Brandon Wimbush made staying late worth it.
First the freshman quarterback proved you really <I>can</I> overthrow Will Fuller, although only by the length of the receiver’s fingertips. Then Wimbush showed a speed that piqued the interest of many, including Brian Kelly.
While it’s a long shot that Kelly would turn to Wimbush on Saturday night at Clemson, the prospect of using the freshman in a complementary role to DeShone Kizer is something Notre Dame’s head coach will weigh.
“He certainly doesn't have the whole playbook down at this point,” Kelly said. “But I think I’m moving more toward fine tuning some things that could get him in for the games regardless of the situation.”
Wimbush got into the game early enough against Massachusetts that Notre Dame could turn him loose without rubbing in the final margin. The freshman replaced Kizer with eight minutes left in the third quarter and Notre Dame up four touchdowns. He finished 3-of-5 passing for 17 yards and had two heaves that captivated Kelly.
Both were 50-yard bombs that required little more than a flip of the wrist. The first went incomplete to Fuller, the second connected with Equanimeous St. Brown for a touchdown wiped out by an ineligible man downfield penalty against Sam Mustipher.
All five of Wimbush’s passing attempts came from “11 personnel” of one running back, one tight end and three receivers. He was never pressured and only attempted passes from the pocket. UMass blitzed Wimbush twice, but he read it both times. One turned into a nine-yard pass to Torii Hunter Jr. before the rusher could get close. The other became a zero-yard completion to CJ Sanders.
Wimbush also put up four carries for 92 yards and could have had more on zone-read plays where keeping it was the right call. Still, he showed more than enough speed on his 58-yard touchdown run and his 26-yarder that seemed to come off a broken play.
“I think there's more conversations with possibly utilizing him in a smaller role in certain situations that we can utilize his skill set because … we know he's got arm talent,” Kelly said. “He certainly has the physical ability.”
Kelly has used complementary quarterbacks before, but it’s been rare the past five-plus seasons. Tommy Rees relieved Everett Golson in both his first two home starts due to ineffectiveness and again against Stanford following a concussion. Andrew Hendrix subbed in for Rees in multiple seasons without being effective. Malik Zaire shared time with Golson in the Music City Bowl.
Kelly might try to go that route again with Wimbush. After watching the freshman last weekend, the Irish head coach probably can’t resist.