Blue and Gold Illustrated

May 2018

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

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Page 41 of 63

42 MAY 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED W hen Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush was on top of his game in 2017, the Irish offense was incredibly difficult to defend. One could make a strong case that his performances against Temple, Boston College, Michigan State, USC and Wake Forest were Wimbush's best of the season. In those five games, the Fighting Irish averaged 7.6 yards per play and 45.2 points and 555.8 total yards per contest. Wimbush racked up 1,434 total yards and accounted for 16 touch- downs in those games, all victories. The issue for Wimbush was play- ing at a high level on a regular basis. That reality makes his strong spring performance encouraging. Wimbush showed greater consis- tency, improved mechanics, quicker reads, better anticipation and en- hanced timing as a passer. Notre Dame needs Wimbush to carry that performance into the fall if it wants to be more balanced and play championship-caliber football. Wimbush, though, can and must improve in several areas. DROP-BACK GAME Drop-back throws are when the quarterback takes at least three full steps from the shotgun or a five-step drop when lined up under center with no backfield fake action. In 2017, Wimbush completed 59 of 123 drop-back throws (48.0 percent) for 1,068 yards with 11 touchdowns and just one interception. He added 239 rushing yards on 21 scrambles, which made the drop-back game productive. He posted a 148.8 passer efficiency rating on drop-back passes, which would have ranked him 23rd nation- ally if it was his overall rating. Receivers dropped five of Wim- bush's drop-back throws. If those had been caught his 52 percent com- pletion rate would be just less than the target number, which is around 55 percent or higher. Wimbush must improve his drop- back game by throwing better to the left and by reducing the 19 times he was sacked. He connected on 56.4 percent of his drop-back throws to the right, but just 41.2 percent to the left. If Wimbush can match his 2017 numbers to the right next season and improve his numbers on throws to the left to match his throws to the right, he would put up elite numbers in this category. His quarterback rating on drop- back throws to the right was 185.91. Only Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma posted a higher efficiency rating last season. PLAY-ACTION GAME Play-action throws are similar to drop backs. In this look, the running back and quarterback will execute a run-action fake before the quarter- back drops back to pass. Notre Dame's play-action game will need significant improvement. Wimbush completed just 33.3 per- cent of his play-action throws for 391 yards last season. Seven dropped passes didn't help his cause, but even if those balls are caught his numbers aren't nearly good enough. Wimbush has shown quicker deci- sion making and better timing on play-action throws this spring, and his receivers have been much more aggressive in attacking the football. If both get carried over into the fall, Notre Dame's play-action game will produce much better results, mak- ing defenses pay for over-playing the run game. The offense struggled to do this late in the 2017 season. QUICK GAME/SCREEN GAME No aspect of the pass game needs more work than the quick game, which consists of short drops by the quarterback and screen throws. Wimbush completed just 50.0 per- cent of his short drops last season with as many touchdowns as inter- ceptions (three each). Backup Ian Book was worse, throwing two interceptions and failing to reach the end zone with a quick-game toss. This is one area where Wimbush was not the issue. Notre Dame's re- ceivers had eight drops last season on his 40 attempts. If those eight balls were caught, Wimbush's completion rate jumps up to 70.0 percent, which is about where you want your short game to be. Wimbush can still improve his quick game by making faster and more accurate decisions, which would get his wideouts in better po- sition to make plays after the catch. Notre Dame completed 70.0 per- cent of its screen throws in 2017, which is about 10-15 points lower than the ideal rate. Even worse, Notre Dame averaged only 5.2 yards per completion and 3.6 yards per at- tempt when it ran a screen. Notre Dame needs to at least double those rates in 2018. If Wimbush can become a more decisive and accurate passer and if his receivers catch the ball more consistently the Irish pass game will take off next season. A more effective pass game with Notre Dame's strong ground attack would give the offense a chance to produce at a champion- ship level. ✦ Spring Improvement Must Carry Into The Fall CLOSER LOOK BRYAN DRISKELL Bryan Driskell has been a football analyst for Blue & Gold Illustrated since April 2015. He can be reached at If Notre Dame wants to play championship offense in 2018, it needs more consistent pass- ing production from senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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