With the 2018 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season behind us, we can start to look towards the future. Next up in the grand scheme of things is spring football. This series will provide a quick look at all the position groups for Notre Dame football as we enter winter workouts, and spring practice.
Really, there was no bigger debate about the 2018 football team in the preseason than what was going to happen at quarterback. Was it going to be Brandon Wimbush, or was it going to be Ian Book? For most of the summer, the answer was simple for those of us that covered Notre Dame football... Brandon Wimbush was the starter.
We’ve seen quarterback competitions before, and this never really resembled one. It was a fairly easy call to proclaim that Brandon Wimbush was the starter, because Notre Dame and Brian Kelly made that publicly known for quite some time — so that makes everyone right and everyone wrong.
I’ve thrown this scenario/thought/conspiracy-theory out a few times, but I think it’s worth another mention:
There were more than a few rumors coming out of fall camp that Ian Book had positioned himself as the best option at quarterback, but because of the defense that Michigan plays, Notre Dame went with Brandon Wimbush. Once they did that and won, it took a couple of games of off target passing by Wimbush (albeit wins) for Notre Dame to make the change to Book.
Ian Book’s biggest weakness right now isn’t his long throws — it’s his play against strong defensive fronts. We saw it against Pitt, and we saw it against Clemson. So, that whole preseason scenario makes perfect sense. You have to think that the coaching staff saw this in practice against Notre Dame’s own front seven (which is damn good) and knew Book wasn’t ready for it yet. The problem was that for all the great things he did this year, he still wasn’t ready in that respect.
At least we know what he needs to work on to get to the next level.
DEPARTURES FROM 2018
Brandon Wimbush has already made the decision to transfer somewhere else to play in his final year of eligibility. People have had plenty to say about Wimbush, and a lot of it wasn’t in the best light. Regardless of all that, Wimbush was 13-3 as a starter at Notre Dame and had some big wins in the process.
The 49-14 thrashing of USC in 2017 will always be a classic, and the win over Michigan this past season didn’t just get things rolling for the Irish — it was their best win of the year. The blowout win versus Florida State may be one that history will forget, but for a 2-year starting quarterback to lead the team to a victory like that after being benched for the previous 8 games — well it was pretty incredible.
RETURNING FOR 2019
It’s a lot like last year at this time. The returning starting quarterback is being judged (and looked over) by a large portion of the fanbase. Yes, Ian Book had a bad game against Clemson, but there were some very good reasons that it wasn’t entirely his fault. Still, with a blue-chip prospect like Phil Jurkovec as the #2 quarterback now, the pressure for Book to perform at a high level only increases.
Because Book started 9 games, the Irish get a ton of production back in 2019. Because Phil Jurkovec was the #3 quarterback and a freshman, the Irish get a ton of inexperience in the fold as the next man in for 2019.
Returning Quarterback Passing Production
|12 Ian Book (SR)||12||214||314||2628||19||7||68.15%|
|15 Phil Jurkovec (SO)||2||0||2||0||0||0||0.00%|
Returning Quarterback Rushing Production
|12 Ian Book (SR)||12||95||393||113||280||2.9||4|
|15 Phil Jurkovec (SO)||2||2||9||0||9||4.5||0|
3-Star quarterback Brendon Clark is not one of the 10 early enrollees this winter, and will join the Irish this summer. While this puts him as a “non-factor” for 2019, one play could make him a HUGE factor.
If you take away the loss to Clemson, I think there is a much rosier outlook for Ian Book as the starter in 2019. By all accounts he had a really nice season, and further development could put him closer to an elite level. For as accurate a passer as Ian Book is, he simply has to get better at 3 specific things:
- Become more accurate with the deep pass. Too many times Book underthrew or overthrew an open man downfield. Better strength should improve his confidence, and in return — his accuracy.
- Book has to improve both his pocket presence and his total field recognition. His best game is a quick read and throw, but in the games that he has struggled the most, it was his feet and his downfield reads (or lack there of) that got him into trouble.
Book is going to have to deal with being the “front-runner” for the first time in his career during the offseason. It’s a lot different out there at practice as the hunted as opposed to the hunter — will he handle the pressure correctly? Will he be tight, or can he take it all in stride and play as loose as he has since his accession?
For Phil Jurkovec, it’s all about his development within the system. We all know he has the physical skills to be one of the all-time greats at Notre Dame, but he’s still learning. He didn’t enroll early last year, so after a season of mostly scout team work, he simply must get a firmer grasp of what Chip Long is trying to do.
The decision by Brian Kelly and Chip Long to make the change at quarterback, and its success, should only embolden them should anything similar cross their path in 2019. Can Jurkovec take that next step? If he had to, would he be capable to lead this Irish team to a victory?
I expect more 50/50 reps for the quarterbacks this spring. While the advancement of Ian Book is priority number one, the Irish must also get Jurkovec fully prepared to play should the need arise.
RANDOM RANDOMNESS TO PONDER
Think about this... DeShone Kizer could have been a 5th year senior on this 2018 Notre Dame football team.— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) January 6, 2019
What would be different?
How do you feel about Notre Dame’s QB situation in 2019?
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