There is an old saying in football, that when you have two quarterbacks you really don’t have a quarterback. After many years of playing, watching and coaching football, I’m inclined to agree. A bunch of noise could be heard about the decision made by Brian Kelly to pull the plug on Brandon Wimbush, and replace him with Ian Book. Some people tried to argue no change is needed. Some argued it should have happened sooner. For my money, most of those people who argue either point are misguided. They simply don’t have enough access to the practice field, meetings, or film room. Only time will bear out whether Kelly is making the right decision.
Is the decision surprising? Yes and No. Yes, we were sold all off-season about the strides that Brandon Wimbush had made in the passing game and decision-making. However, when the games started, the Notre Dame offense looked very much like the Notre Dame offense that struggled through November of last year. So what explains the analysis that we got in the off-season. Coaches make decisions, then of course they have to live with them.
It is very likely Brian Kelly made his decision early that Wimbush was his starter. At that point, the narrative we are going to get is obvious. We are going to hear a coach tout the chosen quarterbacks growth and strengths. If nothing else to defend and support that they made the right decision.
Despite a 3-0 start, the decision to change quarterbacks makes sense on some levels. In the world of college football, and the high stakes that go with each game, I’m not surprised at all. Consider last year’s National Championship as an example. Nick Saban pulls Jalen Hurts a quarterback who tossed 17 touchdowns and 1 interception at the half for a true freshmen in Tua Tagovailoa. At the time, I sat on my couch and said out loud, “Jeez, what a panic move”, which underscores along with about 10,000 other reasons why I’m writing a blog and not coaching at Alabama.
Also, the starting quarterbacks collectively of the last five National Champions have averaged a 64.1 completion percentage. This is nearly ten percentage points higher than Wimbush’s current season average and fifteen percentage points higher than his career average.
Listening to the ABC announcers on Saturday, the suggestion is that Brian Kelly believes he has a playoff team if he gets more consistency from the quarterback position. They also made references to Ian Book being of similar ilk to Penn State star Trace McSorley, which I find curious given Book’s limited body of work.
My suggestion for Kelly, is to pick a quarterback and stick with him. If the decision is that Wimbush cannot get the Irish to the playoffs then nothing he does in practice will likely change that. If you are making a change, stick with it even if Book struggles early against Stanford next Saturday. Otherwise, you begin the process of musical quarterbacks. The message to fans, opponents, and the locker room then becomes you have two quarterbacks that you don’t believe in. Not exactly the message you want as you navigate the more difficult parts of your schedule in October and November.