Associated Press

Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 7 Brandon Wimbush, quarterback, second-year starter

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-1 ¾, 225 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Senior with two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: In 40 days, Wimbush will take Notre Dame’s first offensive snaps against Michigan, barring injury. It is that simple. Expect junior Ian Book to back up Wimbush with incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec getting a more-than nominal chance at taking over that secondary role.
Recruiting: A name not often heard anymore led to Wimbush landing at Notre Dame: Blake Barnett. When the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2015 de-committed from the Irish to head to Alabama, the recruiting dominos led to Wimbush de-committing from Penn State and taking Barnett’s former spot. A consensus four-star recruit and Under Armour All-American, Wimbush was rated the No. 4 dual-threat passer in the class by rivals.com and the No. 60 overall prospect in the country.

CAREER TO DATE
The two games Wimbush played in 2015 to provide emergency depth are hardly pertinent anymore, but Malik Zaire’s broken ankle was the sole reason Wimbush played as a freshman and spent his sophomore season preserving a year of eligibility to get back onto a normal timeline.

2015: Two games; 3-of-5 passing for 17 yards and seven rushes for 96 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown run against UMass.
2016: Preserved a year of eligibility.

That timeline resulted in Wimbush starting as a junior as planned, missing only the North Carolina game due to a minor foot injury. His highs were stellar and efficient (14-of-20 for 173 yards with a touchdown and eight rushes for 52 yards and a score at Michigan State), while his lows were correspondingly troublesome (two interceptions at Miami and Stanford each).

2017: 12 games, 12 starts; 136-of-275 passing for 1,870 yards and 16 touchdowns with six interceptions. 117 rushes for 833 yards, a 7.12 per carry average, and 14 touchdowns with four fumbles lost (sacks adjusted).

QUOTE(S)
Irish head coach Brian Kelly has maintained since last season that any mechanical issues Wimbush may have had were the result of mental mistakes, not physical limitations. With the calm of the offseason, Wimbush addressed those issues.

“There definitely is a difference in the way he is performing at that position compared to last year,” Kelly said in late March. “If that continues to trend, that puts in a really good position at quarterback.

“… His drop is consistent, which allows him to get the ball out timely. He was late on a lot of throws last year, and consequently, put himself in bad positions. His accuracy is better, especially on some of the shorter throws. If I would highlight one thing, he’s cleaned up his footwork, which has given him a lot more confidence in getting the ball out on time.”

Aside from those disastrous turnovers in Notre Dame’s two November losses, the greatest criticism of Wimbush traces to his demeanor. Some would call it level-headed, but the lack of fire-and-brimstone from the Irish quarterback stands out in a less than ideal way when trailing 24-20 (and 31-20 and 38-20) in the fourth quarter of a meaningful regular-season finale.

Kelly spent much of spring practice prodding Wimbush to change some of that approach.

“With Brandon, as he plays, he likes to take a deep breath and calm down,” Kelly said the week before the Blue-Gold Game. “What I want him to do is amp it up a little bit. When he’s amped up and he’s talking and he’s communicating, that comforts the other 10 players. Because they know if Brandon Wimbush is out there barking and telling the other guys what to do, they know we’re going to score.

“It’s flipping that role a little bit and putting that on Brandon. I want you to be vocal, I want you to say I want the ball. If the other guys hear that and you have that kind of demeanor and mindset, the other 10 guys are going to be cool customers.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“This isn’t complicated. As Wimbush goes, so will go Notre Dame’s offense. To a large extent, as the Irish offense goes, so will go the season. A quick application of the transitive property indicates as Wimbush goes, so will go Notre Dame’s season as a whole.

“That could be a lot to put on an unproven and inexperienced starter. Wimbush should be the exception to that rule. He displayed his athleticism in his first collegiate action with that 58-yard touchdown scamper. His arm has dazzled in practices for two years now such that it seems it might be unanimous he had the strongest arm on the team last season.

“Will Wimbush make some mistakes this season? Undoubtedly. But the same could be said of any experienced veteran, as well.

“As far as projecting any statistics, let’s defer to Phil Steele’s computers, both because they have a proven track record and because speculating the output of an unknown commodity such as Wimbush sounds like the job for an automated program. They project the Irish offense will average 268.0 passing yards per game. That would top every year of Kelly’s time at Notre Dame aside from 2014’s 285 passing yards per game.

“If Wimbush reaches that mark while limiting turnovers — and that is not even factoring in his legs’ inevitable impact on the game — then the Irish should have little difficulty making the scoreboard work in 2017.”

(Getty Images)

2018 OUTLOOK
The internet era of 2018 and its constant churn make it hard to remember Wimbush was a first-year starter last season. No matter how many practice reps a player takes (especially when half of those come on scout team), no matter how much film he watches, no matter how mature he undeniably is, things change when Georgia’s defensive line is chasing you or Hard Rock Stadium has gone full tilt.

It is hard to prepare for those moments without experiencing a few of them. Many of Wimbush’s 2017 hiccups can be justifiably explained away as such. The fourth quarter at Stanford, however, stands out as a worst-case scenario example for 2018. Wimbush ended two consecutive drives with poor throws resulting in interceptions, the first on the drive’s initial play and the second at the goal line to stop the Irish from cutting the deficit to two possessions. Of course, C.J. Sanders’ kickoff return fumble sandwiched between the two did not help matters, nor did the Notre Dame defense giving up touchdowns on three consecutive drives.

When considering gross statistics, Wimbush produced last season. A combined 30 touchdowns cannot be dismissed. When considering percentages and averages, though, his 49.5 percent completion rate and 6.8 yards per pass attempt are both wanting.

If he finds calm in the chaotic moments — Michigan’s defense being the parallel to Georgia’s of last year, and Blacksburg, Va., replacing Miami — then Wimbush will have progressed in the leadership roles Kelly hopes for. Growing just a bit as a passer will then make him the complete threat this offense will need as it looks to revamp a record-setting running game.

Complete two more passes per game and Wimbush’s rate jumps to 58.2 percent last season. It is not a big ask, and one not entirely on his shoulders. Notre Dame’s receivers and tight ends left at least that many passes on the turf across his 12 starts.

Perhaps that should be the starting point for any projections. If Wimbush completes 57 or 58 percent of his passes with a yards per attempt greater than 7.5, the Irish offense will hum. Deferring to Steele’s computers once again, 198.5 passing yards per game equals 2,581 over 13 games. Maybe that is a bit steep, but Wimbush should make up that difference with his legs.

The greatest questions this season, nonetheless, come in a less measurable way. If Notre Dame needs a two-minute drive or fourth-quarter rally to win against Michigan in the opener or at USC in the finale, will Wimbush be able to make it happen? He had two similar moments a year ago, and the then first-year starter fell short in both.

DOWN THE ROAD
A great season, something in line with the numbers set forth two paragraphs ago, and Wimbush should consider the NFL while the opportunity is at its greatest. His arm strength and 40-speed alone will catch front offices’ attention. Shine against the Wolverines and the Hokies in primetime, and he could be in first- or second-round conversations. Crazier things have very much happened.

A good season, comparable to last year’s stats but with better clutch moments, and Wimbush will presumably return for his final season of eligibility. It is hard to envision Kelly benching a third-year starter with back-to-back double-digit win seasons in favor of a redshirt freshman. At the least, there would be a position competition with Wimbush the frontrunner, although the debate would reignite the moment he had a misstep in the 2019 season.

A 2018 like 2017 in every way could send Wimbush somewhere else as a graduate transfer. The Irish have their quarterback of the future, one supposedly already more technically sound than Wimbush. If Jurkvoec’s lack of experience hardly differentiates from Wimbush’s struggles in big moments, then the youngster will represent the better option moving forward once any eligibility concerns are a moot point.

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NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior
No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety, junior
No. 20 Shaun Crawford, nickelback, senior
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, running back, incoming freshman
No. 19 Justin Yoon, placekicker, senior
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, defensive end, incoming freshman
No. 18 Joe Wilkins, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 17 Isaiah Robertson, safety-turned-rover, sophomore
No. 16 Noah Boykin, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 15 D.J. Morgan, safety-turned-linebacker, junior
No. 15 Phil Jurkovec, quarterback, consensus four-star incoming freshman
No. 14 Devin Studstill, safety, junior
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 13 Paul Moala, local safety, incoming freshman
No. 12 DJ Brown, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 12 Ian Book, quarterback, junior
No. 11 Alohi Gilman, safety, Navy transfer
No. 10 Tariq Bracy, cornerback, incoming freshman
No. 10 Chris Finke, receiver, senior, former walk-on
No. 9 Daelin Hayes, defensive end, junior
No. 8 Jafar Armstrong, running back/receiver, sophomore
No. 8 Donte Vaughn, cornerback, junior

MEDICAL EXEMPTION
No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

OUTGOING TRANSFER
No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer