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Notre Dame Football: How Brandon Wimbush Compares to Kizer, Golson, Rees, Clausen, Quinn and Holiday

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A statistical look at how the other quarterbacks with Wimbush’s experience measure up to the Irish’s current QB.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one number we all seem to associate with Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush, it’s 49.5.

Wimbush, a rising senior, completed less than half of his passes for the Irish in 2017. When I think of that statistic, this one play — above all others — comes to mind:

The Irish are in the midst of being depantsed by the Miami-Florida Hurricanes, and Wimbush looks like he forgot how to throw.

I began to wonder why I remembered every bad throw, instead of bullets like this:

If this sounds familiar, it may not surprise you that there are both physiological and psychological reasons for why you and I both remember what went wrong more vividly than what went right.

Roy F. Baumeister, a Florida State social psychology professor, wrote in “Bad is Stronger Than Good,” that “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”

This is our evolution. Our ancestors persevered because “survival requires urgent attention to possible bad outcomes but less urgent with regard to good ones.”

This is why I like to look at data. Statistics have no bias, although when I interpret the information I, knowingly or unknowingly, do so from a specific point of view.

So here’s my theory: Brandon Wimbush is arguably running a more productive offense than any other Irish quarterback this century with Wimbush’s same experience.

I’ve charted the first 735 snaps of the only seven Irish quarterbacks who have taken at least that many snaps since 2001: Wimbush, DeShone Kizer, Everett Golson, Tommy Rees, Jimmy Clausen, Brady Quinn and Carlyle Holiday. (Why 735? That’s how many Wimbush has so far.)

Here’s the data. Let me know your conclusions in the comments.

OVERALL OFFENSIVE PROWESS

Notre Dame Offensive Rankings

Year Quarterback(s) Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank Total Offense Rank Offensive S&P+ Rank
Year Quarterback(s) Rushing Offense Rank Passing Offense Rank Total Offense Rank Offensive S&P+ Rank
2000 Battle, Godsey, Lovecchio 213.55 15 132.18 109 345.73 76 n/a n/a
2001 LoVecchio, Holiday 188.18 30 101.55 114 289.73 110 n/a n/a
2002 Holiday, Dillingham 139.38 68 174.15 91 313.54 108 n/a n/a
2003 Quinn, Holiday 157.25 56 179.08 92 336.33 90 n/a n/a
2004 Quinn, Dillingham 127.42 85 218.08 54 345.5 81 n/a n/a
2007 Clausen, Sharpley, Jones 75.25 115 167 110 242.25 119 15.8 117
2008 Clausen, Sharpley 109.69 100 245.38 34 355.08 65 23.2 83
2010 Crist, Rees, Montana 126.62 92 253.08 34 379.69 61 35.6 16
2011 Rees, Hendrix, Crist 160.38 54 252.62 40 413 35 36.3 14
2012 Golson, Rees 189.38 38 222.77 71 412.15 54 35.2 21
2014 Golson, Zaire 159.5 68 285.5 18 444.9 32 36.8 21
2015 Zaire, Kizer, Wimbush 207.6 28 258.8 35 466.4 27 41.2 11
2016 Kizer, Zaire 163.3 80 254.3 48 417.6 62 34.4 36
2017 Wimbush, Book 269.3 7 178.9 102 448.2 27 33.6 24
2018 Wimbush, Book 194.8 47 246 59 441.7 45 34.8 32

PLAY SELECTION

Run/Pass Under Select ND Quarterbacks (First 735 Snaps)

Quarterback Run Pass Run/pass mix Run yards Pass yards Total Comp Comp % Yds per comp Yds per att
Quarterback Run Pass Run/pass mix Run yards Pass yards Total Comp Comp % Yds per comp Yds per att
HOLIDAY 539 196 73/27 2230 1106 3336 99 50.51% 11.2 5.6
QUINN 381 354 52/48 1675 1942 3617 170 48.02% 11.4 5.5
CLAUSEN 378 357 51/49 880 1986 2866 201 56.30% 9.9 5.6
REES 345 390 47/53 1745 2692 4437 249 63.85% 10.8 6.9
GOLSON 403 332 55/45 1982 2574 4556 197 59.34% 13.1 7.8
KIZER 396 339 54/46 2151 2904 5055 214 63.13% 13.6 8.6
WIMBUSH 455 280 62/38 3046 1887 4933 139 49.64% 13.6 6.7

While Wimbush’s completion percentage is only above Quinn’s among the selected quarterbacks, his yards per competition is just slightly better than Kizer’s for first overall.

We can point to Quinn as an example of someone who got markedly better after their first 735 snaps. On the flip side, what do Kizer’s next 735 snaps look like? Both Wimbush and Kizer are under the auspices of Coach Brian Kelly (although their offensive coordinators and quarterbacks coaches are different).

FIRST DOWNS

First Down Breakdown

Quarterback 1Ds 1Ds by pass 1Ds by QB run % of 1Ds accounted for % of 1D runs accounted for by QB
Quarterback 1Ds 1Ds by pass 1Ds by QB run % of 1Ds accounted for % of 1D runs accounted for by QB
HOLIDAY 160 51 40 56.9% 36.70%
QUINN 160 86 15 63.1% 20.27%
CLAUSEN 146 85 10 65.1% 16.39%
REES 215 131 5 63.3% 5.95%
GOLSON 222 121 25 65.8% 24.75%
KIZER 223 124 34 70.9% 34.34%
WIMBUSH 197 80 40 60.9% 34.19%

I’m uncertain this helps my theory, but it’s data to consider. Notre Dame, as a team, accumulated 197 first downs with Wimbush under center. That’s fourth highest among the seven quarterbacks studied. Wimbush — whether his arm or his legs — accounted for 61 percent of those first downs. That’s actually second-lowest.

If you look solely at runs by each quarterback that gained first downs as a percentage of total first down runs by Notre Dame, Wimbush is third, just behind Kizer.

TOUCHDOWNS

Touchdowns Among Select Notre Dame Quarterbacks (First 735 Snaps)

Quarterback TDs TDs thrown TDs thrown % TDs run TDs run by QB % of Total TDs That Were QB Runs TDs by QB (arm or legs) TDs by QB as % of Total TDs
Quarterback TDs TDs thrown TDs thrown % TDs run TDs run by QB % of Total TDs That Were QB Runs TDs by QB (arm or legs) TDs by QB as % of Total TDs
HOLIDAY 19 3 15.8% 16 2 10.53% 5 26.32%
QUINN 22 9 40.9% 13 0 0.00% 9 40.91%
CLAUSEN 20 14 70.0% 6 2 10.00% 16 80.00%
REES 39 26 66.7% 13 0 0.00% 26 66.67%
GOLSON 32 12 37.5% 20 8 25.00% 20 62.50%
KIZER 47 22 46.8% 25 10 21.28% 32 68.09%
WIMBUSH 45 16 35.6% 29 14 31.11% 30 66.67%

Wimbush’s arm has accounted for 16 touchdowns and his feet an additional 14. That puts him second only behind Kizer in ability to find the end zone by himself. With the rising senior under center, 31 percent of the total touchdowns scored have been courtesy of Wimbush’s legs, the most of any quarterback studied.

(Aside: It’s almost hard to imagine how the Notre Dame offense even worked in 2001 without a quarterback capable of keeping defenses honest with his arm or his feet.)

MISCUES

Miscues Among Select Notre Dame Quarterbacks (First 735 Snaps)

Quarterback INT INT per att Fumbles Fumbles Lost Fum by QB Fum lost by QB QB carries Fum lost per QB carry Sacks Sacked per pass attempt
Quarterback INT INT per att Fumbles Fumbles Lost Fum by QB Fum lost by QB QB carries Fum lost per QB carry Sacks Sacked per pass attempt
HOLIDAY 7 3.6% 18 10 11 5 176 2.8% 25 12.8%
QUINN 15 4.2% 12 3 5 2 48 4.2% 12 3.4%
CLAUSEN 12 3.4% 23 12 7 3 72 4.2% 37 10.4%
REES 14 3.6% 12 5 6 4 26 15.4% 7 1.8%
GOLSON 6 1.8% 14 7 8 4 100 4.0% 16 4.8%
KIZER 10 2.9% 14 8 5 2 136 1.5% 22 6.5%
WIMBUSH 6 2.1% 7 5 7 5 148 3.4% 23 8.2%

Golson was slightly better than Wimbush not throwing into an opponent’s hands during his first year. Kizer and Holiday were less likely than Wimbush to cough up the football on a running play or sack, although the difference is slight.

Perhaps the most eye popping stat: Rees coughed up the football 15 percent of the times he ran (or was sacked) during his first year and a half.

CONCLUSION

My theory was that Brandon Wimbush is arguably running a more productive offense than any other Irish quarterback this century with Wimbush’s same experience.

There’s a good case to be made for Kizer, who eclipsed Wimbush in passing yards, total yards, first downs, first downs by pass, percentage of first downs personally accounted for, percent of first down runs QB accounted for, touchdowns, touchdowns thrown, total touchdowns by QB and had fewer fumbles lost, fumbles lost per carry and sacks.

So if Wimbush is a slightly worse Kizer, is that a good place to be? That all depends on what the next 735 snaps look like. If Wimbush’s next 735 are like Quinn’s 736 through 1470 — where then the sophomore from Dublin, Ohio ups his completion percentage by 5.5 percent, throws for 2,338 yards, 16 touchdown passes, runs for three more scores against 10 interceptions and just one lost fumble — then it’s probably a 10 or 11 win season.

BOUNDARY OF DATA STUDIED

Holiday: His 735 snaps includes the entirety of his 2001 season: Nebraska Cornhuskers (25 snaps), Michigan State Spartans (8), Texas A&M Aggies (31), Pittsburgh Panthers (70), West Virginia Mountaineers (83), USC Trojans (64), Boston College Eagles (73), Tennessee Volunteers (69), Navy Midshipmen (63), Stanford Cardinal (56), Purdue Boilermakers (54) and these games in 2002: Maryland Terrapins (56), Purdue (67) and the first 16 snaps of the Michigan Wolverines game.

Quinn: His 735 snaps include the entirety of his 2003 season — Washington State Cougars (5 snaps), Michigan (13), Michigan State Spartans (22), Purdue (84), Pittsburgh (73), USC (70), Boston College (73), Florida State Seminoles (82), Navy (75), BYU Cougars (80), Stanford Cardinal (53), Syracuse Orange (71) — and the first 34 snaps of the 2004 season opener against BYU.

Clausen: His 735 snaps include the entirety of his 2007 season — Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (11 snaps), Penn State Nittany Lions (58), Michigan (41), Michigan State (45), Purdue (43), UCLA Bruins (65), Boston College (32), Air Force Falcons (78), Duke Blue Devils (76), Stanford (71) — and these 2008 games: San Diego State Aztecs (67), Michigan (55), Michigan State (63) and the first 30 snaps of the Purdue game.

Rees: His 735 snaps include the entirety of his 2010 season — Michigan (5 snaps), Boston College (3), Western Michigan Broncos (7), Navy (10), Tulsa Golden Hurricane (74), Utah Utes (49), Army Black Knights (56), USC (64), Miami (75) — and these games in the 2011 season: South Florida Bulls (42), Michigan (72), Michigan State (58), Pittsburgh (73), Purdue (77), Air Force (51) and his first 19 snaps of the USC game.

Golson: His 735 snaps include the entirety of his 2012 season — Navy (49 snaps), Purdue (64), Michigan State (63), Michigan (18), Miami (61), Stanford (62), Oklahoma Sooners (64), Pittsburgh (90), Boston College (64), Wake Forest Demon Deacons (46), USC (68), Alabama Crimson Tide (55) — and the first 31 plays of the 2014 game against the Rice Owls.

Kizer: His 735 snaps include the entirety of his 2015 season — Texas Longhorns (14 snaps), Virginia Cavaliers (18), Georgia Tech (62), UMass Minutemen (55), Clemson Tigers (66), Navy (70), USC (59), Temple Owls (67), Pittsburgh (63), Wake Forest (49), Boston College (72), Stanford (60), Ohio State Buckeyes (69) — and the first 14 snaps of the 2016 Texas game.

Wimbush: His 735 snaps are his entire career — 2015 games against UMass and Pittsburgh and the entirety of the 2017 season.