Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 9, 2019

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

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Page 53 of 55

54 NOV. 9, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED M any years ago, I learned the correct reply to the following inquiry: Who is the greatest Notre Dame quarterback ever? Answer: The next one. Brian Kelly has experienced that feeling too many times during his 10-year run with the Fighting Irish in which seldom has he entered a season without a quarterback debate or even controversy. That's why this August he felt a sense of liberation having senior cap- tain Ian Book return after producing the highest pass efficiency ranking (17th nationally) in the Kelly era dur- ing Notre Dame's 2018 march to the College Football Playoff (CFP). "I don't have a lot of familiarity [with an incumbent QB] during my time at Notre Dame," Kelly said in August. "It's a nice feeling." Unfortunately, Book had the type of performance in the CFP defeat to Clemson (30-3), the loss to then-No. 3 Georgia (23-17) Sept. 21 and then in the 45-14 debacle at Michigan Oct. 26 that reiterated to many that while Notre Dame remains a solid, quality "tier two" program (top eight to top 15), it lacks the game-changing pres- ence, particularly at the skill positions, to challenge as a tier-one operation. My experience in following Notre Dame for nearly a half century is once these type of performances at quarterback occur later in one's ca- reer, unless a national title already has been won to build equity, there is going to be an intense demand for change from the fan base because of confidence that has been lost. (Sarcasm: And remember, the "next guy" always is the best.) The desire for a fresh face or new blood is inevitably going to be im- mense, especially at quarterback, the single position where "next level" talk most abounds. The best examples have come from the past two national champions. Alabama's Nick Saban already had a fantastic and proven winner at quarterback in Jalen Hurts — yet he turned to Tua Tagovailoa to replace him because he was even more capa- ble of "next level" performance, and that helped win the Crimson Tide the 2017 national title. Clemson's Dabo Swinney already had a proven winner as well in Kelly Bryant, who took the Tigers to the College Football Playoff in 2017 be- fore losing 24-6 to Alabama. Then, early in 2018, to help reach that proverbial next level, Swinney replaced Bryant with five-star fresh- man phenom Trevor Lawrence (who also was an early enrollee), and it reaped immense dividends when the Tigers crushed Alabama 44-16 in the championship tilt. Both Hurts (Oklahoma) and Bryant (Missouri) became graduate trans- fers, as have most Notre Dame quar- terbacks this decade. If Saban and Swinney could do it, why can't Kelly with the more highly touted sophomore Phil Jurkovec? This is a common lamentation, al- though not a one-size-fits-all solution. The 6-5 sophomore four-star re- cruit came in with more accolades than Book — yet not quite like Bran- don Wimbush in 2015, five-star pros- pect Gunner Kiel in 2012 or five-star Dayne Crist in 2008. Ultimately, much more goes into any position than star ratings, and no one is owed anything based on reputation. This is the livelihood for the coaches, and their foremost objective is to win the games that are played today, not just throw anything against the wall and see what sticks. This is not about holding auditions in games. The rawness of Jurkovec was evi- dent during the spring contest, and even though he's made strides in various facets, it's not to the point where he has earned the trust of the staff, or at least not yet. During the 2013 season, there was unrest among many in the Notre Dame fan base that "there has to be somebody better than three-star re- cruit Tommy Rees" at quarterback, especially with four-star senior An- drew Hendrix on the roster. That opportunity was given when Rees was injured against USC. When the offense fell into the anemic level without Rees and failed to move the ball, never mind score, the consensus epiphany was reached about "now I get why Rees is the starter." I'm 100 percent confident in stating there is no conspiracy by the coaching staff to irritate the fan base about not playing someone else at quarterback. Kelly and Co. have demonstrated a willingness to make the change — Rees for Crist in 2011, Everett Gol- son for Rees in 2012, Malik Zaire for Golson in 2014, Book for Wimbush in 2018 — when they believe it is time and enough trust has been achieved. The deeper questions are what has gone so consistently wrong in recruiting and in the development at the position … and what of 2020? If Book does opt to return for his fifth season, will Jurkovec and fresh- man Brendon Clark remain patient to wait their turns? Will Notre Dame ever reach "the next level" while also finding stability combined with star power at quarterback? Those will be questions addressed in the coming months. There are plenty to sift through as it is for now. ✦ A Never-Ending Desire For 'The Next Big Thing' THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Sophomore Phil Jurkovec (above) arrived in South Bend with far more accolades then senior Ian Book, but that doesn't mean he is better equipped to serve as Notre Dame's starting quar- terback right now. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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