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Football

Edmonds: Team success will be defined by quarterback play

| Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Less than two weeks out from the gates opening at Notre Dame stadium, the image of the 2018 Irish team is becoming clearer — where senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush goes, so too will the team.

Head coach Brian Kelly and his coaching staff will rely largely on the defensive unit, arguably the backbone of the team. Returning nine starters from last year’s team, their experience will set the tone for the season in the early matchups, especially against Michigan. The Wolverines, who recently announced they will be debuting Ole Miss transfer junior Shea Patterson at quarterback in the season opener, struggled to defend the pocket last season, allowing 36 sacks — putting them in the bottom sixth of the FBS. If graduate student linebacker Drue Tranquill, arguably the anchor of the unit this season, can read Patterson and get all 11 guys set, Notre Dame should be able to pressure the quarterback. And with junior cornerback Julian Love headlining the secondary, if the Irish can force Patterson into making poor reads and throw into coverage, they should be in good position to emerge with a win.

However, long term success boils down to one thing — the ability of the offense, likely led by Wimbush, to adapt and recover from heavy losses in the offseason. They might be able to make it Wake Forest without much output, but an inability to score will eventually catch up with them in the latter half of the season, regardless of how strong the defense is. Ultimately, it will come down to the senior making plays when it matters most, a “clutch factor” which has been noticeably absent from Wimbush’s resume.

Observer File Photo

Irish junior quarterback Ian Book runs upfield during Notre Dame’s 21-17 victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Florida. Book replaced Wimbush and threw the game-winning touchdown.

There’s no denying that his strength lies in running, having set the record for rushing touchdowns by an Irish quarterback in a single season. But, in his third season with the Irish and with the confidence of the coaching staff behind him, the expectations have risen. Significant losses to the best offensive line in the country last season, as well as the team’s leading rusher in Josh Adams in the backfield, leave Wimbush forced to put up or shut up, and a mediocre passing record won’t secure the starting position when junior Ian Book and freshman Phil Jurkovec are behind him awaiting their shot to take snaps. For now, Wimbush seems to have accepted that challenge, with a strong showing throughout the off-season and summer practices. He’s not alone though. Ian Book has proved that he is a starting-caliber quarterback.

Although rare in the nature of competitive football, having two quality options who are both comfortable with their respective roles can be the recipe for success. The potential of Book’s elevated game combined with Wimbush’s maturity and confidence could result in a dual threat combination not unlike the Golson-Rees dynamic.

Regardless of who’s in the pocket for Notre Dame, they’ll need support from the rest of the offense. Although the loss of Adams will be evident, Tony Jones Jr. will be eager to step into the roll, regardless of Dexter Williams’ status. As the team transitions to a more balanced offensive approach, graduate students and captains Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher will have more time to help the younger offensive line adjust to different teams schemes. The one given is that the Irish are sure to face a diverse style of play and will need to develop a range of skills and be prepared to adapt. A one-dimensional team won’t make it out of September.

 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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