Notre Dame fans have expressed a general apprehension about returning to quarterback Brandon Wimbush as the starter in 2018 ever since backup Ian Book led the team to a second-half victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
Coach Brian Kelly insisted that Wimbush’s benching had a lot more to do with the fact that he had missed two days of practice during the week to illness and was simply behind than performance, but he certainly knows better than to think that wouldn’t spark full-on controversy throughout the offseason.
In fact, the Irish faithful were growing weary of Wimbush long before the bowl game. The athletic ability that helped lead them to wins over Boston College and USC — he ran for 313 yards and 6 touchdowns in those games — was most often trumped by his woeful inaccuracy, as marked by his 49.5 percent completion rating.
But the reality is that Wimbush has the most experience of everybody who will compete for the starting job in the spring and summer and his athletic ability fits well with what Notre Dame wants to do in the running game. So what will it take for Notre Dame fans to feel comfortable with Wimbush as the starter in 2018?
It very obviously starts with accuracy. Wimbush doesn’t have to be Drew Brees — or even Tommy Rees, to be honest — but he has to make mechanical strides throwing the football and hit on closer to 55 percent of his passes. And he absolutely needs to be able to make more of the easier throws to the outside where the Irish will have some young playmakers.
As this graphic from mid-November shows, he was in the bottom 25 percent of all college passers when throwing to 5 of 9 areas across the field. And the clear improvement to be had is when he’s throwing to his left.
Brandon Wimbush's struggles as a passer—especially on the easiest throws—finally came back to bite Notre Dame vs Miami. pic.twitter.com/TvhJBouylK
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) November 14, 2017
Beyond the fact that his completion percentage clearly indicated he’s not the most efficient thrower of the football, this indicates some pretty clear mechanical issues with finishing throws back across his body. Without pretending to be To House, that could be a loading issue or a followthrough issue or some combination of both.
The good news is that the data actually gives Rees — who is now his quarterback coach — a starting point. Make him a more accurate short and intermediate passer when throwing to his left side and you’re going to see Wimbush’s numbers start creeping in the right direction.
Next, you’d love to see slight improvement as Wimbush pushes the football down the field. His ability as an athlete and the Notre Dame running game in general is so conducive to play-action, so he has to be able to capitalize in those situations.
And he wasn’t horrible in that regard in 2017. He was actually even in the top 25 percent of all passers when throwing between the hashes down the field. However, even just a mild uptick in completion percentage down the field is going to make the entire Notre Dame offense significantly more efficient.
Of course, we can’t forget his overall playmaking ability. With Josh Adams gone, Wimbush is Notre Dame’s leading returning runner and he’s a legitimate threat to lead to even go over 1,000 yards should he win the job in 2018 and lead the team again.
Book may have looked solid scrambling against LSU and Phil Jurkovec and Avery Davis also bring some athleticism, but Wimbush is on another plane when it comes to making plays with his feet and he’s built like a running back (6-foot-1 and 228 pounds) so he can take shots the others simply can’t. That alone shouldn’t win him the job but it’s an advantage we seem to be pretending isn’t an advantage.
And through all his inaccuracies, Wimbush did a solid job taking care of the football. He only threw 6 interceptions in 2017 total.
So if we can reasonably expect that he ups his completion percentage to 55, throw for 2,500 yards or so, completes 20 or more touchdowns against 9 or fewer interceptions and then runs for 1,000 yards, is that enough to make Notre Dame fans comfortable with him as their starter?
Ultimately, we know they’ll have to see it to believe it. So if Wimbush is under center against Michigan on Sept. 1, he’ll have to prove he’s exactly that quickly. Otherwise, fans will be clamoring that he get the yank even faster than he did against LSU.
The post What would make Notre Dame fans comfortable with Brandon Wimbush? appeared first on Diehards.
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