Notebook: Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush puts talent on display
SOUTH BEND — Sheldon Day offered that quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s flashy college debut didn’t resemble anything the true freshman had ever accomplished in practice.
Not when Day was on the field anyway.
“He looked very explosive today,” marveled the Notre Dame senior defensive tackle after Wimbush put the finishing touches on sixth-ranked ND’s 62-27 rout of visiting UMass Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Two of Wimbush’s more explosive plays were stricken from the official play-by-play, a 50-yard pass to Will Fuller on his first attempt that was later reversed to an incompletion by the replay booth, and a 44-yard TD pass on third-and-22 to classmate Equanimeous St. Brown.
That was negated by an illegal-man-downfield penalty.
Still, Wimbush presided over two scoring drives, once he entered the game at the 8:00 mark of the third quarter with the Irish (4-0) leading 48-20. One of those culminated in a 58-yard run by himself. The other was a handoff to freshman Josh Adams, who raced 70 yards for another TD.
“Getting Brandon Wimbush in there, I thought, was very important, and we've wanted him to run the offense,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly, his Irish 4-0 heading to No. 11 Clemson (3-0) next weekend. “That was very important to us.”
“We really felt like trying to make sure that when he went in there, regardless of what the score was, we had to give him real game experiences and do the things that may happen in a game situation. He is our backup, and he has not played any football, and he's a true freshman.”
Wimbush completed 3-of-5 passes for 17 yards on plays that did count and ran the ball four times for 92 yards.
“Brandon did some good things today and got a little out of his realm,” Kelly said, “a little bit later with some misreads in our run game where he thought he was supposed to throw the ball out and he's supposed to actually run the football. But those were great learning experiences for him.
“As you can see, he's athletic. He can throw the ball deep.”
Wimbush’s biggest supporter appeared to be starting QB DeShone Kizer. The redshirt freshman, in his second collegiate start, threw for 207 yards and ran for 42 more with two TD passes and a seven-yard TD run before giving way to Wimbush.
“We knew the opportunity was going to eventually come to get him some playing time,” Kizer said. “I spent a lot of time talking to him about, ‘You're a five-star athlete coming out of high school. You have all the talent in the world. That stuff can translate over to the college field if you're comfortable in what you're doing.’
“He was very comfortable going out there. He was obviously put in a position where there wasn't too much pressure on and he balled out just like we expected.''
A new wrinkle in the injury-pocked season for the Irish came when junior Corey Robinson suffered a knee injury in pregame warmups.
“Unbelievable,” said Kelly, who described the injury as a strain. “He was going for some popcorn — no, I made that up. He was not going for popcorn. Don't write that down .
“He was just running some drills and sprained his knee. We just felt like it was important to keep him out of it. He didn't feel 100 percent, and so we'll get an MRI (Sunday). We're optimistic that it's not anything major, but we want to make sure and get a look at it tomorrow morning.”
• Sophomore Tyler Luatua, Notre Dame’s best blocking tight end, missed the game because of a concussion. Freshman Alizé Jones made his second straight start and caught three passes for 56 yards.
“(Luatua) went through the protocol, and (we) just felt like he wasn't at the level we wanted him for this game,'' Kelly said. “(We) expect him to be with us next week, but we'll continue to work him through the protocol.”
• Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley left the game early as a precautionary measure.
“Nothing sinister,” Kelly said. “He's had some patellar tendinitis, but nothing major.”
• After announcing twice this week that Max Redfield would start at safety, Kelly instead started Matthias Farley. Both eventually played in the game with Farley making two tackles and Redfield four.
By the numbers
The Irish forced a three-and-out on their opponent’s first offensive possession for the fourth straight game.
• Kelly is 79-2 in his career when his teams score 40 or more points
• Kizer’s first-quarter rushing TD was the first scoring run of his career.
• Cornerback Cole Luke’s interception, on a ball tipped by Irish safety Matthias Farley, was ND’s first pick of the season.
• Linebacker James Onwualu had his first career sack early in the first quarter, one of two sacks the Irish recorded on the day.
• Freshman C.J. Sanders’ 50-yard punt return for a TD was ND’s first punt returned for a score since Golden Tate ran one back 87 yards at Pittsburgh in 2009.
It was the first punt return for a TD by the Irish at Notre Dame Stadium since Tom Zbikowski’s 52 yarder against North Carolina in 2006.
• On a day when former Irish All-America receiver Thom Gatewood was honored at halftime, junior Will Fuller’s 26-yard TD catch was the 22nd scoring reception of his career, tying him with Rhema McKnight (2002-06) and Derrick Mayes (1992-95) for fourth in school history.
It was his eighth reception of at least 26 yards this year and his fifth TD of at least 26 yards.