Irish quarterbacks seek consistency in competition

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Notre Dame is not unfamiliar with quarterback competitions. In three of the last four seasons there has been some debate as to who would be under center to start the year.

In 2015 it was either Everett Golson or Malik Zaire. In 2016 it was Malik Zaire or DeShone Kizer. However in 2017 the stage was set for Brandon Wimbush, the job was undoubtedly his, unfortunately he didn't prove without a shadow of doubt that he should be the starter in 2018.

"You've got to put somebody out there and by virtue of a lot of really good things Brandon did last year, he'll go out with the first group." Not exactly a ringing endorsement from your head coach, but there are reasons why competition has returned to the Notre Dame depth chart.

Last season Brandon Wimbush started all 12 games throwing for 1870 yards and 16 touchdowns while rushing for another 803 yards and 14 touchdowns, a program record among quarterbacks. Those were the good things Kelly was referencing.

Wimbush also suffered from inconsistencies in his passing, completing just 49.5 percent of his throws while also tallying six interceptions, which opened the door for backup Ian Book to log some decent playing time.

The rising junior appeared in 10 games last season, none bigger than his time in the Citrus Bowl against LSU. Wimbush started the game but attempted just eight passes, completing three of them for 52 yards, Enter Book, who bolstered the Irish offense by completing 73.7 percent of his passes including the fourth quarter game tying touchdown toss to Michael Young, and the throw (mostly catch) everyone remembers, the one handed sideline completion to Miles Boykin to win the Irish their first New Year's Day bowl in two decades.

It was a performance that undoubtedly got every Fighting Irish fan thinking and apparently also Brian Kelly himself.

"Ian deserves an opportunity to compete as well, so we'll foster an environment where our guys believe they have the chance to compete for starting positions."

Book and Wimbush have been in that environment of competition for 41 days and 12 full practices, which begs the question. Has Brian Kelly seen any separation between the two that makes him confident one can be the starter over the other?

Short answer. No, not really.

"I don't know that I've seen separation as much as I've seen Brandon show a lot more confidence." said the Irish head coach after his team's practice on March 24, "There is definitely a difference in the way he's performing at that position as compared to last year. So if that continues to trend, that puts us in a really good position at quarterback."

When you're the quarterback at Notre Dame, you get criticized. There is no escaping it and Wimbush was fully aware that his inconsistent play had a negative impact on his team at times.

"I knew I wasn't playing at the level I was capable of playing at. I think I made the necessary adjustments in the spring and going into the spring season to be where I need to be. " said Wimbush.

While Wimbush seems to be impressing Kelly with the confidence gained from a year of starts, Book is dealing with an increased amount of responsibility.

"Ian has been more consistent over last three practices." said Kelly, "That is what we want to see from our quarterbacks."

While the body of work from Wimbush may not have that same consistency, he did start 12 games and led the Irish to 10 wins, (9 if you give the Citrus Bowl win to Book) which likely gives the senior an edge to start for a second straight year, but don't let that make you think Book is shying away from the competition.

"Obviously I had the mindset where I didn't come here to be 2nd string, so everyday I'm preparing to be the starter in whatever the situations are."

One more week and three practices separate the Irish from getting a teaser of game action. The 89th annual Blue Gold Game is set for Saturday inside Notre Dame Stadium when the public gets to see these two friendly combatants go head to head.

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