Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 9, 2019

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

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Page 16 of 55 NOV. 9, 2019 17 seconds left before the defense per- mits a game-winning field. • Anointed the new starter in 2017, Brandon Wimbush (likewise red- shirted during the 4-8 season in 2016) directed the offense to 41.3 points per game during an 8-1 start and a No. 3 ranking in the College Football Playoff poll. • Suddenly thrust into the spot- light like Rees, Golson, Zaire, Kizer and Wimbush, junior Ian Book takes over as the starter in game four in 2018 — and 12-0 Notre Dame pro- ceeds to advance to the College Foot- ball Playoff while Book finishes 17th nationally in passing efficiency, the highest in the Kelly era. STEP 2 (RINSE) Each of the aforementioned figures is heralded as the potential Messiah quarterback at Notre Dame and, with it, automatically is placed among those advertised as potential top Heisman Trophy candidates. Improvement from year one to year two is automatically assumed by the fandom, and conversation from the coaching staff heightens about "put- ting more on the plate" for the more seasoned quarterback in an effort to take the offense to "a higher level." In the first year, the quarter- back is viewed more as an efficient game manager who accentuates his strengths while steering clear of areas where he is not as productive. In year two as a starter, the goal is to make him more of a playmaker and to upgrade any shortcomings so that op- posing defenses — which now have more game tape to study on him — can game plan around his shortcom- ings, perceived or otherwise. STEP 3 (REPEAT) Setbacks on or off the field inhibit progress, and more often than not it almost appears the quarterbacks are pressing instead of progressing. And in almost each case they opt to not use their final season(s) of eli- gibility at Notre Dame. • After losing his starting job one half into the new season in 2011, Crist becomes a graduate transfer at Kansas, where he also was eventually benched. • An offseason incident with law enforcement sees Rees on suspension for the 2012 opener, ushering in the Golson era. • Golson is declared academically ineligible in 2013, and then in year two as the starter had the most turn- overs in the nation in 2014 with 22 (14 interceptions and eight fumbles), and Notre Dame loses its final four regular season games. After losing the starting job late in 2014 to Zaire, Golson at the end of spring drills opts to be a graduate transfer at Florida State, where he would eventually be on the sidelines at the end of his career. • Zaire in year two (2015) suffers a season ending injury in game two — and never is the same thereafter. He decides likewise to be a graduate trans- fer at Florida, where he plays only four games and throws zero touchdowns. • Kizer 's pass efficiency drops in 2016 during a 4-8 season as the Irish repeatedly cannot close out games in the fourth quarter. Although he has two years of eligibility remaining, Kizer chooses to turn pro and is cur- rently the No. 3 quarterback for the Oakland Raiders. • Continued struggles with the short and overall passing game sees dynamic runner Wimbush replaced by Book in the 2018 Citrus Bowl, and Book rallies the Irish to a 21-17 victory versus LSU. Wimbush then is replaced for good by Book in game four of 2018, thereby selecting Central Florida as his graduate transfer option, where he also is a reserve signal-caller. • What awaits Book and the Notre Dame quarterback situation in 2020? Much might depend on what occurs in November. In the first five 2019 games versus Power Five opposition (or not named New Mexico or Bowling Green), the data has been modest for someone in the fourth season at a program: 174.2 passing yards per game, only 10.2 yards per completion and a meager 5.7 yards per attempt, with the goal of 7.0 for the latter a necessity just to reach the average level. Regardless, Book overall is deemed the quarterback who in the present gives Notre Dame the best opportunity to win and remain at a top-10 level. When asked two days after the Michigan game if he believes the crit- icism about "second-year regression" for Irish quarterback is fair, Kelly sur- prisingly didn't lash out. "Is it fair? Sure," he replied. "I think it is fair criticism of everybody, including me. Yeah. I think we all have to coach better, I think we all have to play better." In any team sport, it's ridiculous to single out one individual for overall failings. Yet perhaps no single po- sition in any sport better defines a team's arc and how far it can travel than quarterback, and the pattern in the past decade has not been an uplifting trend. ✦ Top Competition Woes With quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book both contributing significantly to the cause, Notre Dame's 27-6 record from 2017 through this year's Michigan game ranked with the top half-dozen among the 65 Power Five Conference teams. What's been disheartening is that five of the six defeats occurred in "marquee" contests on the road — other than the 20-19 loss to Georgia in 2017 — where the common theme was an offense that was rendered nearly anemic. In those six defeats, Notre Dame averaged 13.5 points and 83.2 rushing yards per game, which in turn puts even more on the quarterback and the passing game. The fundamental conclusion is that while the Fighting Irish have proven they can take care of business at home, the consistent inability to generate much production on offense, via the run or pass, away from home is what keeps preventing it from reaching the tier one echelon in college football. — Lou Somogyi DeShone Kizer burst onto the scene by leading the Irish to a 10-1 start as a sophomore in 2015, but saw his pass efficiency drop during a 4-8 campaign in 2016. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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