Over the last three years, Notre Dame fans got spoiled having a constant at quarterback with Ian Book – the all-time winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history. Before Book took over the reins in 2018, though, change at quarterback was almost a yearly occurrence for the Irish during the first eight-year of the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame. But, just five games into the post-Ian Book era, change looks like it might be on the horizon for the Irish again.
Three years ago, Brian Kelly made the surprising move to bench Brandon Wimbush in favor of Ian Book in the fourth game of the season. Notre Dame scored a total of 70 points in their first three games that year. The Irish scored 56 in Book’s first start – a road contest at Wake Forest. Notre Dame didn’t look back as they finished the regular season undefeated and clinched a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
Book replacing Wimbush in the middle of the season wasn’t a new occurrence for Notre Dame, though. From the first year of the Brian Kelly era, the quarterback position resembled a revolving door at Notre Dame.
- In 2010, an injury to Dayne Crist thrust then-freshman Tommy Rees into the spotlight with a cameo from Nate Montana along the way.
- In 2011, Crist won the starting job from Rees in fall camp only to be benched a couple of weeks into the season.
- In 2012, Everett Golson won the job in camp but had to be spelled at times by Rees, who also had to start the BYU game while Golson had a concussion.
- In 2013, Golson missed the entire season with his academic exile. Rees would get benched at times for Andrew Hendrix too.
- In 2014, Golson returned, but by the end of the season, he and Malik Zaire shared reps in the bowl game. Golson transferred in the off-season.
- In 2015, Malik Zaire lit up Texas in the opener only to break his ankle the next week, opening the door for Deshone Kizer.
- In 2016, Zaire returned but lost the starting gig to Kizer. Kelly inexplicably tried to play both, however, and a locker room rift formed.
- In 2017, A rare year with nary any QB drama. Brandon Wimbush was the starter all season long other than the North Carolina game, he missed with injury.
- In 2018, Wimbush struggled at the start of the year and was replaced by Book for the fourth game.
From the fourth game of the 2018 season until the Florida State game, Book started every game but one for Notre Dame – Senior Day in 2018 against Florida State. The stability at quarterback led to an unprecedented run for Book, who never lost a start inside Notre Dame Stadium. As a result, the program as a whole was more stable than it had been in decades over the last three years.
Book compiled a record of 30-5 as a starter at Notre Dame – a record that some Notre Dame fans still want to dismiss for some reason.
It only took five games for the instability at quarterback that characterized the early years of the Brian Kelly to pop up again. Wisconsin-transfer Jack Coan had one of the best first starts for any quarterback in Notre Dame history. Since then, however, Coan and the Irish offense have struggled worse than we’ve seen the offense struggle in a while.
Sophomore Drew Pyne spelled Coan on Saturday against Cincinnati after filling in for an injured Coan against Wisconsin. Pyne has been far from perfect, but he’s provided a spark that the offense has been missing for most of the season.
Against Wisconsin, Pyne led the Irish to 10 fourth-quarter points – aided by the turnover barrage provided by the defense. Against Cincinnati, Pyne entered the game after the Irish were shut out in the first half at home for the first time since 2007. Pyne led the Irish to 13 points in the second half and nearly guided them to more. Had Notre Dame not been down 17 points when he entered the game, one drive that ended on downs likely would have been a field goal attempt. He also had another drive end because of a brutal drop on what would have been a 30+ yard gain.
Brian Kelly was non-committal about the quarterback position moving forward following the loss to Cincinnati. Still, it seems clear to almost everyone on the outside that it is time to give Drew Pyne a start.
Coan threw for 366 yards with 4 touchdowns in week one at Florida State. Since then, he has 5 TDs to 2 INTs. Unfortunately, the Notre Dame offense has failed to move the ball as efficiently as it did since then, with Coan in charge. The problems the offense has had aren’t all on Coan, but he hasn’t helped with some indecisiveness in the pocket and a lock of mobility that has combined with Notre Dame’s struggling offensive line to create a bad situation.
If Kelly makes that move, it’ll mark yet another year in which Notre Dame has had to make a change at quarterback during the season. The last time they did it, the guy who took over ended up winning more games than any other quarterback in program history. Odds are lighting doesn’t strike twice like that, but the move might just be the spark that this offense needs right now.