Noie: Seems like old times for Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND— Bouncing out of the north end zone of Notre Dame Stadium on a special night for the seniors, quarterback Brandon Wimbush let loose six weeks of pent-up aggressiveness and emotions.

He jumped up and down. He wildly waved his arms. He was cheered — loudly — as he raced toward the waiting arms of his mother, Heather, minutes before an important night for him and the No. 3 Irish.

Back as the starter for the first time since mid-September, Wimbush did the required work to keep undefeated Notre Dame (10-0) rolling with a 42-13 victory over Florida State.

“I was pretty stoked to get this opportunity,” said Wimbush, the former starter who stepped in for current starter Ian Book, out with an “upper body” injury suffered the previous week against Northwestern. “I did this one for my brothers, the guys we’ve been at work with since January.

“I owed it to them to go out and perform and get this win.”

He also did it for himself. To show he still can play. To show he can still win. Wimbush insisted six weeks as a backup never toyed with his mind, but it had to. It’s only natural that doubt enter the equation.

What started as a wild week — with a Monday text from quarterbacks coach Tom Rees to go and see him ASAP — ended with Wimbush at what had been a familiar spot — his spot — behind the podium in the interview room after an Irish win.

No big deal.

“It,” Wimbush said, “was an easy week.”

After a difficult six. Book helped the Irish hit another gear. Maybe one that Wimbush won’t ever reach. The offense with Book hums. Scores points. Moves the ball almost at will. Looks like a College Football Playoff contender.

The one Saturday rolled up 495 yards, including 365 on the ground. It ran relatively hot on a cold night against a bad Florida State team. Wimbush made it all work.

Wimbush refused to pout during his demotion, though he had every reason to. Notre Dame was ranked No. 8 at the time he moved aside. It’s not that he did really anything to lose the job. His job. He just didn’t do enough to keep it. He was shaky when steady was needed.

There’s something about Book that better fits this offense. This team. This season. That still should be the case.

Off to the bench Wimbush went for one week. Then two. Then six. All the while, he told himself that he would get another chance. It’s hard to play what would have been a nine-week run without injury.

Wimbush stayed ready.

“The six weeks were tough, but they were inspiring,” Wimbush said. “They did something to me and it allowed me to work through adversity and gave me a different perspective.”

Wimbush took being the backup personally. Took the chance to go back and be better with his fundamentals. With his mindset. With everything.

On a night he needed to be better, he was better.

Wimbush rushed for 68 yards on 12 carries. He had zero negative yards. He completed 12-of-25 for 130 yards. Three passes, including two to tight end Alizé Mack, found the end zone.

He was good when he needed to be good. He did have two interceptions on throws that he still struggles to complete.

“He led our football team when we needed him,” said coach Brian Kelly. “He should feel great.”

Yet this offense moves differently under Book. It seems more dynamic. More efficient. Crisp. Determined. With Book, you’re waiting for the Irish to find the end zone. With Wimbush, you’re wondering when something will trip them up.

So it’s gotta be Book, right?

“Who says Ian?” Kelly joked. “We want a full-blown quarterback controversy. I like Wimbush right now. We’ll see.”

No word on whether Kelly huddled with members of the student newspaper after his presser to share his starter intentions for Syracuse. Late Saturday, Kelly was just being head coach coy. Candid. Comical. He can afford to be that way after Notre Dame cemented a second straight double-digit win season. That hasn’t happened in a quarter century. Have some fun. He’s earned it.

This team can be solid with Wimbush; it can be special with Book.

Afterward, once he’d waited around to do a television interview, Wimbush walked off the field and pumped his right fist as fans chanted his name. He walked up the tunnel and made the left turn into the Irish locker room. Before another right and some steps up those stairs, Wimbush extended his left hand and slapped the “Play like a Champion Today” sign.

Senior Night was his night, but this season still belongs to Book.

Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush made the most of his spot start against Florida State in game 10.Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA