WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A quarterback change helped make No. 8 Notre Dame finally feel good about its offense again. Now the question is whether the Fighting Irish will stick with him this week against No. 7 Stanford.
The Fighting Irish’s offense found a groove arguably for the first time all year, rolling up season highs in points and total yardage in a 56-27 rout of Wake Forest following a switch to quarterback Ian Book .
Book led four consecutive touchdown drives — twice — against the Demon Deacons while accounting for five TDs (three rushing, two passing) as part of the team’s 566 total yards. That gave the Irish (4-0) further reason to believe in their offense this week against the Cardinal.
“Every week, that’s how our mindset is — we want to be better, we want to score more points, we want to be an elite offense,” Book said. “It starts again (Sunday). We’ll put this behind us and get going for next week.”
Book says he will approach the Stanford game as if he will start — just as he approaches every game, he said — and even though coach Brian Kelly didn’t commit to anything in the aftermath of the Wake Forest win, Book certainly didn’t do anything against Wake Forest to lose the job.
He was 25 of 34 for a career-best 325 yards with touchdown passes covering 3 yards to Brock Wright and 7 yards to Chase Claypool, along with three short scoring runs.
“I came here to be the starter, and it’s up to the coaches, and they’ll play the best quarterback to win,” Book said. “We’re all one team, and I’m not worried. I know they’ll make the right decision — whatever that is, both ways. We’re here to get wins.”
What made this such a delicate situation is that the Irish also were getting wins with Brandon Wimbush at quarterback — but as the offense sputtered, Kelly sensed problems were brewing for some other overburdened parts of the team.
Wimbush was 12-3 in his career as the starter, earning a game ball following the season-opening win over Michigan, but in his three starts this season Notre Dame failed to score more than 24 points or gain more than 418 yards. The results were closer-than-expected victories over Ball State and Vanderbilt.
“We have a good football team, and the residual effect of, it was wearing on our defense,” Kelly said. “The end in mind is that we needed to win, but we weren’t winning at a level that was going to allow us to continue to win. We were putting too much stress on other parts of the operation, in particular the defense.
“It was going to break,” he added. “So it needed to get fixed now. And it had nothing to do with Brandon in particular, as much as how the offense needed to be much more effective. And that’s it.”
Kelly said before the game that he would play two quarterbacks, and he did indeed wind up playing two — Book, and third-string freshman Phil Jurkovec.
Meanwhile, Wimbush wore a baseball cap all day but never saw the field.
This was the first time in his career that Kelly said he’d chosen to change quarterbacks with an undefeated team, and he said Book got “a really good sense” two days before game day that the job would be his. But the coach said he agonized over the decision the night before the game.
The goal was to bring balance to the offense coordinated by Chip Long. Through the first three games, the Irish were rushing nearly twice as often (134 attempts) as they were throwing it (79). With Book under center, the run-pass ratio was nearly 50-50.
“I think it’s where we have wanted it to go and grow,” Kelly said. “I brought Chip in to run a balanced run-pass offense, and you saw what it should look like.”
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.