Notebook: Wimbush's flash stirs possibilities for Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The original plan was just to get rid of Brandon Wimbush’s new-car smell, build a little game equity with his teammates and hope he remained a contingency for the rest of the season.

The Notre Dame freshman backup quarterback’s flashy collegiate debut last Saturday may end up rebooting that notion.

“He'll still be the No. 2,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday as No. 6 Notre Dame (4-0) preps for a showdown Saturday night at No. 12 Clemson (3-0). “But I think there's more conversations — at least I've had more conversations — with possibly utilizing him in a smaller role in certain situations that we can utilize his skill set.”

In other words a changeup QB, or, in Wimbush’s case, a fastball.

Wimbush was a sprinter on his Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep track team last spring with a best time in the 100-meter dash of 10.8 seconds. In his first college football action Saturday in a 62-27 swamping of UMass, he showed both power and elite speed in a 58-yard TD run.

That’s the longest run by a Notre Dame quarterback since Andrew Hendrix ripped off a 78-yarder four seasons ago against Air Force, in his case running out of gas just before he got to the goal line.

In total, Wimbush rushed for 92 yards on four carries and passed for 17 yards on 3-of-5 accuracy.

Two long completions, though, got wiped out by referees’ rulings — a 50-yard pass to Will Fuller that was reversed to an incompletion by the replay booth, and a 44-yard TD to Equanimeous St. Brown snuffed out by an illegal-man-downfield penalty.

Wimbush did help make some history, though, on Saturday. With touchdowns from him, punt returner C.J. Sanders and running backs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, it is believed to be the first time in school history that as many as four freshmen scored TDs in a game for the Irish.

The last time as many as three did was 22 seasons ago, when Marc Edwards, Randy Kinder and Robert Farmer accomplished that feat in a 58-27 rout of Navy.

“We know he's got arm talent,” Kelly said of Wimbush. “He certainly has the physical ability. He certainly doesn't have the whole playbook down at this point, but I think I'm moving more toward fine-tuning some things that could get him in for the games regardless of the situation.”

Personnel matters

Sophomore Tyler Luatua, ND’s best blocking tight end and its most experienced overall, was on the practice field Tuesday night but in non-contact drills after suffering a concussion last week.

Kelly said if Luatua is cleared for contact Wednesday, he’d likely be included in the game plan. Otherwise, it’s realistic only freshman Alizé Jones, sophomore Nic Weishar and grad Chase Hounshell, a converted defensive lineman, would see action.

• Junior wide receiver Corey Robinson was back at practice Tuesday after suffering a scare on Saturday. Robinson suffered a knee injury in pregame warmups before the UMass game, then underwent an MRI on Sunday with favorable results.

• Kelly twice announced Max Redfield as his starting free safety last week, only to start grad captain Matthias Farley in that role on Saturday with Redfield playing a relief role.

This week? “I think right now Max will be our starter at safety, and I think he's coming along,” Kelly said.

Redfield, an offseason sensation in practices and workouts, suffered a broken thumb in ND’s Sept. 5 opener with Texas. He’s been wearing a cast on his right hand ever since.

“He's getting to where we need him to be,” Kelly said. “Getting better and better.”

• Junior running back Tarean Folston, ND’s leading rusher in 2014 lost for the season to a knee injury in the opener, is back engaged in meetings and helping with the remaining running backs.

“His surgery date was just 10 days ago,” Kelly said of Folston. “He'll continue to be with us. We're a little bit hesitant to put him out on the sideline right now where he is. Probably another week away before we can get him traveling with us.”

The Irish rank 12th nationally in rushing, and senior C.J. Prosise’s 600 yards through four games is the most of any ND back ever in the first four games of the season. Vagas Ferguson, with 543 yards in four games in 1979, previously held that distinction.

When pigs fly?

Saturday night's ND-Clemson matchup is the 10th all-time between top 15 teams at Memorial Stadium, aka Death Valley, in its 73-year history.

The first such matchup was also ND-Clemson, in 1977, with the fifth-ranked Irish rallying for a 21-17 win over No. 15 Clemson in their narrowest of 11 wins on the way to a national title. (ND lost to Ole Miss early in the season.)

Tiger coach Dabo Swinney noted Tuesday at his weekly press conference the typical earmarks of the enormity of the meeting, including relentless requests from family and friends for tickets.

And then there were the not-so-typical distinctions stamping Saturday as a monster matchup.

“Last week, maybe Thursday night, we went to The Smokin’ Pig,” Swinney said of a local restaurant, whose sales pitch on its menu reads: Best butts in town. “And I got a dissertation from the manager at The Smokin’ Pig about how supposedly Notre Dame has rented The Smokin’ Pig.

“And he was telling me, ‘That ain't happening. They ain't renting The Smokin’ Pig.’

“So I said, ‘Well, that's great.’ So I had my pork and my brisket, and went on about my business.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (12) runs around UMass' James Oliphant (48) on his way to a 92-yard rushing day in his college debut last Saturday. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)