Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest

Notre Dame QB Ian Book (12) picks up yards as Wake Forest’s Ja’Sir Taylor (24) defends during ND’s 56-27 rout, Saturday at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, N.C.

SOUTH BEND — The happily-ever-after quotient in Notre Dame’s quarterback inversion isn’t as simple as Ian Book taking a dominant performance Saturday against the nation’s now-No. 114 pass-efficiency defense of Wake Forest and applying the template against more formidable resistance.

Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly maintains he’s still committed to a two-quarterback system of some sort, conceptually if not in practice, as his eighth-ranked Irish (4-0) get set to host No. 7 Stanford (4-0) Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium (7:30 p.m. EDT; NBC-TV).

It’s the 33rd meeting between the schools, which first clashed in the 1925 Rose Bowl, but the first in which both are ranked in the top 10 at the time of the matchup. It’s also the first time a top 10 team has come to Notre Dame Stadium in the Kelly Era.

No. 6 USC, in Charlie Weis’ final season as head coach (2009), is the most recent top 10 visitor. That Trojan team left with a 34-27 victory over a 25th-ranked Irish squad.

It is difficult to concoct a scenario in which Book doesn’t get start No. 2 of this season and No. 3 of his career on Saturday night against the best pass-efficiency defense (33rd) on the remaining Irish schedule. But Kelly sort of tapped the brakes on that notion, initially, anyway.

“It would be absolutely foolish for me to sit here and go, ‘We’ve got one quarterback and one quarterback only.’ ” Kelly said Saturday after the highest-scoring performance of the Kelly Era in a true road game, a 56-27 overwhelming of host Wake Forest.

“We’ve got two really good quarterbacks. and I’m going to reserve the right, each and every week, (to determine) who’s the best guy for that week to win.”

Book completed 25 of 34 passes for 325 yards with two TDs against the Demon Deacons. That’s the most passing yards for an Irish quarterback since DeShone Kizer threw for 471 in game 5 of the 2016 season, a 50-33 win over Syracuse.

Book also had 43 yards on 10 carries and three rushing TDs on Saturday.

All of which, 24 hours later, apparently helped coax Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson to fire his defensive coordinator — former ND grad assistant under Bob Davie, Jay Sawvel —17 games after succeeding Mike Elko and after current ND coordinator Clark Lea turned down the job.

As Wake tries to build a new defensive reality without promoting any of its current assistants into the interim coordinator role, per a school press release, here are three realities that strongly factor into what Notre Dame’s current quarterback situation eventually turns into:

How Brandon Wimbush responds matters.

Before he got his chance to be a starter, at the outset of the 2017 season, Brandon Wimbush was a consummate backup.

He was extremely supportive of the QBs ahead of him on the depth chart. and he was so laudatory about his ND experience, while waiting his turn, it did factor into the Irish landing former Jersey City St. Peter’s Prep teammates Jayson Ademilola, Justin Ademilola and Shayne Simon in the 2018 recruiting class.

But what now? Can Kelly keep the senior, with a year of eligibility beyond this one, engaged and improving?

“You have one of two ways to go,” Kelly acknowledged Sunday, during his weekly tele-wrapup. “I think Ian Book would be a great example of, was he engaged? and I think you would say a resounding yes, he was engaged.

“He knew that he was going to contribute, and Brandon knows he’s going to contribute. So I think he’s got the right makeup that he’ll be engaged and prepared each and every week. So I’m not really concerned about that. Again, we will see how each week goes.”

In 2012, the Everett Golson/Tommy Rees combination was unifying and productive. In 2016, the Malik Zaire/DeShone Kizer dynamic grew toxic. In 2014, Zaire probably would have overtaken Golson sooner had he not spent the first half of that season sulking and regressing.

Ideally for Kelly, Wimbush will use his demotion as fuel to improve his passing accuracy and decision-making.

“Continue to work on those little things within his game, that he’ll get a chance to do when he’s moving our offense in practice,” Kelly said. “I think he’ll take hold of that.”

Book is better than and more complete than in 2017.

The junior’s sample size statistically is too small and too untested in game competition to draw too many big-picture conclusions.

It’s also too small for him to qualify for the national stats, but his 179.17 pass-efficiency rating would place him 14th in the FBS if he did have enough attempts for inclusion. Wimbush, who is included, is 106th with 114.2 ratings points.

What’s been happening with Book behind the curtain in practice, though, has been going on long enough and consistently enough for Kelly to consider it transformational.

“Certainly physicality is something that would jump out at me (from) somebody that’s around him every single day,” he said. “He’s stronger. He’s faster. Those things may not hit you guys as quickly as they hit me, but he sticks his foot in the ground, and he’s gone.

“He smells the goal line. He finds it. He scrambles. He gets first downs. He’s a guy you have to account for in the run game as well. I don’t think that was necessarily the case last year.

“So that physicality development and then just another year in the system has sharpened his progression reads and things of that nature.”

Timing with QB choices mattered versus Michigan and still does.

Kelly maintains Notre Dame doesn’t beat Michigan in the opener (24-17) if Wimbush isn’t the starter — and finisher — for the Irish in that game.

“We needed Brandon against Michigan, because of Michigan’s defense, first and foremost,” Kelly said. “The whole offseason was focused on Brandon beating Michigan. (Running backs) Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones were not ready. (Wide receiver), Kevin Austin wasn’t ready. This offense was not mature enough going into the Michigan game.

“The playmaker on our offense was Brandon Wimbush. It needed to center around him to beat Michigan. Then the next two weeks, those (other) kids needed to mature, and then we needed to make this decision that we did relative to the quarterback position.”

Michigan, at No. 3 nationally in total defense, is the by far the best defense statistically on the Irish schedule, upcoming or in the rearview mirror. The next closest is Stanford at No. 55. Among the six remaining opponents after Saturday night, Florida State has the best national standing at 69th.

It’s still early enough in the season for there to be some big fluctuations from week to week and for teams to improve or regress statistically, but after Stanford, the Irish face zero pass defenses ranked in the top 55 over the balance of the regular season.

Last season, Wimbush faced eight in the top 45 and three in the top 10.

It’s quite possible that the next defense that is configured, like Michigan’s, where the Wimbush option may be more appealing wouldn’t be until a playoff or bowl scenario, if at all.

From a perceptual standpoint, it’s easier for Kelly to tout a possible two-quarterback system than in the past, if he indeed continues to consider it.

The top three teams in the AP poll all have some sort of tag-team QB arrangement. and not only are Alabama, Georgia and Clemson Nos. 1, 2, 3 in the AP poll, but the Crimson Tide is No. 1 nationally in passing efficiency, Georgia is fifth and Clemson 21st.

The Irish moved from 101st to 78th after Saturday’s results. They were a Kelly Era-worst 101st at the end of the 2017 season, with a previous low of 74th in 2012.

Ruhland rises to the occasion

Overshadowed by the change at QB, senior Trevor Ruhland drew his first career start, Saturday against Wake Forest, in part because of a minor ankle injury to junior Tommy Kraemer and in part because he fit the offensive game plan so well.

His strong play against the Demon Deacons has Kelly considering a time share are the right guard position as well.

“Wake Forest is not typically one of your bigger defensive fronts, so he fit very well against Wake Forest,” Kelly said. “A good opportunity to get a guy out in space, and he moves a little bit better obviously than Tommy does.

“Tommy is really good if you’ve got a big defensive line, where it requires you to move some guys. So again I think that’s a game to game situation as well. We’re pleased that Trevor was in there and gave us the kind of play. Tommy will continue to play for us as well, and you’ll see him quite a bit.”

Kelly also lauded the play of sophomore Aaron Banks, who saw some time at right tackle, spelling sophomore starter Robert Hainsey.”

Injury and personnel updates

Freshman defensive lineman Ja’mion Franklin suffered a leg (quad tendon) injury during his college debut Saturday at Wake Forest, and was to have an MRI done Sunday to determine if surgery was necessary, per Kelly.

Franklin posted the following on his Facebook page Sunday afternoon: “Devastated ... but God has a plan. Positive vibes only. Prayers needed and appreciated.”

• Sophomore tight end Cole Kmet has been cleared to practice this week after missing the past two games with a high ankle sprain, suffered Sept. 8 against Ball State.

“He is an incredible young man that he’s been able to heal as quickly as he has,” Kelly said.

• Presumably senior Dexter Williams will be eligible to rejoin the active roster for Saturday night’s game with Stanford. The No. 1 running back option for the Irish during much of spring practice was suspended for the first four games of the season.

“If he continues to have the kind of week that he’s had the last few weeks, I would expect that he would be able to do something for us this week,” Kelly said.

Future gazing

Wake’s uptempo offense, a turf temperature of well over 100 degrees Saturday and 12 freshmen on the travel roster was the perfect confluence of events for Kelly to get a long look in game action of some of his younger players.

Defensive end Justin Ademilola (4 tackles), defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola (4 tackles), cornerback TaRiq Bracy (1 tackle) and wide receiver Kevin Austin (2 catches for 35 yards) grabbed Kelly’s attention.

“Those guys jump off the film for me,” Kelly said.

ehansen@sbtinfo.com Twitter: @EHansenNDI

(17) comments

PolishPrince

Well everyone is all excited about the win . Good game all around. Everybody saying all the right things about the quarterback situation. In a perfect world Book continues to play well and becomes the starter, Wimbush is the backup backup and Jurkevic third string . The big question is what to do with Wimbush for his next and final year at Notre Dame. If Book does remain the starter, Jurkevic needs to be his backup. So what happens to Wimbush? Wimbush is an excellent athlete he just doesn't possess the skills necessary to be a prolific passer at his present level or the NFL. So why not use those skills he does have to help both the Irish and himself. He has size and speed. Kelly says he is the best running back on the team. So why not get him involved with the Irish offense at positions other then quarterback. He is a young man with a bright future if those in charge of his destiny take advantage of what he can do , and not try to make him something he is not. Go Irish Go Wimbush.

RWsportydog

Once again, astute thoughts from the polish prince going forward. For my share, this situation is entirely of HD Kelly’s doing. My gawd, you’d think this was Alabama, the way he goes on. Meanwhile, at ND, If Kelly had truly believed in a 2 QB system before last Sat., Book would have been brought off the bench in at least 2 of our first 3 games. Now we’ll see how Wimbush adapts to being backup, and how Book handles being the starter. I hope both so well, but I worry about Kelly. He’s a good coach but a better politician. Se where I’m going with this?

ejsjr

I don't think Brandon can match up to the running backs ND already has. He's a great runner for a QB, but as a running back he loses the element of surprise.

Hayek

The best thing for ND at this time is to keep the two QB system. Wimbush is a great athlete and he should play when needed. Jurkevic needs to concentrate on learning the offense while playing an important part of preparing the defense for the next opponent. I do not know what Wimbush plans to do after college. If he wants to play at the next level he should consider a position change. He might make an excellent wide receiver. Former Ohio State QB (last name Pryor) made the transition and had a pro career. Wimbush is a great kid. I wish him nothing but the best!

Bernard12

Wake up, Brian Kelly! Do you feel schackled by the fetters of Wimbush's " entitlement "? Do you feel pressured and compelled to include Wimbush in the picture, no matter what it does to the chemistry and success of the team? Wimbush has been in a tailspin since last year's Miami game. He doesn't have what it takes. He is Book's backup. Nothing more, nothing less. Get used to it!

Jwiseman

Eric - Please consider inquiring about Tevon Coney. He was absolutely one of my favorite players going into the season and he's had very little production for any middle linebacker - it reminds me of Niles Morgan last year where we found out later he was nursing some sort of an injury after the season.
I watched a condensed youtube version of the game and focused on him. He does not fly to the ball as much as he has. I figure this could be explained by plays being run away from him and him being coached to say in his zone but it seems that goes against his strengths of seeing the gap and attacking it. Many time I saw him covering empty space too far from LOS to stop a run and not deep enough to stop a slot or TE. I see him taking on OL players head to head and losing a lot as most linebackers would. Something is definitely off I think.

oas

There are two trends that are in play when evaluating college QBs. First the de facto free agency that evolved from relaxed transfer rules. ND has had three QBs transfer in the last several years and we just had a transfer win the Heisman. Second is the trend for starting true freshman quarterbacks. Jake Fromm last year (did we forget?), Tua and JT Daniels are examples.


Blue Chip recruits no longer expect to wait for two years before they get their start and schools seem more willing to fill their needs from the benches of other programs. That being said, ND has a freshman QB who was recruited by OSU PSU and Bama who most expect to make an impact at this level. His highlight video is unreal.

It would be a trajedy if Kelly's focus on Wimbush-Book encourages Phil Jurkovec to explore other options. If ND is going to win another championship it will be with Jurkovec.


Solution - move Wimbush into a running back role and make Jurkovec Book's backup. The though of Wimbush with the ball on a power sweep is enticing.

Bobby Boucher

Ian Book should have taken over the starting role after he led the Irish to a 33-10 win on the road against North Carolina last year. And absolutely he should have been named the starter coming into the 2018 season after his bowl game performance against LSU.

Coach talk, “just another year in the system has sharpened his progression reads and things of that nature”. I would argue that Book was a better, more consistent all around quarterback from the first day that he stepped on campus. He has the x-factor, and it is between his ears. He understands the game, his role and what is expected of him on the field.

The Irish do have 2 very good quarterbacks, and both are capable, but BK should be courageous and make it clear that going forward, Book is 1, and Wimbush is the back-up. Anything less is a disservice and sends a confusing message to the team. If BK wants Wimbush in the game, he should find another role for him, but not at QB if Book is healthy.

Bernard12

Amen, brother!
Can you believe the utter stupidity of Kelly? Listen to what he said in the post Wake Forest press conference about the QB situation: " It would be absolutely foolish of me to sit here, and in front of you and go, we have one quarterback and one quarterback only. We've got two really good quarterbacks and I'm going to reserve the right to decide each and every week, who's the best guy for that week to win...We're going to play the guy that's going to help us win the game...There are going to be games that are really suited for Wimbush, so we're going to use them both."
Wimbush is a loser! Only a total idiot like Kelly can't see that. If he tries to take Book out, he better wear body armor, because the fans might stone him.

Peter Wayne

BK might be saying he has two QB's just so teams have to prep for both QBs. I like both, but no question Ian earned the #1 spot last weekend. As an aside, even when we connect on passes in the flat (behind LOS), we have the most PATHETIC blockers I've ever seen. Too bad, we now have a QB who can execute that pass, but no one to block for the receiver. That play should result in at least 5 to 15 yds per reception. Execution would force defenders to crowd up a little closer to the LOS which could result, at some point, in a deep ball completion down the sideline. After watching Stanford come back on a really talented Oregon team...we are gonna need all the weapons we have in our arsenal.

Peter Wayne

Also off topic (2 QBs), I thought it was great that the coaches used two sets of DL's during that game. The speed of WF's rapid play and the 100+degrees F. on the field required the need for the two lines. Regardless, gave guys opportunity to play and coaches opportunity to see them in real-time action. Would be sweet if we had two OL's. Watching Stan-OU it seemed to me that they both play faster than we do. Oregon Offensive players especially look fast. Haven't seen that kind of speed in any of the opponents we've played to date. Stanford will (obviously) be a big test. If we get through it, even a one point victory, we'll have to be considered a playoff team ... until we disappoint.

Doc Savage

Bernard, if Kelly does play Wimbush and BW screws up I doubt Kelly will wait very long before pulling him out and putting Book in. Kelly's has done that before to keep himself from looking too stupid in front of 80,000 screaming ND fans!

Bernard12

We cannot risk having BW fail. It could put us into too deep of a hole. BK cannot afford to jeopardize this team by being so overly PC and super-sensitive to the ego of BW. Clemson's Dabo Swiney showed courage in this regard: He just replaced his veteran black QB, Kelly Bryant, with true freshman, Trevor Lawrence, who is white. The decision was based on talent, not race. BK should learn from this.

Rocket25

Book played exceptionally well this weekend which opened up the running game. One other thing missing the first three games was ND having a receiver that teams feared getting beat deep. Too often the first three games team were loading the box since ND's receivers although big were not going to run by people. We saw the last few years with Fuller and Stepherson that their speed moved the safeties back to help out which would free up the middle routes. Hopefully Young or Austin can be that vertical receiver then NDs larger receivers like Boykin, Claypool and Mack can enjoy being open more often. I also noticed Book does not stare down receivers so defensive players are not jumping routes. Those long and intermediate routes will open up the running game which was struggling the first three games.

ClementstoWeber

You people, including the author of this article, are completely delusional. There are four college quarterbacks that can take their teams to the promised land, and Book isn't one of them. Wake Forest was a cakewalk, the worst pass defense we will see. Wimbush would have had similar stats. Stanford will run Book off the field by halftime. Wimbush has his problems, but he can take the heat. It's getting pretty close to Jurkovek time. He has the arm to compete with the four QB's than can win it all. Aren't we here to win it all? You guys would be happy with 10-3 again. Little Book can get you that.

RWsportydog

HeavenstoBetsy! We are mere mortals, rooting for our team. (Did you say, “we”?). The promised land right now belongs to Bama, but the season is long, there is a playoff we can aim at, and we have Touchdown Jesus. Go Irish!

Doc Savage

Clements you give way too much credit to Stanford. I know they beat USC but USC was on a downhill spiral and Oregon had the game won but their coach pulled a stupid play out of nowhere and instead of taking a knee he lost the game for his team. Stanford is good but not as strong as they have been in the past few years. I think ND is the better team and will break Stanfords back. Also, I disagree with you on Wimbush probably having as good a game as Book did against WF. Book had the whole offense playing well something Wimbush hasn't done yet except he did do a good job against Michigan but he is not consistant. If ND goes anywhere this year it'll be because Book is driving them there!

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