Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 1, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 18 of 55 OCT. 1, 2018 19 ning percentage). In seasons/games with "experienced" quarterback play, the offense averaged 158.8 yards per game on the ground and 4.4 yards per rush, and the record was 33‑27 (.550 winning percentage). To me, it seems when the Irish have experience at quarterback, the coaches spend too much time trying to build the offense they want as op‑ posed to one that is focused on their best signal‑caller. LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT After breaking down the film from the first three games of 2018, I saw the pattern repeat itself. First, we saw a Notre Dame offense that in some ways was rightfully pushing the ball down the field at a much higher rate. Last season, Wimbush threw only 64 deep balls (20‑plus yards past the line) and completed just 22. Through three games this year, Notre Dame has already thrown 27 deep balls — which puts it on pace for 108 deep throws. We are seeing Notre Dame ask Wimbush to do a lot fuller field reads, and to make a lot more pre‑ and post‑snap decisions than we saw last year in games where he thrived. In those games we saw more half‑ field reads, more play‑action or drop‑ back throws that were one‑on‑one situations. And the offense also was built around his ability to run the football. All offseason this year, Notre Dame seemed to focus the vast majority of its practice time on making Wimbush a better pocket passer. As I evaluate the play calling from the first three games, I see an offense that is built for a pro‑style quarterback — which isn't what Wimbush is. They are throwing in designed runs, but Wimbush looks far less comfortable running this year than last year, which was a concern senior editor Lou Somogyi brought up dur‑ ing the spring and fall. It was taking away his greatest asset in an effort to maybe help his shortcoming. Consequently, while Notre Dame did sport a 3‑0 record and No. 8 na‑ tional ranking in the Associated Press poll heading into the Wake Forest game, it also has a sputtering of‑ fense. Wimbush is going to get all the blame — just like Rees in 2013, Golson in 2014 and Kizer in 2016. But is it really the quarterbacks? I don't think it is. When the same regression keeps happening, it has to be something that goes beyond the signal‑callers. In our preseason podcast, I noted that one of my biggest concerns is that Notre Dame wouldn't build its offense around Wimbush and instead run the offense it wants regardless of who the quarterback is. We are seeing that, and for some hard to understand reason they were taking out Wimbush in the red zone and putting in Ian Book, a passer — despite Wimbush leading Notre Dame to its best red zone offense in over a decade last season. We are seeing an offense that sche‑ matically doesn't look much like the one we've seen in games where Wim‑ bush has been at his best, which tells me that once again the coaches at Notre Dame are saying, "This is the offense we want, and it's up the QB to adjust and play to our offense." I don't think you can win that way unless you recruit a quarterback that fits that offense. Notre Dame has re‑ cruited run‑throw quarterbacks and continues to try to turn them into pure pocket passers who can also take off and run. DECISION TIME Kelly and his brain trust — which includes coordinator Chip Long, whom Alabama head coach Nick Sa‑ ban has approached for a position — have a choice to make. And if they don't make it soon this team is going to underachieve … again. Kelly has a good defense, a good offensive line and a very dynamic and athletic quarterback. He needs to either build his offense around Wimbush and have Long tailor his schemes, play designs and play calls to fit what Wimbush does well — or he needs to make a change at the position. Asking Wimbush to run this of‑ fense the way it is designed is setting him up for failure. In the four offenses that Long was a part of before coming to Notre Dame, his teams averaged 493 pass attempts and 3,779 passing yards per season. If that's what he wants then he needs to make a change at quarterback. Making a change would be a mis‑ take, in my opinion, because I don't think Notre Dame has the person‑ nel to run that kind of offense. But if that's what is wanted, Notre Dame needs to dive in headfirst and make the necessary changes. At this point, Wimbush and Book are both being put in bad spots, and neither is being placed in position to maximize his skills, and that's wast‑ ing everyone's time and development. The way things are going, the of‑ fense is going to continue to sputter most weeks, and the quarterback will get all the blame. Eventually, Kelly and his staff will lose a game or two and will make a change, blaming Wimbush for not executing an of‑ fense he shouldn't be asked to ex‑ ecute. We'll see 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2016 repeat itself in regards to quarterback play and offense. They'll throw more, probably score more, but the question looms about whether or not that means they will win more. ✦ The Red, White & Blue Zone In 2017, Brandon Wimbush scored a quarterback school‑re‑ cord 14 rushing touchdowns and led Notre Dame to by far its best red‑zone offense (14th nationally) in the Brian Kelly era. His improvisation abilities also were on display in the 22‑17 win versus Vanderbilt Sept. 15, when on third‑and‑10 at the Commodores 12 he avoided pressure and scored. Wimbush remained in during red‑zone situations (inside the op‑ ponent's 20‑yard line), but why was junior Ian Book replacing him inside the opponent's 10‑yard line (white zone) and 5‑yard line (blue zone) this season? "I think we can manage some of the packages down there a lot eas‑ ier," Kelly said. "… I think you'll continue to see that because it's easier to coach and manage those plays, rep those plays during the week. "What we really need to be better in is in that red and white zone. That's where we've stalled out a little bit. The blue zone is where you've seen Book come in. … We're getting into some more direct snap, extra tight ends. "That's where the run‑pass op‑ portunities from direct snap really fit Ian Book's game. … It's a fluid situation." — Lou Somogyi

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