TOM DAVIS: ‘Help wanted’ at Notre Dame for QB job

Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) throws against Stanford during the second half of a game Saturday in Stanford, Calif. Stanford won 38-20. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame wide receiver Kevin Stepherson (29) runs for a touchdown after a catch against Stanford during the first half of a game Saturday in Stanford, Calif. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, right, argues a call with the sideline referee during the first half of a game against Stanford, Saturday in Stanford, Calif. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe (80) cannot make the catch in the end zone in front of Stanford linebacker Jordan Perez (15) during the first half of a game Saturday in Stanford, Calif. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) throws against Stanford during the second half of a game Saturday in Stanford, Calif. Stanford won 38-20. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) runs against Stanford during the second half of a game Saturday in Stanford, Calif. Stanford won 38-20. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, right, watches the final minute of the team's game against Stanford on Saturday in Stanford, Calif. Stanford won 38-20. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) scrambles against Stanford during the second half of a game Saturday in Stanford, Calif. Stanford won 38-20. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) throws against Stanford during the second half of a game Saturday in Stanford, Calif. Stanford won 38-20. (By The Associated Press)

It would be easy to find fault in a number of areas for the Notre Dame football team following its 38-20 fourth-quarter collapse and defeat at Stanford Saturday evening.

The Fighting Irish (9-3) pass coverage lagged often.

The heralded Notre Dame offensive line got matched in its physicality, yet again, which played a role in the Irish run game being pedestrian.

And also, yet again, the quarterback play for Notre Dame was simply poor.

All of those things have occurred on more than one occasion this season, which by the way has been a pretty good year if you take a big-picture view of the Irish.

“I’m so proud of my football team,” veteran Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said afterwards. “They played a tough schedule this year. They played hard. Our seniors did a great job of putting our football program back to where it needs to be.”

All true.

This year was absolutely without question far better in so many ways than a year ago. I will not debate that with Kelly in any way, and he, his coaches, the players, and all associated with the program deserve accolades for that.

However, where I will take issue with Kelly and his postgame comments was the fact that he has been so quick to stick by redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Wimbush, regardless of how the guy performs.

On Saturday, he was terrible. Again. And moving forward, he needs to earn such confidence from Kelly with high-level of performances, against every opponent, not just the Wake Forest’s of the college football world, otherwise, he needs to be replaced.

“Brandon is a competitor,” Kelly said. “He’ll bounce back.”

Really? Will he?

Because throughout much of Saturday’s game, he looked unconfident and, as usual, terribly inaccurate.

The Stanford defense had allowed opposing quarterbacks this season to complete 64 percent of their throws for an average of 216 yards per game.

Wimbush was a horrible 11 of 28 with two interceptions, but did manage to accumulate 249 yards passing. However, take a closer look at those yards.

Wimbush hit wide receiver Kevin Stepherson for an 83-yard score in the opening quarter, but the throw was late and nearly batted down, as well as short (it was less than a 10-yard throw), with Stepherson doing the rest of the work.

To open the second half, Wimbush hooked up on a similar route with receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, who bolted past several Cardinal defenders en route to a 75-yard score.

Neither pass took a great amount of thought or accuracy; it was simply a short-yardage crossing route that the receivers exploded on.

“They played fast,” Kelly said of the two receivers. “That’s the way we’ve got to have them play. They’re both guys that can be game changers.”

So can Wimbush – if Notre Dame is playing Boston College.

But if Notre Dame goes up against a top-notch program, Wimbush hasn’t shown the ability to consistently throw accurate passes downfield, which is a problem if you are a quarterback for a program trying to enter the national picture.

Take away those two throws, and Wimbush would’ve finished with just nine completions in 26 attempts for 91 yards. Only two of Stanford’s 12 opponents haven’t completed at least 50 percent of their throws against that defense.

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You could legitimately argue that Wimbush has gotten worse as a passer as this season has gone on, not better. But Kelly isn’t wavering on him.

“He is who he is,” Kelly said of his quarterback.

Exactly, that’s the point of this column.

“He wants to win as bad as anybody,” Kelly continued. “He’ll go back to work and work on his craft.”

“He’s our starting quarterback. He’ll be starting in the bowl game.”

Perhaps Kelly is sticking with Wimbush because he knows back-up Ian Book isn’t any better, and Book hasn’t shown that he is in limited time.

However, Kelly ought to spend the next month evaluating both Book and Wimbush and allow both to get work in the bowl game.

The future of this program rests on quality play from its quarterback and the Irish haven’t gotten that throughout much of this season.

Kelly had to improve this past off-season to secure his job at Notre Dame long term and the same standard should be applied to everyone within the program, Wimbush included.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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