Since he’s been the head coach of the Notre Dame football team, Brian Kelly has utilized quarterbacks with different skill sets in game plans. Will he do the same in 2018?
Brian Kelly has been steadfast in his proclamation that Brandon Wimbush is the starting quarterback for the Notre Dame football team. However, comments he has made recently might indicate that the door is cracked for backup quarterback Ian Book to have a role on this team. But what might that role look like for Book?
Both Wimbush and Book have their strengths. Wimbush is a tremendous athlete with a rocket arm. Book is an accurate passer with a gun-slinger mentality and tremendous confidence. And while the Irish figure to be a team who will rely heavily on their defense, it is reasonable to see a role for both in 2018.
As the season draws closer, it’s hard to not see the similarities between this year’s team and the squad that Brian Kelly took to the National Championship in 2012.
In that season, the Irish relied on a record-setting defense to help propel them in many games. Though it will be difficult for these Irish to match the 2012 campaign, the talent and experience is there for Clark Lea and the Irish defense.
But perhaps the biggest similarity will be on offense.
In 2012, the Irish were lead by a great athlete with tremendous upside in Everett Golson. A freshman at the time, Golson was not a premier passer, but his athleticism and maneuverability allowed him the opportunity to make plays outside of the pocket and in the running game. Golson finished the season completing 187 out of 318 passes (58.8%) for 2405 yards and 12 touchdowns. Golson also contributed 298 yards on the ground.
That season, though, a familiar face played a major role in helping Notre Dame win 12 games. That familiar face was that of Tommy Rees. At that time, Rees was Notre Dame’s backup quarterback. Rees is currently Kelly’s quarterback coach.
When Golson struggled–or even if he didn’t–passing the ball, Rees entered games to propel the Irish to victory with his accurate arm. Tied at 17 against Purdue, Rees entered with 2:05 remaining amid grumbles from the Irish crowd. Rees drove the Irish into field goal range, converting two tough third downs and the Irish won the game 20-17.
And while people remember the goal-line stand in overtime against Stanford, what they forget is that Rees lead the Irish into field goal range on Notre Dame’s final drive of regulation. And before the famed goal-line stand, Rees recovered from a 2nd and 17 by hitting Davaris Daniels for 9 yards along the sideline and then delivering a tremendous back-shoulder throw to Theo Riddick in the face of a blitz on 3rd and 8. On 1st and goal from the 7, Rees hit TJ Jones to put Notre Dame ahead 20-13.
At this point, you get the point: Rees was the passer that closed games for the Irish when Golson struggled or was injured.
In 2018, it’s easy to envision a scenario where Book, the most accurate passer in Notre Dame’s quarterback room, could step in to a similar role. Sure, Brandon Wimbush certainly has much more experience than Everett Golson did at the time, but his struggles with accuracy in the short passing game have been well-documented.
Will Book be used in a similar fashion to Rees? No one can truly tell for sure. But given the way Brian Kelly has used his quarterbacks throughout the years, I wouldn’t bet against it. If the Irish can repeat the success of 2012, I don’t think fans will mind.