When Brandon Wimbush was replaced as the Irish starting quarterback prior to week four, you knew this was coming. It was always going to go like this. The former starter, forced into action for an undefeated team, in what could be the last home game of his career. This is just the way the universe works.
This isn’t to paint all of this as a positive thing. It is clearly not. Ian Book is the superior player, and losing him for this week is not a good thing. That said, there is reason to believe the Irish offense won’t simply revert back to the slog that we saw in the first three games.
Wimbush Gets Dexter Williams Too
A lot was made of the return on Dexter Williams in the context of what it meant for the Irish offense at the time, specifically to Ian Book. But, his presence enhances the threat of Wimbush as well.
When Wimbush was in the lineup over the first few games, he was the home run threat. Jafar Armstrong was still finding his way as a runner, Tony Jones Jr. just isn’t that guy, and Avery Davis was getting real carries. It was a lot easier for the defense to put most of the focus on limiting his legs, without paying much attention to the backs and take their chances. That is no longer the case.
Williams can go the distance from anywhere on the field, if the defense wants to shade away from him, he’ll gash them for big yards. They’ve got to play it honest, which could give Wimbush advantages running the ball.
Wimbush Had The Benefit Of Watching The Offense Evolve
Wimbush hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs the last six months. He’s been watching Book operate in the offense, and seeing him exploit weaknesses that perhaps Wimbush didn’t see. Brian Kelly spoke about his young defense in 2016 needing someone to show them what it’s supposed to look like. It’s one thing to watch film, it’s another to go to practice every day and see it happen. For the first time in the Chip Long era, Wimbush has had the chance to see someone run the offense the way it’s meant to be run.
Another variable has been what the team has been practicing. In 2017 and into 2018, Wimbush was always the presumptive starter, especially when it came to game planning. During the season, they practiced the plays they were running in games. Those plays would be catered to his strengths. Ian Book has been the starter for six weeks. They’ve been building the offense around him, Brandon will have been practicing those plays. They wouldn’t have two separate game plans for the quarterbacks.
This isn’t to say the game plan will be unchanged or won’t be catered to Wimbush this week. It will be. But, it’s not fanciful to think Wimbush has improved his RPO game, if from nothing else a decision making standpoint, because he’s likely been running it over and over again in practice. And again, he’s seen the way Book runs it, which has been very effective. It’s also not fanciful to imagine he has a greater understanding of the passing game, the strengths of the receivers, and where guys are likely to be open.
This Is (For Now) A Single Game
We know Wimbush can get up and play well in a single game, we’ve seen it. That’s what the coaches were counting on against Michigan. And he delivered! The problem for Brandon was building a consistent offense around him, and the nature of his game didn’t really allow for that. But, in a one time, go win us this game scenario? Wimbush can definitely do that and then some. He has shredded far better teams than this one, in games that those teams had to win. And now the team has grown. He doesn’t have to carry the offense, they can carry him! All the question marks at the skill positions aren’t questions anymore. Everyone has their role and is ready to execute it. Brandon just has to go out there and deliver the ball. He doesn’t have to be the singular reason they win or lose now.
Let’s also keep in mind, Brandon Wimbush is at home, where he has already beater top 15 USC, top 20 NC State, and top 4 Michigan, with a point differential of +63 points. He’s going to be fine.