The red shirt will come off Brandon Wimbush.
Whether that happens this weekend against Georgia Tech or next week against Massachusetts is an unknown, but Brian Kelly won’t hold out his freshman quarterback much longer. In fact, it won’t take a replay of the Texas game, meaning a non-competitive blowout, to activate Wimbush.
“He’s gonna have to play this year,” Kelly said. “I haven’t decided (when) yet, but he’s gonna play this year. Let’s try and get him as much experience as possible.
“We’re going to prepare him this week as if he’s gonna play and go from there.”
Notre Dame intended to sit Wimbush all season but not relegate him to the scout team, similar to the plan for Malik Zaire two years ago. Kelly had no intention of playing Zaire that fall with Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix available, but he didn’t forget about him either. Zaire travelled to every road game.
Wimbush travelled to Virginia last weekend.
Now the Under Armour All-American moves into the back-up role behind new starter DeShone Kizer, who took his own red-shirt last season while regularly travelling. Playing Wimbush could be fueled by the gap between the sophomore and freshman being small, but it’s more likely driven by the injury realities facing Kelly at quarterback.
In the past decade, Kelly’s opening day starter has gone wire-to-wire just once.
Rees did it during the 2013 season as Notre Dame allowed just eight sacks, tops among Power Five programs. Rees was credited with just 11 rushing attempts that entire season, one fewer than Zaire at Virginia. The hard reality of running the quarterback is he’s probably going to get hurt. That makes getting the backup experience critical, even if it’s forced.
After all, where would the Irish have been last weekend if Kizer didn’t get a quarter of work against Texas?
“There’s a number of challenges,” Kelly said. “Protecting himself would be No. 1 and then just settling him down, getting comfortable and running the offense. There’s great challenges. Now, he’s a very confident young man, we’re going to give him enough to handle and run our offense this week.”
The fact Wimbush is on the roster at all remains a recruiting coup for Notre Dame after Blake Barnett’s de-commitment and flip to Alabama a year ago. In the immediate chaos that followed, Notre Dame was forced to restart its quarterback recruiting operation with Wimbush committed to Penn State at that point.
Wimbush ultimately de-committed from the Nittany Lions and took an official visit during the Michigan weekend last September. He flipped barely a week later, committing to former quarterback coach Matt LaFleur, now with the Atlanta Falcons. LaFleur publicly departed on National Signing Day.
“I think we can add Brandon into the mix and I think there’s some things that he can do,” Kelly said. “He’s got very good speed, he’s got a strong arm, he’s tough. I think there’s some things that could enhance our offense with him in the game as well.
“DeShone is gonna be the starter, no question. And Brandon will have more time to develop.”
Kizer went 8-of-12 for 92 yards and two touchdowns last week in the first significant action of his career, capped by the 39-yard touchdown to Will Fuller. It was the latest game-winning touchdown in Notre Dame history.
Kelly wants to make sure if Notre Dame makes another unexpected quarterback switch that Wimbush has the same platform to stand on that Kizer did. That might come this weekend. Even if it doesn’t, Kelly will treat it as an inevitability with Wimbush.
“This will be the first opportunity that we get a good look at him,” Kelly said. “He’ll be diving a little bit deeper this week. By Thursday you could ask me that question again and I’ll give you a better answer of where we are relative to his development.”