Brace Yourselves, Another Notre Dame Quarterback Competition is Coming

Brian Kelly was noncommittal about the quarterback position at Notre Dame heading into next season on Monday after the Irish called in Ian Book in relief of Brandon Wimbush, but he didn’t have say anything.  As soon as Ian Book rallied Notre Dame for two fourth quarter touchdowns to knock off LSU and win Notre Dame’s first New Year’s Day bowl since 1994, everyone knew what was coming.  Another quarterback competition at Notre Dame.

“I don’t think I am ready to get into all of those things.  We just won a football game and we’ll make all of those decisions later,” Brian Kelly said Monday afternoon after Notre Dame’s 21-17 win.

He might not have been ready to get into all of those things on Monday, but his response let every know exactly what was coming.  A quarterback competition for the fourth time in five years at Notre Dame.

The reason for what would have been an unthinkable quarterback competition two months ago is both the rise of Ian Book and the simultaneous fall of Brandon Wimbush.  The hope heading into the Citrus Bowl was that a month of extra practice would get Brandon Wimbush back on track and looking like a quarterback on the cusp of stardom.  Not the quarterback that we all saw in November that looked lost after starting all but one game this fall.

That didn’t happen.  After hitting Equanimeous St. Brown for a 35 yarder on the first play of the game, Wimbush struggled to find his receivers and missed them when he did.  The quarterback we saw struggling against Miami and Stanford was the same quarterback that we saw struggling again.

Enter Ian Book.  The sophomore quarterback stepped in off the bench and directed a two minute drive that gave Notre Dame signs of life and its first points to end the first half.  Book didn’t go back to the bench the rest of the afternoon and the only drive he directed in the second half that didn’t end in points for Notre Dame was his third quarter interception that reminded us all why he was the backup in the first place.

Book shook off that interception, however, and started making the kind of throws we haven’t seen out of the quarterback position much this year.  He was looking off defenders and placing balls in right windows.  “He’s extremely accurate as a passer,” Kelly said post game. “He’s got a really fine ability to locate the football.  He throws strikes and that’s the strength that he has.” The best example of this wasn’t his game winner to Miles Boykin either.  It was a 3rd and 17 conversion to Boykin that set up his first touchdown of the game.  Book threaded a ball in between two LSU defenders that hit Boykin perfectly in stride.

What might have been most surprising though was Book’s running ability.  LSU didn’t respect Book in the zone-read game.  That was a mistake.  “If you do not play him in the option game, he is extremely capable of pulling it and being effective in the run game,” said Kelly.  On designed runs, Book picked up 61 yards on seven attempts including a shocking 3rd and 19 conversion on the final drive of the first half. (Note: his final yardage reflects 28 lost yards due to sacks).

Most importantly though, we saw Book lead a game winning drive.  It has been a long time since we saw a Notre Dame quarterback get the ball with two minutes to go and lead a game winning drive.  Deshone Kizer couldn’t do it last year against Michigan State, Duke, Stanford, or Virginia Tech.  Wimbsh couldn’t do it this year against Georgia.  Book delivered against LSU though. “We have great confidence in Ian,” Kelly said.  “He hasn’t played a lot of football, but we threw him right into the fire and he leads a winning drive in a game that was on the line.  He’s got that ability and it doesn’t surprise us that he’s able to do that.”

And here we are.  Heading into another intriguing off-season wondering what will happen at the quarterback position for the Fighting Irish.  “We’re very talented at the quarterback position,” said Kelly. “Ian showed today.  Brandon showed that he is very capable of running.  He had 30 touchdowns this year.  30 touchdowns.  So we’re very deep at the quarterback position and very fortunate that we have them. ”

What’s that age old saying though?  If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have a quarterback?

Let’s not forget those 30 touchdowns from Wimbush or all the good he did in the first two months of the season.  Obviously his junior year did not end how anyone had hoped for but he is still a young man with two years of eligibility and a world of raw talent.  After the last five games though, it’s fair to question whether or not that raw talent will be able to be molded into a quarterback that can lead Notre Dame to the playoffs.

It’s also fair to wonder if Book is that quarterback too.  Before Monday, we had seen Book turn the ball over much more frequently than you want.  His pick six against Miami came at a time when it finally looked like Notre Dame had a chance to move the ball.  On Monday his second drive ended up another of those interceptions that had you scratching your head.  Were those the signs of inexperience or a sign of things to come if he is given the keys to the offense full?  We just don’t know.

Maybe they both have that ability.  Maybe neither do.  We really don’t know right now.  All we know is that the starting quarterback position at Notre Dame is still unsettled just as its been for the vast majority of the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame.

Last off-season Kelly gave the entire program an overhaul and pulled a lot of the right cords in the process.  His off-season to do list this year is much shorter, but right at the top of that list has to be fixing the quarterback position and heading into the 2018 with some clear direction.  No more dual quarterback systems, no more letting the competition linger into the season.  Kelly needs to figure out who his quarterback is, and then he and Chip Long need to mold the offense to the strengths of whoever that is whether it’s Book, Wimbush, Avery Davis, or incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec.

Kelly couldn’t answer questions on who his starting quarterback is moving forward on Monday because he doesn’t know.  For Notre Dame to build on the momentum of a 10 win season and bowl victory, he’s going to have to find out regardless of whether or not he’s ready to get into all of that just yet.  If he doesn’t, we will be in the exact same position next year.

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37 comments

  1. tommy651 6 months ago

    gee at every other school competition is considered a positive only among notre dame fans is it a controversy.

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  2. George 6 months ago

    Wimbush’s ND career ended when he missed a wide open St. Brown on the crossing route on 3 & 13 toward the end of the first quarter. It then became clear that those precious 15 extra practices had done nothing for him.

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  3. jeff 6 months ago

    Wimbush will be the starting QB next year. He will play well until Kelly ruins him in late October. Book wont be the answer. Here comes Jurko

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  4. Greg Kelly 6 months ago

    I don’t care if Wimbush threw 4 ints, I don’t care if He fumbled twice, I don’t care if He got sacked 4 times. He just can’t deliver that comeback win.

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    1. ChrisJ 6 months ago

      Both games where we needed last minute drives for a comeback, blindsided fumble in GA from a DE blowing right past our All American Captain and then pulled in the LSU game. Pretty unfair judgment. The other two games were blowout losses which were not all Wimbush’s fault. Our d was just as much to blame as the O.

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  5. ChrisJ 6 months ago

    I still think Wimbush should be the guy going forward. It was his first year starting and I would say it was a pretty successful year both as a passer (not completion percentage) and runner. He set a record for running TDs by a QB and I’m assuming the yardage had to have been close too. I know he missed a lot of open receivers this year but he didn’t get much help on 50/50 balls and did have a TON of drops this year, more than any year I can remember of receiver drops. The missed throws are mainly in his head and honestly the playcalling didn’t help in some situations either. He will have an entire offseason to get mentally correct and move forward.

    However, if the coaches do not think he is the guy, then I don’t agree with everyone on here talking about him being a receiver. I think you make him a RB. Unless they are lying, he is 6’1″, 227 lbs with really good speed, good vision, and can obviously take hits. He would be a nice tandem to go along with Dexter Williams and you could mix in some passes with him at a back as well. I think putting him at receiver is a waste since you just want the ball in the kids hands more often.

    It’s a shame that Jurkovec isn’t an early enrollee because I think he could actually become the starter if he was with the team for all of spring and summer before the season begins. He is really good. While Book seems accurate and appears to run well, he makes some really bad throws. The pick in the LSU game was flat terrible, not a receiver even close. This was in the redzone and could have also thrown another pick in the endzone when he shorted a throw to Smythe but luckily the DB didn’t pick it off. And I don’t think anyone knows anything about this Avery kid so that seems to be a toss-up as well but wasn’t he a bigtime recruit coming out? At least all seem capable of being a good qb. I just wish we could have a seasoned qb in a situation like JT Barrett who plays as the clear starter and you build around them.

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  6. Bruce Gregory Curme 6 months ago

    Just run BW like Arkansas ran McFadden (spelling?) in the three headed monster attack…without a QB on the field…BW, Dexter, and somebody else (maybe even Josh). All three of those backs for Arkansas got drafted into the NFL, if I remember correctly, and the “WildHog” set all kinds of records and trends…but we should use it as a change of pace, a closer for games where we have a lead and want to chew clock, and as a spark if our regular “O”, the SPREAD, bogs down too long.
    To me, this makes more sense than BW as a wide receiver! And it makes a lot more sense than BW as a back-up SPREAD QB, or a bench warmer.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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    1. ChrisJ 6 months ago

      Agree!

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  7. Irishguy 6 months ago

    The door is now wide open for Jurkovec to become the starter next year.

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  8. Greg Kelly 6 months ago

    Clashmore ain’t allowed on the field anymore. Must live with you.

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    1. Bruce Gregory Curme 6 months ago

      FYI – Clashmore’s direct descendants are alive and well and living here in LaPorte County, Indiana, just south of Michigan City on HWY 421! When I was President of the Notre Dame Club of LaPorte County (founded by Frank Leahy) we tried to get one of Clashmore’s progeny back on the field for one game, and you are right – Chuck Lennon would have none of it. As Chuck put it, “this is not even open for discussion.” But as a sort of compromise, Chuck let us lead a sort of parade around the campus with Clashmore for the NAVY game that had been planned by the Development Office for some time. Unfortunately, there was sleet and bitter cold, and not too many people showed for the “parade” – but Clashmore did, of course.

      BGC ’77 ’82

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  9. Greg Kelly 6 months ago

    Bob, Mike, Duranko and all you other Pontious Pilate types , You were no where to be seen during one of Notre Dame greatest Victories. You are all worse than PP. At least He was there during the fracas. You are all so afraid of losing and only come out when the weather clears. Cackling hens. An Old Testament chap once told me ” sometimes you win, sometimes you lose” Get over it.

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    1. duranko 6 months ago

      Well, Kelly, your deconstruction of Strunk and White has reached new heights!

      By way of disclaimer, I would never presume to speak for Bob and Mike and
      not even for Moe, Larry, Curley, Fat Eddie and Fat Shirley.

      But I am genuinely flummoxed. Having been labeled as a “Pontious Pilate type”
      Was he any kin to “Pontius Pilate” the dude who tried Christ? (My wife has a different Roman in mind, occasionally sternly warning me to “suppress your inner Caligula”)

      Then suddenly in the third sentence I am “worse than PP”

      But I am confused, because if I am a Pontius Pilate type than how can I be worse “than PP”?
      And are cackling hens greater than, lesser than or equal to either of Pontius Pilate or PP? When, specifically, did
      Pontius Pilate cackle like a hen?

      And, who, specifically, is the Old Testament chap who told you what a bookie will tell you?

      you have an interesting epistemology, christoloy, linguistic tradition

      And the day I answer to you, Kelly, about my loyalty to Notre Dame is the day Clashmore Mike, spitting lightning bolts out of every orifice
      of his little canine body, will come flying out of your nose.

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    2. Mike 6 months ago

      You should take your own advice Greg

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  10. duranko 6 months ago

    Let’s see here, is this ND’s first rodeo on QB controversy?

    ’63 Szot, Budka, Huarte
    ’65 Zloch, Schoen
    ’66 Coleman Carroll O’Brien, Terry Hanratty, Belden a distant third
    ’71 YIKES! Etter, Cliff Brown, Steenberge
    ’76 Slager, Montana
    ’77 Forysten, Lisch Montana
    ’80 Courey, Kiel, Grooms
    ’81 Kiel, Koegel
    ’86 Beuerlein, Andrysiak
    ’87 Andrysiak, Rice
    ’93 Powlus, McDougall

    and of course, many many more

    Posters like predictability
    Athletes and coaches like competition.

    So, we have competition at QB, and it will NOT be resolved any time soon.

    When will we know the answer? At dusk, September 1st.

    Until then, I will avoid participation in any discussion of this issue.

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    1. Bruce Gregory Curme 6 months ago

      Yeah, 71 was a bit messy, if I remember correctly…and 65 was caused by problems in the “O” line and at QB. Those were tough men, but they were not recruited to play in an ARA style offense, and that one year, even ARA was unable to solve that problem.

      BGC ’77 ’82

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 6 months ago

        PS: Montana was out with an injury during the entire 76 season (my senior year season)…so I’m not sure what you were thinking of there…probably 75? (Not that Devine would have started him anyway).

        BGC ’77 ’82

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      2. duranko 6 months ago

        Bruce, what was poignant about ’65 was that Ara and Pagna knew what they had on the Frosh Squad:
        O’Brien, Hanratty and even Belden. But they were ineligible.

        I think the offensive line was stellar, but they could not pass the football, and they got away with it for many games, until Harold Lucas, Bubba Smith and George Webster came into town. the Irish had NEGATIVE rushing yardage in that game as Frank Crosiar’s most frequent line was “Zloch fails to gain.” That offensive line was the core of ’66’s offensive line.

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      3. Bruce Gregory Curme 6 months ago

        Yeah, I remember Zloch and Dick Arrington. Those are two I was thinking about when I said “they were tough men”
        Zloch was a favorite of my father, Greg Curme (God rest his soul), but the passing game just was not there, as you said. My “dear old dad” always said “that Bill Zloch has guts.”
        Be that as it may,
        Bill Zloch just was not really cut out to do the things that ARA wanted done the way Huarte was before him, and Hanratty was afterwards – and the “O” line was a year away in timing and dominance. Those were the days, my friend.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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      4. duranko 6 months ago

        Bruce, one final note on Arrington. Ara was building up the depth, but they were one year away in ’65.

        So Arrington, that warrior from Erie, often played on both sides of the ball. It seems there were a couple of cloudy rainy days in ’65 and I have emblazoned
        on my brain the image of the squat, thick, indefatigable Arrington, standing with hands on his hips, watching ten
        of his teammates go to the West sideline while ten more of his teammates were coming to join him as the units changed.

        He was one tough dude, as of course, was Zloch.
        By ’66 both trenches were full of bodies (the famous replacement of Kunz by Kuechenberg) and they were as dominant on both sides of the football
        as any ND team I’ve ever seen.

        We’re not there right now, but I like the fact that Lyght, Denson, Grimes, Powlus, Brooks and Rees are in or right near the football program.
        Naysayers notwithstanding, they know what the goal is.

        Go Irish!

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  11. Bill s 6 months ago

    I hope the staff would consider moving Wimbush to RB or the slot. He’s a great athlete, just not a great QB.

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  12. Greg Kelly 6 months ago

    Mike,
    By the way who was the LOSER in this game? Or should we say runner up or 2nd place so as to not offend your thin skinned membrain. What’s wrong with being a loser anyway. All Christians are sinners. I entered many, many contests in my lifetime and accepted that 2nd place is a LOSER. I was off on Kizer, thought He’d win at least two games.

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    1. duranko 6 months ago

      Well, I always like to defer to experts!

      “What’s wrong with being a loser anyway>”

      Well, what’s wrong with proper punctuation, anyway?

      But do expound on being a loser.

      I await with bated breath.

      You ought to just quit the blasphemy. You only discuss any level of Christianity when you are backed into a corner or have revealed yourself as, well, “lacking.”

      That constitutes “cafeteria Christianity” at its very best.

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    2. Mike 6 months ago

      I don’t think its possible to overstate the pretzel you have to put your own mind in to think this is a good point.

      Your whole criticism of Kizer and Wimbush is based on them being losers.

      If there’s nothing wrong with being a loser, than what is your criticism of Kizer and Wimbush vs. Book.

      Maybe if you write your thoughts in all caps they’ll make more sense.

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  13. John 6 months ago

    The only QB Kelly has had who hasn’t regressed the longer he played was Tommy Rees, and he was not the same caliber athlete that the others have been.. ALL the others have gotten worse as their careers went along.

    Maybe since Book isn’t starting from great expectation, he will be a Rees exception. Somehow, I think by the end of next season, he will have the same blank look all the others have had.

    Kelly is a destroyer of QBs, he does not develop them.

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  14. Greg Kelly 6 months ago

    Bob, I call a spade a spade. What would you call Stepherson, Redfield et als. Being truthful, politically correct , wonder if you would call them ” former Notre Dame player” . The TRUTH always comes out, Book was the MAN all along. He could have beaten the Cardinal.

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  15. Brad 6 months ago

    I think Kelly sees the writing on the wall. He needs a QB to come in for one year and bridge the gap until Jurkovec is ready in 2019.

    I think that will be Book next year in 2018 with Davis in relief. Wouldn’t be shocked if Wimbush transfers.

    Notice what Kelly said, “Brandon showed that he is very capable of running”. I think that quote says it all.

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  16. Bob Rader 6 months ago

    Let’s keep an eye on Phil Jurkovek in the upcoming U.S. Army All-American Bowl this Saturday. Can a true freshman lead Notre Dame to a National Championship? Well, Jake Fromm seems to be doing so at Georgia. Book has proved his mettle and can be developed. Wimbush can take over the slot receiver position for Stepherson. It’s that simple.

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    1. Brad 6 months ago

      Wimbush has as much of a chance as me at being a starting WR next year.

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      1. Damian 6 months ago

        Yeah I don’t see him being a receiver. A running back type player, maybe. He’s a dynamic runner, even taking direct snaps or playing something akin to a wildcat formation. But that would take some convincing.

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    2. Andreas 6 months ago

      Great idea to start Wimbush in the slot and use his athleticism in trick plays, reverses etc.
      He is a very nice guy and has done a lot of outstanding things this season. But as it turned out he is just a single-threat (i.e. running) QB.
      You can miss your RB from 5 yards once. But when you miss him every time it’s not the mechanics – it’s your head. Same thing with his high throws to the crossing receivers. Remember the high pass to EQ who eventually landed on his head and had to leave the field? You can do that once but he always did it
      He will be happy to no longer carry the burden of being the QB at Notre Dame and have a role where he can contribute with his great athletic skillset.
      BK should have the guts to hand the starting QB role to Jurkovek and have Book covering his back like the Golson-Rees-combo in 2012.

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  17. Greg Kelly 6 months ago

    Most intelligent thing you’ve ever said. Looking for headlines on your leap with Hue.

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  18. Damian 6 months ago

    Does Wimbush need to be benched though if he is not the QB? With his run ability, isn’t there some role he can play on the team. It’d be such a waste to leave all that on the bench. Granted, he wants to be QB, trying to get him to do other things would not be easy. But he is a dynamic runner and there has to be a way to get him into games somehow. Direct snaps, designed runs, trick plays?

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  19. david 6 months ago

    Brace Yourselves: As long as Kelly is coach, you’re Phil Connors in Groundhog Day.

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  20. Greg Kelly 6 months ago

    It’s all very simple, sorry if I’m politically incorrect, Book is a winner and Wimbush and Kizer are losers at this time. Let the truth and facts be told once and for all. The competition Book will be facing is Wimbush if He dare stay around. If Wimbush wants to become a winner he will stay around and come in relief just like Book and pull out a late Fightin Irish Victory.

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    1. Mike 6 months ago

      The only way your comment has anything to do with political correctness is if you are remarking on the race of the QBs.

      What does Kizer have to do with this? And how isn’t he a winner?
      He took a team after starting as a backup (like Book) to the Fiesta Bowl and its best season since 2012.

      Wimbush won 9 games and was prolific in the red zone.

      Book came in and was effective as a backup in a bowl game, same as Malik Zaire, who later lost his job to supposed “loser” Kizer.

      Take your bad takes and go home Greg

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    2. Bob Rader 6 months ago

      Greg, it’s not that you’re politically incorrect; it’s that you’re unfairly harsh to call any Notre Dame player a loser. You don’t create winning players by demeaning them. And players who leave the program because they see no playing time in their future do Notre Dame a favor by creating scholarship positions for potential starters. Anyway, I would be cautious about confusing judgment with truth.

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