’t be reduced to spouting winning percentage comparisons for debate points anytime soon.

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      2. ndcrazymike 3 months ago

        If you know anything at all which you don’t dopey, the LSU fans are not happy! ORGERON has lost every big game LSU has had! Has lost every game to BAMA, their biggest rival lost to BRIAN KELLY and ND in a bowl game and has never had an undefeated or even 1 loss season! No top 10 finish and was fired at 2 previous jobs! Another stupid post DOPEY DAVEY!! Paul FINEBAUM did a story on espn explaining why the LSU fan base hasn’t embraced ORGERON yet, but don’t let the facts stand in the way of your BS!

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    2. Ron Burgundy 3 months ago

      But I do agree they should fire him.

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    3. Bruce G. Curme 3 months ago

      David, I’ve always loved Orgeron, at LSU where he is a perfect fit…the guy would probably eat crawfish alive without even wincing. But at USC, the home of Kenneth Anger, the late Hugh Hefner, and MS 13…not such a good fit, maybe. You see people, just forking out three million (or more) per year for a top coach isn’t going to work if he’s not also a good fit for your community. Texas A&M bought a really good coach at top dollar…but does he really fit well as a head coach in the SEC? (for that matter, does Texas A&M itself even fit well in the SEC?) We’ll probably have another coach in a few years…not much doubt about it…regardless of whether BK wins a NC next year, as I have long predicted. But those of you who think that 2 or 3 million a year plus bonuses alone will get us a NC are naïve. If the guy who comes here is a (craw)fish out of water we’ll regress no matter how great he was in a completely different culture. Do you get that, David?

      BGC ’77 ’82

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      1. david 3 months ago

        What elitist BS. Enjoy your canapes, just don’t get any on your upturned collar. .

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    4. Damian 3 months ago

      I think ND should move on from BK at this point personally. The problem is I don’t want to fire BK and just hire another equivalent…or actually go in the other direction. I’m over BK—but I also don’t want to go back to the D/W/W years which were much worse.

      And all of us here…we don’t get to decide who the next HC is. The PTB at ND….Swarbick, Jenkins….they show 0 interest in doing some of the things ND needs to do if they want to win NC’s.

      It’s not fear. It’s resignation. The people that are really in the driver’s seat aren’t willing to do what it takes to win NC’s (and I think there are ways for ND to do that without selling its soul).

      And honestly….BK isn’t going anywhere. I’m very cynical about the powers that control ND. They are completely satisfied with 9 to 10 win seasons. They’ll spout off about NC’s being the goal but it’s a bunch of BS.

      I’m not even anti-BK really. I just think he’s hit his ceiling. He’s an above average coach that Cincinnati, Purdue, Kansas, etc. would probably love. But he’s not elite.

      But I’ve got nothing against the man….If ND were to pull a shocker and win a NC under BK I would be thrilled.

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  5. bruce g curme 3 months ago

    If the standard was excellence for Wimbush, then it has to be for Ian Book as well. Start him against VT’s defense in Bud Foster’s last year as one of the great coaches of our time, and if there are less than seven points on the board after the first three possessions, put in Jurkovic…just that simple. Jurkovic can run, he can throw, he ought to know the offense well enough by now…my only worry is that he does not seem to be a to be a very good ball handler…but then we haven’t really seen enough of him to know that.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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