Brady Quinn says Notre Dame's Brandon Wimbush will transcend growing pains

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Brady Quinn predictably reacquainted himself with the Notre Dame weight room with a predawn lift, then proceeded to wander the Guglielmino Athletic Complex searching for the next in line in the Irish quarterback lineage.

It was a June charity event that brought ND’s all-time career leader in passing yards and TD tosses back to campus, but it was Brandon Wimbush who caused him to linger.

Eventually they made a connection via cell phone, since Wimbush was banished from the Gug that day by the Irish coaching staff and told to take a mandatory day off.

“I said to Brandon, ‘Well there really are no days off when you’re the Notre Dame quarterback,’ ” the 32-year-old college football analyst for FOX said with a chuckle.

That’s especially true when it comes to scrutiny.

And Quinn figured Wimbush would be bathing in it right about now, three starts into what ND’s starting QB from 2003-06 believes will eventually be a transcendent college football career.

The junior from Teaneck, N.J., makes career start No. 4 Saturday (8 p.m. EDT; FOX) at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich., a venue where current MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has fashioned a 28-3 mark against non-conference opponents in 11 seasons with the Spartans (2-0).

In the first three starts for the Irish (2-1), Wimbush’s legs (314 rushing yards, 6 TDs) have him on an arc to break both Tony Rice’s record as ND’s most prolific rushing QB in a season (884) and DeShone Kizer’s 2015 record for most rushing TDs (10).

His pass-efficiency rating (97.6), based on 48-of-94 completions for 490 yards with two TDs and two picks, has him in the same neighborhood as Wyoming pro prospect Josh Allen and injured Florida State starter Deondre Francois. But it still computes to merely the nation’s 108th best in this week’s statistical snapshot …

With the nation’s No. 2 pass-efficiency defense — admittedly largely untested — immediately in front of him.

Quinn knows the feeling.

His cumulative pass-efficiency rating stood at 79.48 through his first three college starts, which included four interceptions and 59 pass attempts in his debut against Purdue, then 17 attempts, five completions and a mere 33 yards a week later against a Pittsburgh team that featured eventual seven-time Pro Bowler Darelle Revis in its defensive backfield.

Jimmy Clausen, the QB who succeeded Quinn as the long-term starter at ND and whose name — like Quinn’s — also became monotonous in the ND record books, was at 86.72 through his first three starts with zero touchdowns.

“Plain and simple, he’s going to get better,” Quinn said of Wimbush. “He’s going to get better at throwing the football. He’s going to get more confident, and it’ll show. The early struggles are definitely a product of both him and the wide receivers. It’s not just on him.

“I know Jimmy and I were freshmen, but this is not your typical junior or redshirt sophomore. He’s been there, but he was playing in a different system. The guys he’s throwing the ball to are trying to learn how to run routes differently. He’s trying to learn a new verbiage and a new system.

“And because of that, this is more typical of what you see early on from any inexperienced quarterback. But I think this kid could be one of the best in the country. You look at his raw skill set. He clearly can run. We’ve seen that, so he’s a great athlete.

“But he’s got a live arm. It’s just a matter of him honing in on the offense and him honing in on his skill as a quarterback to read defenses and to anticipate and to play the game.”

And Quinn said that might not come into full bloom until 2018.

“I know people don’t want to hear that, because it takes time, and everyone lacks patience now,” Quinn said. “But it’s the truth.

“Look, anyone who has played the position knows it takes some time to just get out there and feel like you’re playing and not thinking. You’re out there utilizing the game plan and the talent around you, and almost distributing the football like you’re playing basketball.

“That’s ultimately where everyone wants to get to.”

Quinn would like to be in Spartan Stadium in person to see the next step in the process. Instead, he’ll be 250 miles to the southwest, analyzing the 4 p.m. Purdue-Michigan matchup with play-by-play man Joe Davis in West Lafayette, Ind. Gus Johnson and Joe Klatt drew the Irish-Spartan assignment.

Quinn has fond memories of Spartan Stadium. He led the Irish to a 31-24 victory there in 2004 under coach Tyrone Willingham and a 40-37 comeback win under Charlie Weis in 2006 with 19 straight fourth-quarter points.

“You knew they were going to be big, physical and fast,” Quinn said of the Spartans, with his last game against them being the season before Dantonio arrived. “It was just a matter of who was going to be able to execute better.

“Who’s going to be tougher when you get knocked down? Are you going to be able to fight through it if you get down on the scoreboard? That was always how you kind of had to mentally prepare yourself going there to play, because you knew you didn’t have a talent advantage.”

Eventually, Quinn would like to have the conversation with Wimbush in person that he didn’t get the chance to in June.

“I would say the biggest thing is don’t get caught up in the stats and the criticism and anything outside of the process of where he is now and where he wants to be,” Quinn said.

“There’s going to be your good and bad days, but you have to understand in order to take the leap that he’d like to and to continue to improve and get better, you have to have those bad days.

“Sometimes we take our biggest leaps when we end up kind of falling and getting knocked back a step or two. So he’s got to trust his work ethic and the process, even when times are bleak or even when times are tough. Things are going to work out if you just kind of stay the course.”

Former Notre Dame QB standout Brady Quinn (center), here visiting with Irish coach Brian Kelly during a football camp in June, believes current ND starting QB is on the right track, despite some early struggles. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)