Ian Book or Brandon Wimbush? Wimbush or Book? Notre Dame's Kelly says yes to both
SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly responded to the latest quarterback rumors by filibustering.
Repetitive filibustering, perhaps honed during his pre-coaching days when the Notre Dame football coach had political aspirations.
Ian Book or Brandon Wimbush? Brandon Wimbush or Ian Book?
The answer to both questions is, apparently, yes.
“They’re both going to play,” he said Thursday evening after an indoor practice on a stormy day for his eighth-ranked Irish (3-0). “I’ve said that all year. We need them both to win, and they’re both ready.”
Ready for the 111th-ranked pass-efficiency defense of Wake Forest (2-1), the worst on the Irish schedule in the Week 3 national statistical snapshot. ND’s first road game of the season is set for BB&T Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Noon EDT; ABC-TV).
Speculation swelled Wednesday night and into Thursday that Kelly will start junior reserve Book over senior incumbent Brandon Wimbush, to which Kelly returned to his mantra:
“You know they’re both going to play,” he said. “They’re both prepared. They’re both ready to go, and we’re going to need both of them to win.”
Both quarterbacks have played in all three games for the Irish so far. But against Michigan on Sept. 1, Book got just two snaps. Both handoffs. Both Jafar Armstrong rushing touchdowns. and one of those opportunities came about because Wimbush had gotten poked in the eye.
Against Ball State, the following week, it was one snap. A handoff. An Armstrong touchdown.
In the 22-17 win last Saturday against Vanderbilt, Book attempted his first passes of the season, completing three from scrimmage and missing on a fourth, a two-point conversion attempt in which there was also offensive pass interference.
One of the completions was a two-yard TD pass to tight end Nic Weishar. Book’s only rushing attempt went for a 3-yard loss in a rare playing opportunity outside the red zone.
Wimbush has strung together the first three games of his career in which he’s been over the 50 percent completion mark. But his touchdown-to-interception ratio (1-to-4) has pulled down his pass-efficiency rating to 114.18, 100th nationally.
He has a team leading 49 carries in the run game for a net of 136 yards and 1 TD.
Book does have one career collegiate start to date, and it also took place in the state of North Carolina. With Wimbush out with a strained foot, Book helped lead Notre Dame over North Carolina and the nation’s No. 83 pass-efficiency defense, 33-10 on Oct. 7, 2017.
He was 17-of-31 in that game for 146 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. He ran for 45 yards on 12 carries.
Book’s best game statistically was a relief appearance against Wake Forest last season. In a 48-37 Irish win last Nov. 4, the junior completed all eight of his passing attempts for 50 yards and a TD. He ran for a career high 54 yards on three carries.
His best stretch against an elite defense was in relief of Wimbush in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1. Against LSU, Book was 14-of-19 for 164 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Still, Wimbush had the slightly better pass-efficiency rating at the end of the season (121.4 to 119.7) and set a school record for quarterbacks with 14 rushing touchdowns.
“Each and every week, what we’ve tried to do is know that we have assets on our team,” Kelly said, “and we’re going to apply those assets to where we think makes sense for us to win.
“Each and every week, when we started this back in August, it was to prepare our guys for when we thought it was in our best interests. and so we’ve got good players. We’re coaching them. … So they’re both prepared to help us.”
If not the most telling part of Kelly’s press conference, certainly the most intriguing, is that Kelly said the practice reps that were once split 60-40 in favor of Wimbush are now closer to 50-50.
Not to be outdone, Wake Forest is playing a guessing game with its quarterbacks, too. Junior Kendall Hinton, Wake’s No. 1 QB coming out of spring, returns this Saturday from a three-game suspension.
While freshman Sam Hartman is expected to remain the Demon Deacons’ starter, Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said Hinton would also play, but he wouldn’t say where. Hinton practiced some at both wide receiver and kick returner during preseason camp.
What about Phil?
For those wondering if Notre Dame’s quarterback drama could expand to a three-headed monster, apparently that is nowhere close to being on the horizon.
Freshman Phil Jurkovec could very well be a factor in 2019, but right now he’s running opposing teams’ offenses in practice on scout team to prepare the No. 1 Irish defense.
“I think what we like the most about him is his leadership presence,” Kelly said. “Just the way he handles himself. I couldn’t really tell you whether he could go in there and run the (Notre Dame) offense. He hasn’t had that much work with it.
“He’d be somebody we’d love to have an opportunity for some playing time (in a game), but we’ve been in some close, hard-fought games.”
A change for the better?
Sophomore Darnell Ewell has traded in his No. 94 jersey for 58, and the former celebrated nose guard recruit has flipped over to the offensive line, specifically at offensive guard.
“He’s so physically strong,” Kelly said of the 6-foot-3, 330-pounder. “And as we look at the depth of our positions, that was an area where we had some issues and felt like, in particular, this year he could make some strides there. and he has.
“He uses his lower body really well. He can move people off the point. and I think early indications are that it might be a good fit for him.”
• Cornerback DJ Brown is among the freshmen who haven’t yet played for the Irish but have caught the coaching staff’s eyes. Brown will be included on this weekend’s travel roster, Kelly said.
Cornerback Noah Boykin and wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. are two others who drew praise from Kelly.
“There’s a list of — I don’t want to say this in a negative way — who are moving from suspects to prospects relative to playing time right now,” Kelly said.
• Freshman wide receiver Braden Lenzy was not in uniform for last Saturday’s Vanderbilt game because he had suffered a concussion during practice and was still going through the concussion protocol.