Notebook: Striking a balance in Notre Dame's QB development model

Eric Hansen | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider


Phil Jurkovec was K.J. Costello in practice this week.

Running the Stanford huddling, down-shifted offense. and at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Jurkovec even looks the part of the 6-5, 215-pound Cardinal redshirt junior starting quarterback.

Next week the Irish freshman will be Virginia Tech’s 6-foot-4, 223-pound Ryan Willis. But will he be any more prepared to make a run at being Notre Dame’s No. 1 quarterback next spring? Or step in as a viable No. 2 this season in case of injury?

That’s the balance Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly must find in developing a third-string quarterback, and one with such an apparently high ceiling.

Gobbling up all the reps, while running the Notre Dame offense, are presumptive starter for Saturday night’s showdown with No. 7 Stanford (4-0), Ian Book, and demoted starter Brandon Wimbush. Kickoff at Notre Dame Stadium between No. 8 ND (4-0) and the Cardinal is 7:30 EDT (NBC-TV).

Jurkovec could come up to the varsity and learn the Notre Dame offense strictly by watching, or he can run someone else’s offense week after week, with lots of reps, on scout team against one of the best No. 1 defenses in the country.

Kelly has heavily leaned toward the latter formula during his time at Notre Dame, with Malik Zaire’s freshman year being largely an exception.

“I don’t want to paint a picture that he’s not working on the skill development of the quarterback,” Kelly said Thursday night after practice. “He’s just not working on the specific game plan from week to week.

“If we had a week with him, we’d be able to game-plan an offensive structure for him. We don’t have him for that, but he’s still developing his skills as a quarterback.”

Kelly said he watches film of Jurkovec every day and goes over the things he sees in the film that Jurkovec needs to work on.

“You look at how he handles himself, the control and command of running that (opponent’s) offense,” Kelly said. “You can evaluate his accuracy.”

Jurkovec made his college debut last Saturday at Wake Forest. In the 56-27 Irish romp, Jurkovec threw two passes — both incompletions — and gained seven yards on his only run.

Ascending freshmen

Limiting certain freshmen to four games and taking advantage of the new redshirt rule was never in the cards for first-year ND players such as defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, safety/nickel Houston Griffith, wide receiver Kevin Austin and linebacker Bo Bauer.

In fact, when they take the field Saturday night against Stanford, their last chance to redshirt ends.

But two other freshmen have played themselves onto the bubble, and the staff is now strongly considering not redshirting them as well — cornerback TaRiq Bracy and converted cornerback Joe Wilkins Jr., a slot receiver who’s running No. 2 at that position.

“Those two guys probably stand out for me as two that are going to break through that four-game (barrier) sooner or later,” Kelly said.

If Bracy plays against Stanford, it will be his fifth game. Wilkins has a ways to go, however, having seen action in just one game.

No headset for Wimbush

The constant shots by the ABC-TV cameras Saturday during the Wake Forest game of benched starter Brandon Wimbush standing on the sideline with no headset on created a perception of disinterest perhaps?

Actually, the lack of a headset was by design.

“We had a pretty lengthy discussion about it,” Kelly said of a headset policy regarding his No. 2 quarterbacks. “We want them observing the game, seeing the game, sensing the game, feeling the game. Having the headset on — there’s a lot of chatter going on that is not useful to seeing the game, feeling the game.

“(QBs coach) Tommy (Rees) feels like he can get the kind of information necessary to those guys and have conversations with them. There were some pros and cons to it.”

First and last

Notre Dame’s 38-6 command in the first quarters of games this season is perhaps offset by its collective 13-31 deficit in the fourth quarters.

Kelly doesn’t see it that way, though.

“There’s been years where we’ve looked at how great we’ve been in the fourth quarter and haven’t won games and vice versa,” he said. “You know me — I take the football each and every week (when winning the coin flip), because I like the percentages of scoring first equals a high percentage of winning football games.”

For Kelly, it does. When you include the 22 games vacated by the NCAA, Kelly is 61-10 (.859) when his ND teams score first, compared to a .682 win percentage overall at ND, and 196-20 in his career (.907) when scoring first.

The Irish are 54-19 (.739) under Kelly when leading at halftime and 168-37 (.819) in his career.


• Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Stanford regulars — safety Ben Edwards, wide receiver Connor Wedington and offensive guard Foster Sarell — are all out for the Notre Dame game with injuries.

• Saturday night will be the first game Stanford plays this season when class has been in session. The Cardinal players built their 4-0 record before fall quarter began on Monday.

• Saturday will be the 35th matchup of top 10 teams in Notre Dame history, with the Irish holding a 22-11-1 edge in the previous 34. However, the last one of those that ND won was before any of the current Irish players were born — No. 2 Notre Dame upending No.1 Florida State, 31-24, in 1993.

Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec looks to throw during a practice session at Notre Dame Stadium.