Brian Kelly bristled at the question.
Because what Notre Dame’s head coach wanted from Brandon Wimbush during the Blue-Gold Game wasn’t a specific stat line, it was an experience. Saturday marked the first time the junior quarterback had led Notre Dame’s offense in anything resembling a game. So the fact he went 22-of-32 for 303 yards with two interceptions meant a lot less than getting that first time out of the way.
When Kelly was asked a question built around Wimbush’s supposed struggles, he wasn’t having it.
“I loved everything that happened to him today,” Kelly said. “It’s how you take it, right? He’s just wide-eyed, listening, paying attention and just totally committed to the process of getting better. And that’s really what I think about more so than trying to label whether they played really well or they didn't play really well.”
In truth, the spring game represented a mixed bag for Wimbush, who got dinged for seven touch sacks while wearing a red jersey. He also rushed for 25 positive yards, a figure that could have tripled if defenders had to actually tackle him.
Overall, the afternoon wasn’t perfect. It didn’t need to be.
“I think I played within the system,” Wimbush said. “We had opportunities to put the ball in the end zone and came up short a couple times. I think the offense looked the part.”
That meant Wimbush needed to execute the offense at Chip Long’s preferred pace early. On the opening drive the Irish went 75 yards in seven plays and needed less than three minutes to do it as Josh Adams barreled in for a 25-yard touchdown. It was the only scoring drive of the first half with Wimbush at the controls.
The game offered a few clues about what Kelly will ask of Wimbush moving forward as the Irish went under center, got into the Pistol formation and snapped out of a traditional shotgun. Sets included three wide receivers on some plays, double tight ends on others and even some two running back looks. That’s all a big change from last season when Kelly’s offense often relied on three-receiver sets from start to finish.
“Every day you get out there and you’re able to get out there and run the offense with your teammates is a huge experience, is a huge step in growth, especially for a new starting quarterback,” Wimbush said. “Every chance I get to be out there is a huge part in my growth.”
Ian Book finished 17-of-22 for 277 yards and one touchdown working against the second-team defense, cementing his position as the back-up to Wimbush. Book worked with the scout team during his red-shirt season last fall, barely cracking the offensive playbook before the system changed under Long.
Book’s spring was good enough that Saturday didn’t register as a surprise with Kelly, which might be the best compliment of all for the sophomore.
“What we’ve seen all spring. Consistency, throws strikes, rarely misses an open receiver, can see the field very well. Runs the offense very well,” Kelly said. “So having that No. 2, and seeing him perform the way he has this spring, for me, has been one of the big stories. And Ian has done this all spring.”
Not that Kelly needed to say it, but he affirmed Wimbush as the clear starting quarterback entering summer.
The head coach likes what he’s seen to date and expects that to continue.
“I think every snap that he takes, gets him closer to prepared for where we want him,” Kelly said. “I don't think we rate him as struggling versus playing superior football, as much as this is just the learning process for him; that he continues to learn every single day.”