Irish continue to hone in on offensive identity
Tobias Hoonhout | Friday, September 22, 2017
The look of the stat line says it all.
In 2016, although the Irish ended the year with their first losing season under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame’s quarterback wasn’t the issue. Former quarterback DeShone Kizer did as much as he could for the Irish on the field, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and more touchdowns and less interceptions than in his first year as a starter. But for whatever reason, Kizer’s success didn’t translate to the rest of his teammates.
Team 129’s starter, however, isn’t DeShone Kizer.
With the former quarterback gone to the NFL, Brandon Wimbush has assumed his place as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. And while the junior is athletically gifted, highlighted by his four rushing touchdowns against Boston College last weekend, his proficiency as a passer is still a work in progress.
Through three games, Notre Dame’s passing game has struggled to find the same consistency and success as last season. Wimbush is completing 51.1 percent of his passes thus far — having thrown for 490 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions. Add on the fact that Wimbush is dealing with a relatively young receiving corps, and a learning curve is to expected.
“We have to get more efficient in throwing the football, catching the football,” Brian Kelly said in a teleconference this past Sunday. “ … Our quarterback had time. We just have to be more accurate, and we have to coach it better. So if you add all those elements, we’ve got to coach it better. We’ve got to catch better, and we’ve got to be more accurate.
“ … All those three things have to come together this week because we’re going to have to be more efficient in the passing game. We don’t have to throw for 300 yards, but we’ve got to hit receivers. Receivers have got to make some tough catches, and we’ve got to put Brandon in a position where we’re featuring the things that he does well.”
As for Wimbush’s accuracy questions, Kelly simply thinks the junior has to get more comfortable.
“He’s seeing it, but it’s a little bit late and consequently that’s a little bit of his passing game, too, which forces him to rush things and overthrow a little bit, more recognition,” Kelly said. “He threw a beautiful corner route to [graduate student tight end] Durham Smythe because he loves that route, so it came out of his hand beautifully. He was positioned great in the pocket.”
“ … When he sees things and he’s confident and he knows them, he’s synced up and he syncs up our offense wonderfully. We’ve just got to get him to that, and when we do, I think we’ve got great balance.”
However, Notre Dame’s offensive identity has been based in running the ball so far this season, and for Kelly, that can’t change.
“I think we’re starting to get a better sense and feel for what we’re going to be really good at,” he said on Tuesday. “We have this library, but we’re also as a staff starting to now find out that these are the plays that are really going to be our core plays and get good at it.”
“ … If running the football is what is going to be the common denominator for wins, then that’s what we’re doing. Efficiency is the most important thing.”
And while the Irish boast a trio of backs in junior Josh Adams, junior Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones Jr. that Kelly has said “all have futures to play past this level,” Wimbush features right in the mix. Not only did he break the Notre Dame record for rush yards and touchdowns by quarterback last weekend, but through three games he’s only 158 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns off Kizer’s totals from all of last season.
For Kelly, it won’t be stopping anytime soon
“If teams are feeling as though playing man-to-man and turning their back on the quarterback is the way they want to defend us, he’s going to run a lot,” Kelly said on Wimbush running the football. “I know I wouldn’t want to be in man-to-man versus option offenses. It’s the last thing that you want to do, is turn your back on an option quarterback and give him all the field to run.”
“ … Teams that want to play a lot of man-to-man coverage are going to have to deal with Brandon Wimbush running the ball. That’s a fact.”