Change at Quarterback an All Too Familiar Scenario for Notre Dame Football

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.

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8 Comments

  1. I can’t really add to what others have posted. It’s a bit frustrating that ND can not recruit and sign a “real difference maker” at QB, something that has been lacking. There is a clear pattern of how QB’s have panned out in the last 11 seasons. To me, it’s a sign how they have been managed by the coaching staff and that has to get better. IMO, Pyne needs to be elevated to the starter as of this year, I think he is the best QB to give the best chance for success & winning.

  2. How to win in Vegas: after you lose, keep putting down fresh bets.
    I wouldn’t presume even a coin toss to be 50/50 with Kelly doing the flipping.

  3. I dont think it’s as much as quarterback development as it is properly evaluating and signing a true 5 star quarterback. The reason I say that is that all the quarterbacks that left the program with Kelly never played any better after they left Notredame. All of them too went to so called great quarterbacks coaches . Christ to Kansas under Charlie Weis, Golson to fsu under Jombo Fisher, Kizer to the Browns under High Jackson, Zaire to Florida, Winbush to central Florida. Both Central Florida and Florida had great coordinators and still none of these quarterbacks became good little lone great

    1. The problem I saw with many of our prior QBs is they came out strong then regressed. Had they continued to play to their potential and then plateaued, that’d be one thing. But they would start off good then have a significant fall off. That seems to be a coaching issue.

      Though I don’t disagree being able to recruit 5 star recruits would be a big plus. I’m just not sure BK can develop even a 5 star without them regressing too.

      1. Sadly you maybe right. I also think Kelly needs to bring in a new oline coach and a receivers coach. Quinn and Del have too many misses in recruiting and when they got there is little to none development or slow development like with receivers

  4. This is a long standing issue with BK. They can’t develop QB’s most of the time.

    What’s sickening is a lot of those QBs on your list were highly ranked coming in. Granted, not every highly recruit pans out. Every school has the occasional 4 or even 5 star bust. But when it happens over and over again then I think you have to look at the coaching. Golson was really the first of that train wreck. He was the one we were all told was the perfect QB for the system BK ran. Once he was ready to start then it would be all the way to the top. But it just never panned out. Then it happened again, and again, and again. Kizer and Book were basically the only 2 that stood out, and even both of those I believed never really developed to their fullest potential.

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