Irish quarterback struggles paramount in loss to Hurricanes
Tobias Hoonhout | Sunday, November 12, 2017
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It was never going to be easy for the Irish.
The last time Notre Dame played Miami in South Beach, 1989, the Irish under Lou Holtz were smacked 27-10. In fact, Notre Dame hadn’t won a game on the Hurricanes’ home turf since 1977.
Saturday was no different.
Even with all the hype surrounding the high-powered running attack of the Irish (8-2), it was the quarterback play that stole the show. Despite facing an undersized Miami (9-0, 6-0 ACC) front-seven that was missing redshirt-junior defensive lineman Demetrius Jackson, who was tied for second on the team with 3 1/2 sacks, Notre Dame struggled mightily to get anything going on the ground.
Irish junior running back Josh Adams finished the game with only 40 yards on 16 carries, and the Irish only moved the chains four times on the ground. Forced to rely on the passing game, where there have been question marks for the Irish all season, Notre Dame folded under the pressure.
Notre Dame’s opening drive started brightly, with quarterback Brandon Wimbush converting two-straight third down passes. But the junior overthrew a 40-yard heave to junior wide receiver Equanimous St. Brown in the end zone on first down after the Irish had run the ball on the previous two first downs. The play call worked, as St. Brown beat his man, but the ball went just past the junior’s fingertips and the Irish missed a golden opportunity.
It would prove to be costly.
Four passes later, after Miami redshirt-junior quarterback Malik Rosier threw a fade to senior wideout Braxton Barrios to put Miami on the board, Wimbush gunned a ball to St. Brown that flew high. While the junior got his hands on the ball, he wasn’t able to hang on, and junior defensive back Jaquan Johnson snagged the tipped ball for Miami’s first interception of the night. Two plays and a “turnover chain ceremony” later, the Hurricanes led by 14, and Notre Dame was in its biggest hole of the season.
On the next Irish drive, Wimbush botched a simple out route to Adams that fell incomplete. After Notre Dame was forced to punt and Miami marched down the field to kick a field goal, the crowd increasingly targeted the young quarterback, and Wimbush and the Irish offense tried to move the ball on the ground, but to no avail. When the junior finally threw another pass over eight minutes, eight offensive plays and a drive later, Miami made him pay once again.
After a Hurricane punt, Notre Dame elected to throw on first down on its own 7-yard line. Wimbush tried to hit sophomore Chase Claypool on a slant, but his throw was high and behind the mark and hit sophomore corner Malek Young in stride. After not throwing an interception in six games, Wimbush suddenly had thrown two. Miami capitalized on the great field position once again, kicking a field goal to put the Hurricanes up 20-0.
“I think he’s still developing as a quarterback,” Kelly said on his starter’s struggles. “Tonight was not a night to turn the football over against a quality, quality football team in Miami.”
“It’s a full team responsibility. Interceptions and turnovers are part of the game,” graduate student offensive lineman and captain Mike McGlinchey said on the offense’s turnovers. “It’s a team effort, it doesn’t matter who’s turning the ball over. I can probably protect better on those interceptions, the rest of those four guys across from me can probably say the same. Obviously, things didn’t go our way. That’s the game of football. Turnovers happen, the defense makes plays — they made a lot more plays than we did tonight.”
When the Irish came back out on the field on the following drive, sophomore Ian Book was at the helm for Notre Dame. Although his first drive sputtered to a three-and out, the California native helped the Irish march down the field on his second drive as the half moved to a close.
Facing third-and-six with 34 seconds left at the Miami 38, Book slung a pass intended for sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson. But Hurricanes freshman corner Trajan Bandy read the eyes of the sophomore quarterback the whole way, jumped the route and coasted 65 yards to the house to put Miami up 27-0 and set to receive the ball to start the second half. When the Hurricanes scored a touchdown on their opening drive to start the third quarter, the game was all but over for the Irish.
In the second half, Kelly elected to return to Wimbush for the remainder of the game.
“We needed a spark,” Kelly said on the decision to bring Book in the game in the second quarter. “[We] tried to insert Ian into the game after the turnovers, but felt at halftime our best chance of really rallying and really trying to get Brandon to play through it, if you will, was our best course of action.
“‘Let’s go. It’s time. You’ve got to step up and play and be gritty and do the things that we expect you to do,’” Kelly said of the things he told Wimbush at halftime. “He was all up for it, he’s a competitor, he wanted to go back in there for sure.”
Miami managed to score 24 points off of Notre Dame’s three interceptions and a Brandon Wimbush fumble in the fourth quarter. The Irish, meanwhile, didn’t force a turnover for the first time all season in the 41-8 loss.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that things get away from you as much as you’re not executing at the level you need to against a really good football team,” Kelly said. “It started when we threw our first interception. The makeup of Miami is built on turnovers, and one thing that we couldn’t do is turn the ball over, and what did we do is turn the football over. ‘Getting away from us’ and ‘turning it over’ can be characterized as the same thing — we just couldn’t turn the football over, and when we started turning the football over, we put ourselves in a tough spot.”
As for Wimbush, who finished the game with a touchdown to junior tight end Alize Mack in the fourth quarter but was sacked five times and only managed a 5.2 quarterback rating, McGlinchey said the junior and Notre Dame are only looking forwards.
“I don’t think anyone’s worried about Brandon,” he said. “I think he’s going to be fine. Obviously, everybody had a rough night tonight. It’s just growing pains. It’s part of the game of football, we’ve had a great season thus far, we’re not going to let one game slip from what we’re trying to accomplish. The next thing on our agenda is to beat Navy, and Brandon will be just as focused as the rest of us.”