Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2017

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 35 of 55

36 FEBRUARY 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED QB INEXPERIENCE: A PLUS FOR KELLY/NOTRE DAME One of the best built-in excuses in football for a disappointing or rebuilding year is having an inex- perienced or first-time starter at quarterback. At Notre Dame under Kelly, it's been the opposite. He and his staff have been at their finest with a green- horn quarterback at the throttle. He will have that in 2017 with ju- nior Brandon Wimbush, who has had only two game appearances and red- shirted this past season. His likely backup, sophomore Ian Book, also was redshirted. Cause for panic? Not if you look at Kelly's history: • After a 4-5 start in 2010 with five- star junior Dayne Crist, Notre Dame finished a surprising 4-0 with true freshman Tommy Rees making the starts in place of the injured Crist. The Irish simplified and went to a more power base. • With redshirt freshman Everett Golson the starter in 2012 (he did miss one game with an injury) while receiving some valuable assistance from Rees, Notre Dame was 12-1 while simplifying and leaning on its powerful defense. • In the 2014 Music City Bowl, red- shirt freshman Malik Zaire received the starting nod against favored LSU, and he was named game MVP while directing a 31-28 victory to snap a four-game losing streak. • In 2015, redshirt freshman De- Shone Kizer was suddenly thrust into the lineup in the second game after a season-ending injury to Zaire and was crucial in Notre Dame's 10-1 start, leading fourth-quarter come- back victories at Virginia, Temple and at home ver- sus USC. Then in the regular season finale at 10-1 Stan- ford, he marched the Irish 88 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 30 seconds to play before the Cardinal made their own dramatic rally. Statistically or in overall play/ results, Golson, Zaire and Kizer e a c h r e g r e s s e d after their initial prominence. I n s u m m a r y, Kelly has achieved his greatest suc- cess at Notre Dame when his offense is not as expan- sive and not rife with "paralysis by analysis" with vet- eran quarterbacks at the helm. When he is "forced" to simplify and lean on the ground at- tack more to take some onus off a neophyte signal-caller, he has had his most success. Kelly has been 23-4 (.852) with a freshman or redshirt freshman at quarterback, and 36-27 (.571) other- wise. Wimbush is not a rookie, and he will be in his third spring at Notre Dame this year, but he has not seen meaningful action. "When I'm forced to go back to what I believe are the tenets of our offense and defense, I revert back to those basics," Kelly admitted last fall. "… We've added a little bit too much — 'Check this, check that.' "Run the damn play!" Those "basic tenets" included a sound running game that averaged 202.4 yards during a 12-0 regular sea- son in 2012 and 207.6 in 2015 when the Irish started 10-1. In the other five and less successful years, it was in the more pedestrian 120- to 160-yard range. Wimbush, rated higher that Gol- son, Zaire or Kizer coming out of high school, also will be the benefi- ciary of a seasoned line, receivers, tight ends and running backs to help compensate for his inexperience. SCHEDULED FOR SUCCESS One of the main reasons Notre Dame was a popular preseason top- 10 selection in 2016 was its schedule was deemed highly "favorable." Indeed, only one of its first six op- ponents would finish above .500, that being Stanford, which was at home and also in a rebuilding year. The trip to USC in the finale was classified as the lone game where the Irish oppo- nent would be a definite favorite and with more overall talent. The 2017 schedule might be con- sidered a little more treacherous, es- pecially because all five road outings — Boston College, Michigan State, North Carolina, Miami and Stanford — are far from gimmes. Plus, the Fighting Irish are 3-10 in their last 13 "true" road games (non-neutral sites), although the law of averages could now be in their favor in that area. The home slate is highlighted by first-time visitor Georgia (Sept. 9) and rival USC (Oct. 21). The Bulldogs seldom have ventured out of SEC territory, while the Trojans have lost their lost two visits to Notre Dame Stadium, and the Irish will have a bye the week prior. Our guess is based on the 4-8 re- sult in 2016, the Las Vegas preseason over-under win total for Notre Dame in the 2017 regular season will be something like 7.5. That sets it up ideally for a dra- matic Fighting Irish rebound in 2017, because … RENAISSANCE REUNION If you've been a faithful follower of Notre Dame the past 20 years, you know the drill: Just when you think Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush's inexperience may actually be a good thing for the Irish offense, because it will "force" it to simplify and lean on the ground attack more like Notre Dame did during successful seasons in 2012 and 2015. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - February 2017