Vorel: Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush wasn't perfect — and that's a good thing
SOUTH BEND — Brandon Wimbush used to play baseball.
He should know how to slide.
In Notre Dame’s 49-16 win over Temple — Wimbush’s first career start — the 6-foot-2, 228-pound junior quarterback did just about everything else. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns, fitting fastballs into microscopic windows. He rushed for 106 yards and another score, scampering around edges and uncorking vicious spin moves to the delight of an adoring sellout (yes, sellout) crowd.
He became the first Irish quarterback since Tommy Rees — his 25-year-old quarterbacks coach — to be responsible for three or more touchdowns in his first career start.
He proved to be, to quote Temple head coach Geoff Collins, “just a tremendous athlete.”
He made memories … and he made mistakes.
“He's tough. He got hit today. He got back up,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “I think when you assess the quarterback position at the end of the day, they are going to assess him on wins and losses, and today was a good day for the quarterback at Notre Dame because we are 1-0.”
Wimbush’s starting debut was never going to be perfect, and it wasn’t. Against a Temple secondary that finished third nationally in passing defense last season (152.1 yards per game), he was tested. He stared down wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on third-and-14 in the third quarter and threw a costly interception. Two more of his passes easily could’ve been picked. On a play-action pass, with a perfect pocket, he overthrew the widest target on his team — St. Brown — streaking open along the sideline.
He was a human highlight reel — the key word being human.
And, you know what?
He’ll be better for it.
“The interception, he's got to key the corner,” Kelly said. “The corner came off, lagged. But he's telling me on the way back, ‘I've got to keep my eyes on the corner.’ That ends the conversation pretty quickly with me.
“I love that about him. He’s very coachable and we'll get better and he'll be better next week.”
The truth is, all of the practices in the world can’t simulate Saturday. The adrenaline. The overthrows. The momentum changes. The picture-perfect passes. The touchdowns. The turnovers. The adversity.
Mistakes, for Wimbush, are learning opportunities. As long as those opportunities don’t get in the way of wins, all the better.
But here’s something he needs to learn. Like, now.
Slide. Protect yourself. At. All. Costs.
Granted, he slid once on Saturday. Maybe twice. Not often enough.
“I have to get down a little bit more than I did today,” a smiling Wimbush conceded. “But I’ll learn. Obviously I’ll learn today. I took a couple shots.
“I wanted to get hit, so that felt really good for me. I have to be smart and slide when the opportunity presents itself.”
The statistics say Wimbush was sacked twice on Saturday and hit six more times. Add his 12 carries, though — many of them capped with high-speed collisions — and those are more tackles than Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long should feel comfortable with their starting quarterback taking.
Part of the blame, of course, falls on a playmaker’s mentality. Why slide, it stands to reason, when you can stiff-arm the hard-charging linebacker? Why get down when you can get going? Why concede defeat when you can lower the shoulder and extend the play?
Brandon, if you’re reading this — and let’s be honest, you aren’t — listen:
Sliding isn’t conceding defeat. It’s necessary. It’s smart.
That’s one of your “Traits of Excellence,” remember?
“He did slide one time, and he has slid in practice,” Kelly said. “He's a pretty good baseball player, so he knows how to slide. But I think he's a pretty smart guy.”
Great, now prove it. Against Georgia. Against Boston College. Week after week after week.
The good news, in the wake of a successful season opener, is that there was a lot of good news. The Irish won decisively, Wimbush learned a lot and he and his teammates sang the alma mater.
“I didn’t stop smiling during that alma mater,” Wimbush said. “Just to hold onto the guys — I think I was around Durham (Smythe) and Devin Studstill — just to experience that and have the opportunity to lead this offense and then sing the alma mater was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Fortunately for the New Jersey native, there will be more opportunities to lead, to learn, to sing.
Hopefully, to slide.
“I’ll be sore tomorrow … but right now I’m great,” he said. “I’m in a great place right now physically, mentally, emotionally.”