The quarterback position may be the most scrutinized position in all of sports – especially at a place like Notre Dame. Last year, Brandon Wimbush showed sparks of greatness on the ground, but lacked the accuracy of an elite quarterback. In his second year as starter, Wimbush will need to show tremendous improvements to propel the Irish into the playoffs.
Last season, Wimbush was benched multiple times in favor of Ian Book. Book had his own struggles at times but proved to be slightly more accurate in the passing game (61.3%). Book’s 2017 season was punctuated by an epic comeback in the Citrus Bowl over LSU, where he went 14 of 19 through the air.
As for star true freshman Phil Jurkovec, he hasn’t been on campus long enough and lacks the experience to start against the Michigan Wolverines. However, with the new red-shirt rule allowing freshmen to participate in 4 games, I’d expect to see him on the field at some point.
A Look Back at 2017
Brandon Wimbush was undoubtedly one of the best mobile quarterbacks in the country last season. He rushed 141 times for 803 yards, which was good enough for 5.7 yards per carry. In addition, Wimbush tallied 14 touchdowns on the ground, the main reason there are high hopes for the upcoming season.
However, there were many struggles in the passing game. He went 136 of 275 attempts, for a 49.5% completion percentage while totaling 1,870 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions through the air. During some of the biggest games of the 2017 season though, he struggled as a passer. He went 20 of 40 against Georgia, 14 of 20 against Michigan State, 10 of 21 at Miami, and 11 for 28 against Stanford.
Although this was better than some quarterbacks that matched up against those opponents, it wasn’t enough to get the win in three out of four games. To fully get an idea of where he needs to be, it’s important to see how Brandon stacks up against other quarterbacks.
Making Some Comparisons
Joe Montana, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of Notre Dame, only had a completion percentage of 52%. A percentage that was good enough to win a national championship. But the game has changed drastically since his time.
Notre Dame should strive to be in the playoffs every season. To do so, they will need spectacular quarterback play this season. Although the supporting casts and circumstances are different, I think it is reasonable to look at the numbers of the four starting quarterbacks in last year’s playoffs.
- Jake Fromm (Georgia): 181 of 291 passing attempts, 62.2%, 24 TDs 7 Ints
- Kelly Bryant (Clemson): 262 of 398 passing attempts. 65.8 %, 13 TDs, 8 Ints
- Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma): 285 for 404 passing attempts, 70.5 % completion, 43 TDs, 6 Ints
- Jalen Hurts (Alabama): 154 for 254 passing attempts, 60.6%, 17 TDs , 1 Int
Brandon Wimbush has the capability to lead the Irish to the playoffs, but to do so, his completion percentage unquestionably needs to be in the 60/65% completion range.
Assessing the Supporting Cast
Notre Dame has the potential to have their best defense since the 2012 season. Last year, the defense made tremendous progress, and I believe the Irish defense has the capability to become elite once again this year. New Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator, Clark Lea, returns almost the entire starting defense from last season as he attempts to continue the success of his mentor Mike Elko.
On the offensive side of the ball it all starts with the offensive line. It’s no secret that the Irish lost Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, who were the 6th and 9th overall picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. The offensive line, however, will still be a strength. Notre Dame returns starters Tommy Kraemer, Alex Bars, and Sam Mustipher along with two other future stars, Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey (who saw extensive action as a true freshman in 2017).
The biggest concern for 2018 are at the skill positions. Wimbush’s three favorite targets St. Brown, Durham Smythe, and Kevin Stepherson are no longer at Notre Dame. Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, Alize Mack, and Michael Young will have a lot put on their shoulders this fall.
At the running back position, the Irish lost Josh Adams, Deon McIntosh, CJ Holmes, and one time commit Markese Stepp. A huge load will most likely be put on Tony Jones this fall, as the premiere running back. The enigmatic Dexter Williams, Jafar Armstrong, and possibly Avery Davis will all play roles in some capacity as well.
Can Wimbush do it?
Like many division 1 quarterbacks this summer, Brandon Wimbush has been putting in the work this offseason to become a better passer. Most recently he went 19 for 33, with 341 yards in the Blue Gold Game. Even though it was the Spring Game, he showed signs of improvement.
Without a doubt, the biggest key to Notre Dame’s playoff chances are Wimbush’s development. Just seven months ago he was benched in favor of Ian Book. Can he become an elite “passing” quarterback less than nine months removed a nationally televised benching? Irish fans will find out shortly.
I believe that Wimbush can lead the Irish to the playoffs but the major key for the entire 2018 season is the first game against Michigan. The Wolverines have one of the best defenses in the country, and it is vital for Wimbush to get off to a fast start. If he struggles early, Kelly may be forced to put Ian Book into the game.