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Football

Edmonds: Notre Dame does not need quarterback controversy right now

| Monday, November 12, 2018

The stars aligned for Brandon Wimbush this week.

With junior quarterback Ian Book announced out due to a rib injury against a stumbling Florida State team, space was opened for the senior quarterback to step up and start in potentially his final game in Notre Dame Stadium. But now, where does that leave the Irish?

Addressing the media following Saturday’s win over the Seminoles, head coach Brian Kelly teased reporters eager to ask the big question about the quarterback position going forward.

“Who says Ian’s the starter … I like Wimbush right now,” Kelly said.

When confronted with a follow up question several minutes later, he continued to entertain the controversy, claiming that Book was expected to return but that the starting position was very much up for grabs this week. And, just like old times, we’re back to square one.

Ann Curtis | The Observer

Irish senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush stiff arms a defender during Notre Dame’s 42-13 win over Florida State on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium,

Wimbush had a solid game. Sixty-eight rushing yards and 130 passing yards for three touchdowns. Two interceptions in the third quarter showed flashes of the old Brandon, but he responded by quickly returning to the run game, as senior running back Dexter Williams would open the fourth quarter on a 97-yard drive that was kept on the ground through all 12 plays.

Wimbush demonstrated maturity as a play caller that was lacking at times throughout his career. More importantly, Wimbush demonstrated a new level of confidence throwing the ball, and that paid off in his strong passing performance in the first half as he connected several long bombs that resulted in three passing touchdowns — two more than he recorded in three games combined as a starter earlier this season.

Ultimately though, that doesn’t discredit what Book has built up these past six weeks.

Comparing the Wimbush of the first three games to the Book of the last six games is like comparing apples to oranges. More accurately, it’s comparing a team with Dexter Williams to one without Dexter Williams.

For as impressive as Book has been this past month and a half, there’s no question who the anchor of this Notre Dame offense is. After missing the first four games of the season, Williams returned against Stanford in glorious fashion with a 50-yard touchdown on his first drive and hasn’t looked back since. I’d be remiss to not mention the development of the receiving corp. This unit of receivers and tight ends have become a force to be reckoned with, and they put on a show against the Seminoles. Essentially, this is not the same team that went toe-to-toe with Vanderbilt.

Kelly’s certainly made strides as both a strategist and program manager in his nine season with the Irish.  He’s come a long way from blaming players and staff members for losses and outbursts. However, this time, Kelly’s up to his usual antics. The comments were generally made in jest, mocking the tendency of journalists and fans alike to obsess over the behind-the-scene drama. But as the stakes have risen exponentially and the Irish are set to take on arguably their most important match of the year next weekend as they travel to Yankee stadium to take on No. 13 Syracuse, his decision to either immediately make light of the situation or intentionally stir up controversy serves as a distraction at a time of year when this team should be focused on one thing and one thing alone — the College Football Playoff.

This quirky encounter may not matter. There had been less than an hour separating the final whistle and the press conference. No one expected Kelly to make a definitive statement about who’d be starting against the Orange. This week’s series of press conferences will be telling of Kelly’s player management. Wimbush and Book have both handled this competition remarkably maturely, encouraging each other and offering insight every step of the way. Hopefully Kelly is more direct and consistent with Book and Wimbush than he was with the press last night. Granted, it should be better to have two competent quarterbacks than one, but that luxury presents a challenge of making sure everyone knows and respects their role. However, should Kelly choose to continue this guessing game, one misstep might send this big, happy family into chaos at a time when a slip up can be the difference between a national championship and looking in from the outside.

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

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