Notre Dame football has a conundrum at quarterback as it enters the 2018 season with presumably an open competition between Brandon Wimbush, Ian Book and incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec.
Wimbush was the starter in 2017, but accuracy issues plagued him at nearly every stop along the way and when Book took over and played well in the bowl win over LSU, it set the stage for a turbulent offseason. Add in Jurkovec, one of the top quarterback prospects in the country, and you’ve got the makings of what could be a confusing battle.
There would appear to be some likelihood the battle spills over into the regular season, which is a nightmare scenario for a program that’s getting top-15 or even top-10 billing heading into 2018. So perhaps it’s worth reevaluating the values of Wimbush and the experience he gained last season.
Nobody is going to argue that Wimbush is infallible as a passer. The accuracy concerns are justified by his 49.5 percent completion percentage. Wimbush completed less than 50 percent of his passes in six of the 12 games he played in 2017. However, despite that inaccuracy, he seems to have a solid understanding of the throws he is and isn’t capable of making.
In 275 pass attempts, Wimbush threw just 6 interceptions. He took care of the football and allowed the Notre Dame offense to commit to running the football knowing that he wouldn’t turn it over when they did land in obvious passing downs.
He also contributed considerably to that running game in a dependable way.
That’s not to say that Book or Jurkovec can’t make an impact in the running game and many will be quick to point out that Book for 36 yards in relief of Wimbush against LSU. However, the difference is that Book’s rushing yardage was primarily the result of his decision to run on broken passing plays than scripted runs, and those scripted runs are an important part of the Notre Dame running game.
Wimbush is built for designed run calls and can handle the rigors of taking contact as a runner 8-10 times a game with regularity because he’s built like a running back at 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds.
And with improvements in his footwork and throwing mechanics he can become a more accurate passer. He’ll never be Drew Brees, but if he can complete 55-57 percent of his passes while continuing to take care of the football he’ll be giving Notre Dame a more efficient and consistently reliable version of what they had last season.
That might not be College Football Playoff level performance and that’s probably the biggest hangup on Wimbush for a fan base that’s clamoring for its first title in 30 years and thinks that it’ll take somebody other than Wimbush to get it. And those people are probably right, but not even Notre Dame gets to jump the line in college football anymore.
Championship programs are built on the backs of consistent results. It allows you to recruit at a higher level and ultimately put together a roster that’s talented enough to earn its seat at the table.
Unless Book or Jurkovec show immediately (and Jurkovec won’t be on campus until the summer) that they deserve the job over Wimbush, sticking with the experienced option might be the best choice. If he struggles, they can always make a change in the season. However, if he shows improvement, the Irish should be better and they can sell quarterback recruits on the progress he’s made.