Notebook: Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush reveals little about his future plans
Brandon Wimbush did his best to deflect questions thrown his way. The Irish quarterback even tried to lead reporters to focus on wide receiver Chris Finke.
The roommates were seated at the same table for Thursday’s Cotton Bowl media day inside AT&T Stadium. Even though Finke will likely have a greater impact on Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 2 Clemson (13-0), the cameras and microphones surrounded Wimbush.
After multiple reports surfaced on Christmas Eve that Wimbush would pursue a graduate transfer, everyone wanted to hear from the former Irish starter. What was Wimbush willing to say about his plans for next year?
“Not much,” Wimbush said. “Preparing for the 29th. We’re a couple days away from this game, and I don’t want anything to be a distraction. I’m excited for what’s to come and what lies ahead. I have a year of eligibility left, so I’m excited to fulfill that.”
The only surprising thing about the initial report on Wimbush’s decision was the timing. Certainly, all of that could be sorted out after the College Football Playoff, right? Instead, Wimbush had to answer questions from teammates and reporters this week.
“They know it wasn’t my decision to release that information,” Wimbush said of his teammates. “I didn’t have to worry about that being a distraction to the team and my guys. They asked me and joked around with me about it.”
Wimbush will likely be playing quarterback for another team next season — whether he or head coach Brian Kelly wanted to completely confirm that or not. After Ian Book’s successful takeover of the starting job in week four of the season, Wimbush has been relegated to a backup role. The job will be Book’s again next year and the 6-foot-2, 222-pound Wimbush will be in his final year of eligibility.
Wimbush, a senior who didn’t play in 2016, has compiled a 13-3 record as a starter at Notre Dame. But his accuracy as a thrower continued to be an issue this season. He completed 54 of his 102 passes (52.9 percent) this season for 719 yards and four touchdowns with six interceptions.
“We’ve had two discussions, preliminary in nature, about his options,” Kelly said. “No decision has been made. I think he’s torn right now. He’s always been team first and about the moment, and so his focus has been on these games. But he knows there’s an immediacy as well.
“So that’s why he’s gone through the proper channels to put his name in the (NCAA transfer) portal to make sure that he leaves that door open. But he also knows that he’s got enough time to work the back channels and figure out that, if he does want to transfer, that he can do that.
“But I honestly think he’s in a position where he’s focused on these games, that he hasn’t gone all in on saying ‘I’m going to X, Y, Z school.’ So our conversations have been supportive. And I truly would tell you, I’m supportive of whatever his decision is. He’s earned the right to transfer and play in his senior year for what he’s done for Notre Dame.”
The thought of Wimbush’s impending transfer causing a distraction was dismissed by his teammates. He’s been praised throughout the season for how he’s handled his demotion.
“He’s the only guy who could come out and say he’s transferring, and people are like, ‘Wow, we love him even more,’” said center Sam Mustipher. “People are saying he’ll run for president and they’ll vote for him. That’s who he is. That’s the type of guy he is, and I love him for it. Wimbush 2030.”
When Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot against Michigan in the season opener, the sophomore defensive tackle figured he’d be back before the end of the regular season. He’d dealt with a broken bone in his foot previously and returned in six or seven weeks.
But the comeback was much more arduous this time.
“The recovery road has definitely had its ups and downs,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “The biggest thing was time, patience and a lot of perseverance. Being injured, it’s devastating to sit out a whole season. Being back, I’m just grateful.”
The 6-3, 285-pound Tagovailoa-Amosa has been cleared to play and said he feels 100 percent. He resumed running in late November and appeared to be moving well at bowl prep practice windows open to media.
“The biggest thing that helped was my faith. Reading my devotions every day, taking it day by day and talking to guys that help uplift me every day,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “My D-line brothers knew what I was going through, so every time I came in they wouldn’t cast me aside. It was more of an encouraging role from each and every one of them.”
Tagovailoa-Amosa didn’t head back to Hawaii for the short break the players had before heading to the Dallas area this week. He wanted to make sure he stayed in good shape to play as much as possible Saturday.
“If I have to,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said, “I’ll play the whole game.”
Hunter Renfrow has done what Chris Finke wants to do.
Renfrow, a former walk-on wide receiver at Clemson, caught a pair of touchdowns in Clemson’s 45-40 win over Alabama in the national championship game in 2016. Finke, a former walk-on receiver himself at Notre Dame, is one game away from having that opportunity.
“I remember being in my dorm room freshman year seeing him score touchdowns in the national championship and thinking, ‘That’s something I want to do,’” Finke said. “He kind of had the same path that I did walking on and earning a scholarship. I’ve seen what he does and I really admire his career. He’s a great player.”
The 5-10, 185-pound Renfrow earned a scholarship before the 2015 season as a redshirt freshman. The same happened to Finke (5-10, 180) a year later.
Both could play pivotal roles in Saturday’s game. Renfrow caught 43 passes for 472 yards and one touchdown this season. Finke has Renfrow beat in production this year with 47 catches for 547 yards and two touchdowns.
Know your enemy
Earlier this month, center Sam Mustipher rattled off the names of Clemson’s starting defensive linemen: defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant and defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence.
Each member of that foursome — though Lawrence will miss the game because of a failed drug test — has recorded at least 10 sacks in their careers.
But knowing the names of his opponents isn’t a new thing for Mustipher. He said he could name players on the previous defensive lines the Irish have played this season too.
“The majority of the weeks I know the names of the guys,” Mustipher said. “I try to find as much as I possibly can with regards to film, technique, fundamentals, things they’ve done through previous years. You have to know who you’re playing against top to bottom.”
Mustipher, a graduate student and captain, tries to find the right balance though. He doesn’t want his knowledge of the opponent to change his preparation.
“That’s something I learned early in my career,” Mustipher said. “You can never judge a guy on film or the competition he’s playing against. You have to focus on what you do and be the best that you can do on game day.”