Notebook: QB Brandon Wimbush makes modest improvement as Notre Dame offense soars

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brandon Wimbush filed into the postgame interview room Saturday night without attracting a mob, a somewhat quiet contributor in No. 9 Notre Dame’s 35-14 dismissal of 14th-ranked North Carolina State at Notre Dame Stadium.

His coach, Brian Kelly, was more than thrilled, though, that some of the junior quarterback’s appreciable progress in practice recently was leaking into the games, especially in the passing game.

“I think he's confident and wants to throw the football and can throw the football,” Kelly said. “I think he'd like to have the throw back to (Kevin) Stepherson, just overthrew to him a little bit. But there's a lot of really good growing that's happening each and every week with Brandon.”

The Stepherson miss, on what would have been a long TD throw, was part of a 2-of-7 second half for Wimbush as the Irish running game took over. Wimbush finished 10-of-19 for 104 yards with two TDs and zero interceptions.

His 133.3 efficiency rating was his fourth straight over 130 and should boost his modest 91st standing individually in that national statistical category.

Wimbush, ND’s second-leading rusher this season, wasn’t overly involved in the running game Saturday night. He had 20 yards on seven carries, most of which were scrambles and two of which were sacks.

In fact, Wimbush was sacked twice on ND’s first offensive series, but not once after that. One of those was by N.C. State All-America defensive end Bradley Chubb, who came into the game second nationally in tackles for loss (14) and eighth in sacks (6.5).

He finished with eight tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage, but was fairly quiet himself beyond the first quarter.

“There are so many things that we have in our arsenal that if we feel like we're not going to be able to hold up one-on-one, we try to do a lot of things,” Kelly said of Chubb’s early impact.

“So there was some chipping going on. There was extending him out with a tight end to his side. We flipped the formation a couple of times to extend him out. We read him a lot in option game to keep him out of the backfield.

“He's a heck of a player. Then we ran the ball and tried to minimize his effectiveness in terms of the pass rush.”

The Irish won the rushing battle 318 yards to 50. Kelly is now 50-7 (.877) at Notre Dame when his teams win the rushing battle.

Wimbush had a three-yard TD run at the 9:37 mark of the second quarter that tied the game at 14-14. It was Wimbush’s 11th rushing TD of the season, breaking the ND single-season mark by a QB set by DeShone Kizer in 2015.

“I don't know that we go into the game with planned runs,” Kelly said. “A lot of them are off read option, and they had somebody assigned to him. But it opens up other things.

“Again, rushing against that defense to rush for 300 yards, what did we just say? I mean, that's pretty impressive.”

Personnel matters

Junior running back Dexter Williams on Saturday night saw his first game action since the 38-18 win at Michigan State on Sept. 23.

Williams contributed 33 yards on eight carries.

• Sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson made his first start of the season, against the Wolfpack, and the fourth of his career. For the second straight week, he pulled in a TD pass — this one an 11-yarder that gave ND the lead for good, 21-14, at the 5:30 mark of the second quarter.

The pass was originally ruled incomplete, but replay showed he got a foot inbounds, and the replay booth reversed the on-field ruling.

• Kelly awarded junior linebacker Te'von Coney and graduate student tight end Durham Smythe separate game balls on Saturday. Saturday night against N.C. State, the junior had a team-high nine tackles with a tackle for loss on a fourth-down play and a quarterback hurry.

N.C. State was 0-of-2- on fourth-down conversions, making Irish opponents 3-for-13 on the season.

“He's just ascending, playing really, really good football,” Kelly said of Coney, the team’s leading tackler on the season with 62.

Smythe — a 6-6, 257-pound graduate student — finished with a team-high three catches for 52 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown, in the victory. He has 10 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown on the season.

On draft

N.C. State senior defensive end Bradley Chubb was the highest-rated NFL Draft prospect on ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest big board, released Thursday.

The 6-foot-4, 275-pounder held steady at No. 7. But two Notre Dame players surged. Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey jumped from No. 19 to No. 9, while offensive guard Quenton Nelson came from off the 25-man board to No. 11.

USC QB Sam Darnold, meanwhile, fell out of the No. 1 spot to No. 5.

Three NFL Teams sent scouts to the game: the Tampa Bay Bucs, the Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts.

Notable numbers

Last weekend’s ND-USC telecast on NBC drew some underwhelming viewership numbers (2.99 million), perhaps a reflection of the lopsided, 49-14, score.

But last season, with a fairly uncompetitive game (45-27), USC-ND drew significantly more (5.70 million) on ABC. And in 2012, with a berth in the national title game on the line, USC-ND drew 16.1 million viewers.

Here’s the viewership numbers for Irish games this year heading into the N.C. State game:

Georgia 4.09 million (NBC), Michigan State 3.46m (FOX), USC 2.99m (NBC), North Carolina 2.51m (ABC), Boston College 1.78m (ESPN), Temple 1.58m (NBC), and Miami (Ohio) 0.80m (NBCSN).

• The Notre Dame defense has forced an opposing turnover or punt on the first defensive series in all eight games this season after N.C. State went three-and-out to open the game.

• Forty-five minutes before kickoff, you could find a ticket for the ND-N.C. State game for as low was $6 on StubHub.com. The cheapest ticket, if you wanted two or more, was $10.

• Saturday’s meeting at Notre Dame Stadium was the third year in a row N.C. State had a bye week before facing a Mike Elko-coached defense.

The Wolfpack fared much better in its previous two times, when Elko was at Wake Forest, winning 33-16 over Wake in 2016 and 35-17 in 2015.

• The Irish and Wolfpack don’t cross paths on the recruiting trail too often. There are four Irish starters who had N.C. State offers coming out of high school: offensive guard Quenton Nelson, center Sam Mustipher, linebacker Te’von Coney and safety Jalen Elliott.

The Wolfpack have three starters who had ND offers: running back Nyheim Hines, defensive end Kentavius Street and cornerback Jonathan Alston.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush (7) looks to pass during the Notre Dame-NC State NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN