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.

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.

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. 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).

    1. 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!!!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

      1. 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.

      2. 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!

    1. 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

    2. 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.

  4. 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

  5. I would offer a different slant. The offensive line hasn’t been nearly as effective since Harry Hiestand left for the Bears. The blocking scheme has been reduced to one-on-one coupled with a lack of creativity in the run game. As others and myself have pointed out repeatedly, no misdirection, traps, counters, etc. How about that reverse flip to Braden Lenzy that went for a TD against USC? Why are plays like that so rare?

    Address those issues and the problems with Book would self-mitigate considerably. The disaster at Ann Arbor – 43 rushing yards v. 303 for Michigan – cannot be pinned on Ian Book. If UM were to concede it couldn’t rush, Clark Lea could beat Tom Brady back at UM.

    1. I’ll offer yet a different slant. The offensive line hasn’t been nearly as effective since Quenton Nelson left for the Colts and Brian McGlinchey left for the Chargers.

      As for Ian Book, he’s still jumpy in the pocket, and his regression began after he got injured at Northwestern.

  6. All the evidence shows QBs regressed in year two under Kelly. Switching quarterbacks now just means Jurkovec will be worse
    next year, based on the available evidence, right?

  7. I’ll keep it short. Book had is chance to get better 1st half of season. He did not. HC’s have to make choices. Saban and Dabo wouldn’t hesistate–that’s why they are winning NC’s. You think their worried about the “hurt feelings” of pulling their QB at anytime during the season ? Start Jurkovec in 2nd half and put emphasis on speed with Lenzy and Keys. Maybe Chip Long can put in a playbook for Jurkovec with emphasis on speed , vertical pass routes. It’s a look into what 2020 can be with even more speed arriving. Kelly needs to grow a pair and go with Jurkovec.

    1. You realize that the coaches tell the QB what to do, right? They recruited him, they coach him in practice, they teach using film, they call all the game plays…all that.

      If ND was losing because Book couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, had no arm strength, or was just dumb as a rock, you’d have a point.

      ND offense is slow, predictable, uncreative, and relies squarely on a single RB (Jones) and a single receiver (Claypool).
      Stop those two guys, and you can beat ND.

      1. Maybe the coaches tell Book what to do, but I doubt that they tell him to run out of the pocket into a wall of defenders when there’s a wide-open receiver. And he does it anyway.

        It’s looking more and more like he’s trying to avoid getting hurt again. I don’t blame him, either.

  8. I thought Jurkovec looked terrible as a back up. Out of the shotgun, He catches the ball with his belly and is sooooo slow for his first step. Rewatch his plays and you’ll notice it. He is not the answer.

  9. ND appears to deem any and all incoming freshman “Not ready to play”. 4 and 5 star recruits expect to play right away. ND just does not
    have these type of players at the skill positions. That leaves ND always struggling to keep up w/ the elite teams. Book is not the answer and
    Jurkovec isn’t ready yet ? This is not how elite teams operate. Does it really matter if the team is 10-2, 9-3, or 8-4 at end of the season ?
    Give Jurkovec some playing time. Otherwise you will see him in the transfer portal. Give Houston Griffith and Kyle Hamilton some playing time.
    What happened to Kmet in the passing game ? Armstrong needs to find his rhythm. Give him 10-15 touches and see what happens.
    Stop the horizontal passing game. Claypool is always chasing down a jump ball. Go vertical and stretch the field..Time to shake things up
    and break some new ground. Get creative to give this team a spark.

  10. Brian Kelly has been the program limitation at ND since he took the job.
    Blaming the QB has been his go-to, time-buying solution ever since.

    The one QB to navigate Kelly’s BS left for the NFL with a kick in the ass….from a petty man fearing for his own future without him.

    Face it….Brian Kelly’s original reputation for fast, effective, creative offenses has been completely erased, and the main attribute on his resume as a “developer of QBs” is a fat lie.

  11. What QB hasn’t regressed under Kelly? Somehow they recruit guys who plateau and then go backwards. Truly Kelly has had 2 years out of 10 in which his entire team didn’t regress. 2012 and last year. other than that, the trend is that by mid October, the team has peaked and is roiling backwards. Personally I suspect the demands of the game today will prevent a school that demands class attendance to succeed academically from performing on the field late in the season.
    Anyway, I vote to keep Book in there. Phil may have a great second half of this season, but that means he’ll regress next year.
    “Next Year” has been happening since 1994.

    1. Sad but true. I started following ND as a full time fan in 2002 so all I’ve ever had is “Next Year” and it’s gotten old.

      When does it all come together? Even if BK moved on or was fired or whatever, does anyone really believe a Saban-Meyer like coach is coming to ND?

      I suspect it would just be a different coach with the same results, or who knows, maybe it could be worse. How does ND improve its coaching?

      1. Wow…you people are so self-pitying its pathetic.
        There are very good, future star coaches left in the world.

        You’re just so beaten down and mentally damaged you’ve given up all hope.
        And both Swarbrick and Kelly appreciate it very much.

      2. Mike McIntyre, Dan Hawkins, Jeremy Pruett, Will Muschamp, etc, etc etc.

        Elite coaches are not out there. BK isn’t elite, but ND isn’t losing to Syracuse like they were under TW, CW, BD.
        It’s not top 10 program but it’s not middle 50 one either. If you can get a slam dunk then do it. Otherwise you
        keep it from being a dumpster fire.

        It’s not sel-pitying, it’s being realistic.

      3. Fun facts:

        Football excellence used be Notre Dame’s tribute to the Blessed Mother. (…..I guess now its just a revenue line item..)

        And If Ed Sorin decided to settle on “realistic”, Notre Dame University wouldn’t exist.

      4. If the above is self-pitying, then so is this:

        “ND offense is slow, predictable, uncreative, and relies squarely on a single RB (Jones) and a single receiver (Claypool).
        Stop those two guys, and you can beat ND.”

  12. Since Book is a captain, it complicates the decision. Pull him and you risk losing the team. If you lose this team and spiral into an 8-4 year, then Kelly is at real risk of losing HIS job.

    The right decision is to play for the future with Jurkovec, as everyone is pointing out here. Damien’s point, however, is valid that we don’t want to waste “good Phil” this year. My counter to the regression narrative is that it is unlikely Phil attains a complete grasp of the offense this year, and therefore next season he will still be treated as a “first time starter,” with a somewhat limited playbook. The Kelly QB regression phenomenon only applies once the QB is given the full playbook and told “now run with it and don’t screw it up.” Hence the self-applied pressure and regression.

    1. Yeah, I think we’re safe if Jurkovec is simply given some opportunities to run the offense. And you bring up a good point about him being a captain. If Jurkovec goes in a gives a spark, BK will probably be safe from losing the team. Most players want to win and play well so if that happens I think it’ll be ok. But I wouldn’t go full on with Jurkovec next week.

      I’d start Book next week–if he struggles then I’d give Jurkovec a chance to start the 2nd half. I know it’s not generally a good idea to have your starter, Book in this case, always looking over their shoulder…but it’s important for Book to know someone is pushing him from behind as well.

      It’s a delicate balance. How much do you play Jurkovec? When do you pull Book if he’s struggling? That’s why the HC gets paid the big bucks. Given BK’s past I’m not sure how much faith I have in him to strike that balance. I hope he can find it.

  13. We are all just fed up and tired of the same ending to the movie. Kelly has to do something, the QB situation is just not working. Add that to Kelly and his dismal road record against ranked teams, it is just discouraging. At the least, we need a new QB coach and OC. It cannot continue like this.

  14. ND should consider a head coaching change. His time is up, I think. How do you not have your team ready to play for that game (regardless of weather)? It was embarrassing

  15. I’m a bit reluctant here. Partly it really is my concern that most of our QB’s have a first good year as a starter then regress after that–and I mean regressed. When I say about wasting our good first year on Jurkovec, really I’m only half joking. If BK starts him this year he may come roaring out of the gates and we think we have our QB only to next year see him regress—like EG, like Zaire, like Kizer, like Wimbush, like Book. It’s a problem they have to solve, and it goes back to BK. I’d love to solely blame Long and Rees, but they didn’t coach all those QB, just Wimbush and Book.

    That’s not to say I’m at all satisfied with Long right now. 3 years as an OC and we’re still regressing late in the season. I was trying to be patient but after this past weekend’s debacle I can’t help but think Long is not the answer at OC. I don’t want BK calling plays again, but I think we need to try again maybe at OC.

    Ever since BVG came to town two games ago our defense has regressed as well. That’s concerning. Maybe our defense wasn’t elite to start the season but they played well enough. But like Chris J, I’m not going to pin this loss on the defense. They did make some halftime adjustments and got some 3 and outs and gave the offense a chance with good field position even and what the offense do, turn around and give the ball right back. Eventually your defense is going to wear down. You no sooner sit down for a break and you have to get back up again.

    But all that being said, that’s not to say I wouldn’t give Jurkovec some meaningful reps. But I think I’d gradually get him more reps. I might not start him yet, but I’d get him into games more and more as the season wears on. And next year, whether Book is here or not I’d start Jurkovec. He’s supposed to be the next big QB at ND (for whatever that’s worth at this point) and I wouldn’t leave him on the bench next year.

    So I’d gradually incorporate Jurkovec more and more so that when next year comes he’s not a rookie QB. He’s had some meaningful minutes and he’s ready for first game 2020 to go full on.

    And Frank’s right. There’s a ton of problems with ND right now. A change at QB is not going to be some magic panacea.

  16. I would definitely like to see Jurkovec run with the 1s in a game for a full game to see what he really has. He was a very highly recruited QB. Urban Liar really wanted him at OSU. Kelly even said that he felt Jurkovec was on the same level as Lawrence coming out of HS. So why not use that talent then? They’ve already screwed with his throwing motion which I’ll be the first to admit that Jurkovec is now throwing an uglier ball than he ever has. However, the ball does get to the spot still from what I have seen in limited action. All I know is there is a huge upside to Jurkovec, much larger than Book’s, and at this point we really need to give him serious reps in games. But there’s no way that stubborn Kelly is going to do that because the rain will be blamed for Book playing bad. Book is his guy and I’m afraid we are stuck with him through next year as well. A QB or two will transfer this off-season, you can count on that.

    Chip Wrong truly is trash though. I’ve been saying it for a long time but my goodness our running game is the most predictable BS I’ve ever seen. No read-option and no misdirection, no jet sweep calls after only 1 got stuffed, no fake jet sweeps and then a handoff. The point is we made it pretty obvious to the defense how we were going to try and run the ball. We didn’t keep them off balance at all. The most disappointing was no read-option with a decent runner in Book. I get that Jones has the most yards after contact in basically the whole NCAA but I don’t think he can run through an entire 8 man front there Chip. I don’t blame the defense for this one. They were on the field way too long and were actually keeping us in it as best they could.

  17. Exactly what I believe, Book has regressed since the Clemson game to end last season. When he was named to starter his. mental game was much sharper, he made great pre-snap reads, dropped back set the back foot and let it go, no indecision. Now he looks lost on almost every play.

  18. Excellent and fair analysis of a tough situation for a head coach, and an easy one for us “armchair
    coaches.” Personally, I opined that Jurkovec should have been tried before the UGA, like Book replacing Wimbush after three games last year. I suspect BK did not think Jurkovec was the answer then, and he
    may not be now, but a change at that position is warranted.

    Your point on the UM debacle being a total team effort is valid, but you can’t bench everyone. Start with tthe QB and see if “opening up the playbook” improves not just the offense, but enhances the defense
    as well with enthusiasm

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