Lesar: Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush needs to find swagger

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Sure was a far cry from the self-inflicted, all-consuming quarterback distraction the Notre Dame football team tried to rise above the past two springs.

But curious, nonetheless.

Saturday’s 27-14 Gold victory over Blue didn’t have many nits worth picking when it came to the guy taking the snaps (even a couple under center, by the way).

This wasn’t two years ago when Zaire forced Golson out of the limelight — and the university — in a competition that was anything but friendly. Or last year when the ultimate referendum on Zaire or Kizer took wwwwwaaaaaayyyyy too long.

This was more showcase than showdown for junior Brandon Wimbush and sophomore Ian Book, two swagger-less guys who seemed more comfortable in — and around — the pocket than at the podium.

It’s not a criticism or a bad thing — it’s just a fact. Kizer took a while to grow into the confidence that, given his recent headline-grabbing bluster, he appears to be oozing with now.

It takes a while to comprehend the magnitude of the position. It hasn’t hit yet. Humility is an admirable trait, but there comes a time when “The Man” must assert himself — and let everyone else know it.

Saturday wasn’t the day for Wimbush. He was happy, with his comments, to blend into the anonymity of the quarterback room and the offense, in general.

“I played within the system,” Wimbush said after completing 22 of 32 passes for 303 yards, no touchdowns and two picks in the loss. “We had opportunities to put the ball in the end zone a couple times and we came up short.

“We’re growing. We’re going through the process. Every chance I get will help my growth as a young quarterback. All of the quarterbacks are improving, getting better.”

After Saturday’s exhibition that was watched by more than 20,000 folks in the construction zone known as Notre Dame Stadium (probably more than the players needed hard hats), Wimbush and Book took their turn in front of a media group that has forgotten what spring can be like without the heightened tension of indecision.

Actually, without either guy being edgy, it was really pretty bland.

It’s Wimbush’s team. And Book may be more ready for an emergency role than most would have thought.

“There's no quarterback controversy,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly, likely more relieved to say that than thinking he’s dropping a bombshell.

There was a suggestion to Kelly that Wimbush struggled, compared to Book (17 of 22, 277 yards, 1 TD).

The coach bristled.

Of course, Book didn’t have defensive end Daelin Hayes (7 tackles, 3 sacks) breathing down his backside all day — even if the quarterbacks were off limits for contact. Just the sight of that disruptive force, even though no punishment will follow, can get a guy off his game.

“(Wimbush is) learning our offense,” Kelly said. “He's learning the reads. He's, again, a freshman (rookie) quarterback. Every snap that he takes gets him closer to prepared for where we want him. I don't think we rate him as struggling versus playing superior football, as much as this is just the learning process for him; that he continues to learn every single day.

“I loved everything that happened to him today. It's how you take it, right? He's just wide-eyed, listening, paying attention and just totally committed to the process of getting better. And that's really what I think about more so than, you know, trying to label whether they played really well or they didn't play really well.”

He just needs to strut a little bit more before Temple comes to town.

It’s all part of the job.

Brandon Wimbush reacts after a sack is called due to the two-hand touch rule for QB's during the Notre Dame spring football Blue-Gold game Saturday, April 22, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN