Notebook: If there's gray area at QB, everyone at Notre Dame seems to be OK with that
SOUTH BEND — Maybe it’s a smokescreen meant to waft up to Ann Arbor, Mich.
Maybe it’s just semantics.
Or maybe, nine days before his 12th-ranked Notre Dame football team opens the season with No. 14 Michigan and its vaunted defense, Irish head coach Brian Kelly really is open to some kind of quarterback tag team scenario in that game, and beyond if the situation presents itself.
Which would seem to be an about face from his stance heading into preseason camp three weeks ago.
Perhaps the most significant takeaway, though, is that incumbent senior starter Brandon Wimbush and Citrus Bowl hero Ian Book are both OK with some gray area. More than OK, per Kelly.
That clearly wasn’t the case the last time the Irish went into the season with a time share in mind. and Kelly acknowledged as much Wednesday about DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire and the turbulent 2016 season.
“They (Wimbush and Book) are much more about the team winning and whatever we have to do to win,” Kelly insisted when asked if Wimbush would be looking over his shoulder. “This is not going to be shared reps, and he takes a series and he takes a series.
“This is if somebody needs to go in and help the team because it’s a fluid situation, there’s not going to be egos involved in it. No doubt.
“That’s why I’m not concerned about what may occur if that scenario does unfold.”
“Brandon’s the starter,” Kelly said. “There’s no question about that, but he understands if we need to win the game and we need some help, the guy that’s the No. 2, he can help us win, too.”
Book, a junior, did just that in a 21-17 Citrus Bowl victory over LSU, Jan. 1 in Orlando, Fla., after Wimbush had started the game and struggled.
At season’s end, though, Wimbush had the slightly higher passing efficiency rating (121.4 to 119.3) between the two, despite a much worse completion percentage (49.5 to 61.3).
In the running game, Book ran for 207 yards on 37 carries, seven fewer carries than the presumptive starting running back against Michigan, Tony Jones Jr., logged last season and more than any other running back the Irish would use in the opener.
Wimbush’s 803 yards on 141 carries in 2017 are the second-most by a quarterback in a season in school history. His 14 rushing TDs broke DeShone Kizer’s previous school record for a QB by four.
“I think what we know more than anything else is what Brandon’s strengths are,” Kelly said. “We didn’t know that (in 2017). We were trying to figure out as the season went what can we do, what can’t we do.
“We got frustrated at times. He got frustrated.
Now “we know exactly what he can do, and we’ll set our game plan that really goes to his strengths. and we’ll do the same thing with Ian. We know we can play them both if we need to.”
“They’re both different quarterbacks, and they both can help us win. and if we feel like we need them to play at different times, we’ll do it. and if we don’t, we won’t.”
Michigan may not have a two-deep chart for public consumption and likely never will while Jim Harbaugh is the head coach, but at least Kelly knows which of Michigan’s QBs will start against him at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 1.
Preparing for junior transfer Shea Patterson is a whole ‘nother question.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior and high school teammate of ND’s Tony Jones Jr. and Robert Hainsey at IMG Academy, played the past two collegiate seasons at Ole Miss. Thus, there’s no film of him running the Michigan offense.
So study Ole Miss film? Learn the Michigan offense?
“It’s really about the player over plays,” Kelly said. “So you look at what Shea is really good at — throws the ball well. He’s a scrambler. So the offense is going to reflect that. You think about the scheme that would be fit him, and you go to work on that.”
Kelly and the Irish did offer Patterson a scholarship during the 2016 recruiting cycle, the one that eventually landed them Book, but the courtship didn’t last long, as Patterson moved on to other options early.
“What appealed to me early on, he played fast,” Kelly said. “Certainly the way he threw the football. Very strong arm. He impressed me with his ability to make plays. He’s a playmaker.”
Starting right tackle Robert Hainsey was back at practice and working with the first team on Wednesday after a leg injury sidelined the sophomore for a week and a half.
“We’ll get his legs back underneath him, expect him to play against Michigan,” Kelly said.
Kelly, in fact, said there’s not one player on the ND roster who is expected to miss the Michigan game because of health reasons.