Wimbush’s triumphant first start filled with near-misses positive and negative; more notes

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — As far as debuts go, Brandon Wimbush’s will suffice. He had said all he wanted to do was sing the Alma Mater after a victory. The junior quarterback got to enjoy that.

A few minutes later, Wimbush said that moment with his teammates was a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” Presumably Wimbush meant as much figuratively because Notre Dame is scheduled to play six more home games this season and each one of those is another theoretical opportunity to stand in front of the student section singing that song.

The slippage of phrasing was not Wimbush’s first mistake of the day, though. He mixed those in with his successes. The latter set — the 290 combined yards and three touchdowns, the long run of 24 yards and the long pass of 34 — will gain more notoriety moving forward. Deservedly so, such are the riches that come with victory.

“When you assess the quarterback position at the end of the day, they are going to assess him on wins and losses and today was a good day for the quarterback at Notre Dame because we are 1-0,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Notre Dame’s 49-16 win over Temple on Saturday. “… For a guy starting for the first time, he provided some excitement and energy to the offense.”

Wimbush also provided some lost breaths and furrowed, concerned eyebrows. Such are the perils that come with a young, dual-threat quarterback.

“There will be things that we’ve got to clean up there, certainly,” Kelly said. For example, Wimbush threw a pass toward junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown in the fourth quarter. Possibly from the moment Wimbush took the snap, he intended to throw to St. Brown. He did not try well enough to hide that plan from the Owls secondary, particularly from cornerback Mike Jones, who Wimbush admitted to not seeing. (The grammatical error in the usage of who is intentional in this one instance.)

“The interception, he’s got to key the corner. The corner came off, lagged,” Kelly said. “But [Wimbush is] telling me on the way back, ‘I’ve got to keep my eyes on the corner.’ He ends the conversation pretty quickly with me.

“I love that about him. Very coachable and we’ll get better and he’ll be better next week.”

A better Wimbush could spell trouble for coming opponents. Temple coach Geoff Collins said he thought they were ready for whatever the Irish quarterback would bring to the table. For the most part, the Owls defense stuck to its assignments, but Wimbush found a way around them.

“The touchdown pass down in the red zone, we had him hemmed up, he stepped in, moved outside,” Collins said. “Just a tremendous athlete. We knew he had a strong arm, we knew he was athletic, but then that pace of the offense and his athletic ability, I was impressed with.”

Wimbush’s athleticism could get him in trouble if he does not become a bit more cautious. Every mobile quarterback must come to the conclusion avoiding some unnecessary conflict is a wise decision and one that could make him only more effective in the long run.

“He’s a pretty smart guy,” Kelly said. “He’s going to know when to get out of bounds, when to slide, when to protect himself. He got hit one time, and I think he’ll be smart enough to know when to get down.”

Bluntly enough, Wimbush wanted to get hit. That’s a direct quote. “I wanted to get hit. That felt really good to me.”

It was, after all, November of 2015 when anyone was even allowed to hit Wimbush. For a competitor in a physical game, that interim had become intolerable. But now that punishment gluttony should, theoretically, be out of Wimbush’s system.

“I have to be smarter a little bit and slide when the opportunity presents itself,” he said. “I’ll be sore tomorrow, but right now I’m great. I’m in a great place right now.”

In large part because of Wimbush, Notre Dame is in a great place right now, too. The Irish know as much, as well.

“We’re as lucky as anybody in the country to have a quarterback like him and a guy like him,” graduate student senior left Mike McGlinchey said. “More good things to come and you’re only going to see improvement out of him, too.”

On special teams:
Notre Dame limited Temple to only 23.7 yards per kick return and a total of two yards on two punt returns. Improving the special teams units has been a point of emphasis often overlooked by those outside the program this past offseason. Its payoff showed in the field position battle Saturday.

Of the Owls’ 13 possessions starting on their own half of the field — only excluding the drive which began with the interception of Wimbush — seven of them never crossed midfield. Only three of the 12 qualifying Irish drives failed to meet that metric.

Kelly praised the special teams as a whole, even though junior kicker Justin Yoon missed both of his field goal attempts, one off the right upright and the other wide the same direction.

“I’m not really concerned,” Kelly said. “[Yoon is] hitting the ball really well. It leaked twice on him to the right and he was trying to make the adjustment. It just got away from him and leaked a little bit. … He’s hitting the ball pretty good. As you saw on kickoffs, he’s driving the ball.”

On any injuries
As of Saturday evening, the only injury Notre Dame suffered was a shot to graduate student senior tight end Durham Smythe’s head. Kelly said Smythe went through concussion protocol.

“He came out pretty good after the game,” Kelly said. “… He was correcting me on my talk to the team, so he was pretty good.”

That should not be read as a guarantee Smythe plays next week against Georgia. There will be further updates on that later in the week.

On the sellout streak
Whether it is dubious or not, Notre Dame Stadium’s sellout streak survives another week. As of Saturday morning, dozens of tickets remained available for purchase on the official University website, but by early afternoon, all were gone.

More notably, the sellout confirmed the new capacity figure for the renovated Stadium. 77,622 attended the Irish victory.