From changing the quarterback to adding a running back, we learned a lot as the Notre Dame world turned last week. We’ll learn a lot more this week, when Stanford comes to South Bend.
Three things we learned about Notre Dame football in Week 4. . .
1, Stanford’s trip to South Bend on Saturday has gotten exponentially more interesting.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Thanks to the Cardinal’s big rally to win 38-31 in overtime at Oregon after trailing 24-7, two unbeatens with legitimate College Football Playoff designs will be squaring off. By ESPN Analytics calculations, the Irish have a 40 percent chance of earning one of the four playoff berths, sixth behind Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and Penn State. Stanford is ninth, at 11 percent. With Ohio State traveling to Penn State on Saturday, the Stanford-Notre Dame winner will move up significantly. And with Old Dominion pulling off a shocker at Virginia Tech, ND’s trip to Blacksburg on Oct. 6 is looking a lot less formidable. With many of Notre Dame’s remaining opponents under-performing—none are ranked—Stanford is looking like the Irish’s biggest hurdle to running the table.
2, Book it. Notre Dame has a new quarterback. For now.
First, let’s give a ton of credit to junior quarterback Ian Book, who completed 25 of 34 for 325 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for three other TDs. Book’s performance led the Irish to a 56-27 breeze past Wake Forest. That was a welcome change from the first three wins by a combined 20 points, which produced some serious grumbles about the offense.
Book certainly has earned the starting job over inconsistent senior Brandon Wimbush, who seemingly did all the right things except get over the hump. I will leave others to dissect the differences between the two—and why Wimbush was ahead of Book before Book Wake’d up the Irish attack. But I will say that having a big day against porous Wake Forest is a way different deal than doing things against stout Stanford. So let’s just see how this goes.
Here’s what Kelly likes about Book: ``His ability to get the ball out to a number of different receivers and throw at a very high percentage, 75 percent completion percentage. And take care of the football. It starts with putting points on the scoreboard, efficiency in the red zone. We left a lot of points in those preceding weeks. . . . I felt like [last week] was the time to make the move to Ian Book.’’
And here’s why Kelly is reserving the right to change QBs down the road: ``We will see how each week goes. I think it's a very fluid situation from week-to-week. We’ll make sure [Wimbush] is prepared to play, just as we did with Ian.’’
Bottom line: It’s a new world. Many successful college teams—Alabama, Georgia and Clemson, for starters, so to speak—have two capable quarterbacks without having quarterback controversies. It sure looks like Book addresses ND’s offensive concerns. But that can change in a hurry—whether it's due to ineffectiveness, matchups or injury. Pouting accomplishes nothing. Wimbush knows that.
3, Barring something unforeseen, Dexter Williams will get some carries against Stanford.
These things are murky in the modern world for a variety of reasons, including privacy laws and secretive coaches. But senior running back Dexter Williams apparently has served his four-game penance for unspecified transgressions and is expected to make his season debut against Stanford.
``Dexter has been doing well,’’ Kelly said. ``If he continues to have the type of week he's had the last few weeks, I expect he'd be able to do something for us this week.’’
The 5-11, 215-pound senior from Orlando carried 39 times last season for 360 yards, an average of 9.2 yards per rush. He could share the ball with Tony Jones Jr. (65.7 yards a game) and Jafar Armstrong (61.2). Or Williams could hog the ball.
Last week Kelly kept his Book card close to the vest. Maybe that will be the deal with Williams this week. That’s something we’ll learn in Week 5.
The big thing we learned in Week 4 is that Notre Dame made significant progress—in perception if not also in reality—in its goal of being a College Football Playoff player.[/membership]