Irish fully committed to quarterback rotation
Joe Everett | Friday, September 21, 2018
It was first and goal from the Vanderbilt 2-yard line with 11:04 left in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame up 16-10.
Senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush had just successfully converted a fourth down situation with a 1-yard quarterback sneak. Wimbush then ran to the sideline and junior quarterback Ian Book ran in to take his place. On first down Book took the snap, faked a handoff and tossed the ball to the back corner of the end zone to graduate student tight end Nic Weisher.
In what would prove to be the winning points in Notre Dame’s 22-17 victory over Vanderbilt, the Irish (3-0) showcased their ability to seamlessly transition from Wimbush to Book in key situations. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said those substitutions and transitions are areas the team has keyed in on at practice.
“It’s something that we’re working on during the week,” Kelly said. “Everybody’s alert, and there has to be a package that you feel confident in. It can’t be — it can’t be wholesale on everything that you do. So there are specific things that we’re doing, and we’re drilling down that our whole offense is quite aware of, that these are the plays, this is the package that we’re working on. So it doesn’t cut across everything that we do. There is some intentionality, if you will, to what we’re doing when [Book] goes in, and I think everybody else knows what it is.”
Kelly followed up his comment during Sunday’s teleconference by explaining how the Irish like to operate offensively within the red zone, and broke the 20 yard area into smaller zones: inside the 10-yard line as the “white zone” and inside the five as the “blue zone.” Kelly said he believes in optimizing each quarterback’s strengths in the red zone, he noted that Book is particularly effective in the “blue zone” packages and explained the fluidity of the situation and the need to get sharper in all aspects of red zone execution.
“I think we can manage some of the packages down [in the red zone] a lot easier … by designating plays for a quarterback because it’s easier to manage and coach those plays during the week,” Kelly said. “The red and white zones are where we’ve stalled out a bit. The blue zone is where you’ve seen Book come in, which is closer to the 5-yard line, because we’re getting into some more direct-snap and extra tight end [formations], where the run-pass opportunities from direct snap really fit Ian Book’s game.
“ … I don’t think we’re hurting the flow of [Wimbush’s] game or disrupting him in any fashion. It’s a very fluid situation, we just think that we can continue to use his assets — he was in the game for most of those red zone situations — but we just have to get more efficient and effective in all areas and not just with Brandon in the [red zone].”
For many quarterbacks and at many programs, this kind of quarterback situation might not sit well with certain personalities and certain teams. Many questions swirled this offseason as to who would be the starting quarterback after Book replaced the incumbent Wimbush in the Citrus Bowl and led the team to a 21-17 comeback win over LSU. While a quarterback’s desire to be “the guy” while his team looks to a singular quarterback for leadership can often lead to controversy within a locker room, both Wimbush and Book have taken the opposite approach. Instead, graduate student captain Sam Mustipher noted, the two quarterbacks drive each other and support each other no matter which one of them is taking the snaps, and the center commented on what it’s like to have two quarterbacks that can come into a game and execute at the highest level.
“It’s a privilege,” Mustipher said. “Those guys work hard. They want to do everything right. They’re under an immense amount of pressure at a place like Notre Dame, but I believe they both handle it as well as they possibly can. They feed off of each other and they support each other, and I think in some cases at other places guys would probably not be on the same page in regards to that, but [their relationship] is something they take pride in. It’s supporting each other because they understand how difficult it is.”
While the revolving quarterback situation may appear confusing or unorthodox to outsiders, the way Wimbush and Book see it, as long as it leads to a team win, they’re all for it.
“I think we both bought into it, fully bought into it whoever, however, to get a ‘W,’ we’re going to do it,” Wimbush said postgame. “Obviously, worked [against Vanderbilt], so we’re excited.”