Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2020

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

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Page 53 of 55

54 OCT. 17, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T his week's Irish in The Pros feature by Andrew Men- tock (pages 50-51) included a popular topic among Notre Dame faithful: Why is the leg- endary program having such difficulty producing marquee or NFL-caliber quarterbacks? In the current All-Notre Dame NFL lineup, quarterback was the lone missing piece — un- less one wants to put wideout Golden Tate or running back Theo Riddick into the wildcat formation for a full game. It's not like Notre Dame hasn't signed its share of highly touted prospects the past 15 years: Jimmy Clausen (2007), Dayne Crist (2008) and Gunner Kiel (2012) were all rare five-star prospects. Like Clausen, DeShone Kizer (2014) was a second-round selection in the NFL Draft after his junior year. Brandon Wimbush (2015) and Phil Jurkovec (2018) were premier athletes and top-100 prospects as quarterbacks. Tyler Buchner, an Irish commit who could enroll this winter, is as well. Everett Golson (2011) began a re- markable 15-1 as the starter, while Ma- lik Zaire (2013) debuted with supreme performances in victories over LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl (earning MVP honors) and Texas to commence the 2015 campaign (19 of 22 for 313 yards with three touchdowns). Yet for the most part, it has been the relatively unheralded three-star prospects who have thrived the most under head coach Brian Kelly. Current offensive coordinator Tommy Rees started the most wins in the 11-year Kelly era (23) — not in- cluding three huge saves off the bench versus Purdue, Michigan and Stanford during the 12-0 regular season in 2012. Meanwhile, current fifth-year se- nior Ian Book was 22-3 as the starter entering the matchup with Florida State Oct. 10, not including his save off the bench in the 21-17 conquest of LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2018. When it was time to name our 2010-19 Notre Dame All-Decade team, no one was more accomplished and consistent as a passer (highest efficiency rating under Kelly), runner (more than 1,000 career rushing yards), winner and leader (lone QB captain under Kelly). Others were bigger, stronger, faster or more promising NFL prospects, but none earned the trust like Book did. It's been a dubious string of misfor- tune that has combined both injuries or academic woes with a lack of progress, or even bad timing in the NFL. Clau- sen was 1-13 as a starter in the league, Kizer 0-15, and even first-round pick Brady Quinn (2003-06) 4-16. That's a 5-44 total for those keeping score. It used to be unfathomable to not have Notre Dame quarterback repre- sentation in the NFL, but it's become common the past 15 years. There was a time where not having a premier NFL prospect at quarter- back, even at Notre Dame, was not a significant issue if the surrounding talent was good enough. Joe Montana with the 1977 national champions was a notable exception, but the third-round selection was also blessed with the perfect timing to be drafted by first-year head coach and burgeoning Hall-of-Famer Bill Walsh. Had Montana been selected by New Orleans instead, the NFL career arc likely would not have been as prosperous or iconic. It's almost surreal in the modern era now to believe that Montana in his two bowl games at Notre Dame was 23 of 59 (39.0 percent) for two touchdowns and five interceptions. Plus, in his final season the 1-2 Irish totaled 24 points in his first three games (8.0 per contest). Such data today would be mocked and scorned. Notre Dame won the 1966 national title with a comeback against Michigan State and a win at USC that featured 5-11, 173-pound Coley O'Brien, who later moved to running back. Joe Theismann (1969-70) was mostly deemed too small to be an NFL quarterback and played his first three years in Canada. Speaking of Canada, that's where Tom Clements (1972-74), at the throttle for the 1973 na- tional title, also starred after not getting drafted by the NFL. Neither Tony Rice (1988-89) nor Kevin McDougal (1993) were drafted despite helping lead 23- and 17-game winning streaks (the two longest since 1950), and Gol- son/Rees plus Book/Wimbush — four more NFL long shots — were at the controls during 12-0 regular seasons. However, in the 21st century of col- lege football, nothing is classified as more important to achieving cham- pionship-level play than possessing an elite first-round level quarterback, preferably one who can run as well. The 2018 College Football Playoff featured future first-round (if not first overall) picks Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray … and Book, a quality athlete whose pro status was far more sketchy. Last year much of the same with No. 1 pick Joe Burrow, Lawrence, Justin Fields of Ohio State and Jalen Hurts from Oklahoma, the latter "merely" a second-round choice. From a stature standpoint, Book fits that O'Brien/Theismann/Clements genre, but the days of winning games 10-7 or 3-0 (like in Theismann's final two home games) or 10-3, 14-6 or 14-10 over the likes of Rice, Navy and Pitt in Clements' senior year, are long over in this wide-open era where 31-28 scores are viewed more as defensive slugfests. Notre Dame quarterback evolution needs to join this revolution. ✦ Quarterback Supremacy Is Now A Mandate THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Ian Book (left) and Brandon Wimbush (right) have helped Notre Dame achieve a 35-6 record since 2017 even though neither was or is currently viewed as a top NFL quarterback prospect. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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