Despite questions at quarterback, Irish offense feels prepared
Marek Mazurek | Friday, October 6, 2017
When a starter has to sit out due to an injury, it’s almost always a bad thing.
It’s basically the definition of the situation.
But should starting junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush have to sit out for Saturday’s game against North Carolina, Notre Dame may not be in that bad of a position.
On Tuesday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly confirmed that Wimbush suffered an injury to his right foot during last Saturday’s matchup versus Miami (OH) and was in a walking boot with crutches. On Wednesday morning, Kelly told ACC media members that Wimbush was involved with practice Tuesday and would be out of his walking boot Wednesday night as he recovers from a grade one strain to his right foot.
Should Wimbush be unable to play, Notre Dame will turn to sophomore Ian Book. Book, a native of El Dorado Hills, California, has eight passing attempts to his name and has completed three of them.
But one pass in particular caught his teammates’ eyes — a 48-yard bomb to junior wide receiver Chris Finke in the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s contest versus the RedHawks (2-3, 1-0 MAC).
“First of all, it was a good ball by Ian Book,” junior wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown said. “And then it was a great contested catch by Chris Finke. I feel like he got pass interfered before the catch, but a great catch by him.”
Beyond one flashy play, the Irish (4-1) have confidence in Book, which starts with his practice reps according to Kelly.
“We’re a 60/40 rep split operation, so he’s been getting a lot of work through camp, through the season. He’s got a lot of meaningful reps,” Kelly said Tuesday. “This is not an NFL operation where the starting quarterback gets all the work. It’s a 60/40 split of reps. He’s gotten quite a bit of work leading up to this point.”
Junior running back Josh Adams said he likes Book’s confidence in practice.
“I think he looked pretty good. He looked confident,” Adams said of Book on Wednesday. “Like I said before, he’s a guy that doesn’t seem like he has a lot of worry. He just goes out there and trying to have fun. I think that’s pretty big at the quarterback position and not forgetting to have fun with it, because a lot of pressure falls on those guys. It looked like he did that yesterday. He just went out there and tried to be as comfortable as he could be. As his teammates. We’ve got to try to make it easy for the guy in that position.”
Similarly, graduate student left tackle and captain Mike McGlinchey said the team has complete faith in Wimbush.
“He’s a good kid, great player, slings the ball around the field, takes a lot of pride in knowing his responsibilities and has worked very, very hard with [quarterbacks coach Tom] Rees and [offensive coordinator Chip] Long and Coach Kelly … to be able to step up when his times comes,” McGlinchey said. “If it is the case that Ian is the starter on Saturday, we’re going to have no problem and he’s going to lead us in the same way Brandon would and he’ll do a great job.”
Historically, Kelly has had success with backup quarterbacks stepping up due to injuries. In Kelly’s coaching career, he has had to turn to his second-string quarterback eight times due to an injured starter. Of those eight games, Kelly is 7-1, with his only loss coming back in 2006 while at Central Michigan.
Two years ago, backup DeShone Kizer led Notre Dame to a 10-2 regular season record after starting from Week 3 onward when Malik Zaire went down with an ankle injury. The only two losses for Kizer and the 2015 team were to Clemson and Stanford, both of whom finished in the top-10 in the postseason rankings.
However, against North Carolina’s 112th-ranked defense, the challenge won’t be as steep as Kizer’s two years ago. The Tar Heels are especially porous up front, giving up five yards per rush and the Irish will look to exploit that matchup, whoever starts at quarterback.
“No matter who’s the one carrying the ball, we’re trying to open the hole as big as possible and give them as much room to run as we can,” McGlinchey said. “No matter who’s back there, no matter if Brandon’s back there and he’s not 100 percent, he’s going to give it his all and blocking adjustments and the pride we take in opening up holes doesn’t change.”