Notre Dame & QB Inexperience: Part II

Lou Somogyi, Senior Editor
Blue and Gold

Photo by Corey Bodden

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Earlier this week we featured how seldom at Notre Dame has a new season occurred like 2017 with so little game-time experience at quarterback.

None of the top three players at the positions — junior Brandon Wimbush, sophomore Ian Book and senior Montgomery VanGorder — took a single snap on offense last year (VanGorder did serve as the holder on placekicks). Overall, Wimbush has attempted five passes in his college career.

The moral of Part I was that regardless of past experience at quarterback, football is a team game that also requires stout defense and quality special teams. The latter two helped Notre Dame to the 1966 national title even though none of the three sophomore quarterbacks (Terry Hanratty, Coley O’Brien and Bob Belden) had ever taken a college snap.

Conversely, even with experienced QBs such as DeShone Kizer, considered a first-round prospect or Jimmy Clausen, who had a school record-breaking single season pass efficiency mark in 2009, Notre Dame can still finish 4-8 or 6-6.

The flip side of that is a sudden QB change can have a galvanizing effect on the whole team to elevate their game in an effort to compensate — and often when you least expect it Some examples at Notre Dame in the last 40 years include:

Joe Montana (1977)

Entering his senior year, Montana was 1-2 as a starter, had completed only 42.4 percent of his passes (four TDs and eight interceptions), was listed third team, and had missed all of 1976 because of a separated shoulder on his throwing arm.

In the third game, he rallied the sputtering 1-1 Irish to a fourth-quarter comeback win and an eventual national title.

Mike Courey/Blair Kiel (1980)

Courey had a terrific start as a senior before true freshman Kiel replaced him in a "rebuilding year" after going 7-4 the year prior. ND started 9-0-1, was ranked No. 2 and invited to play No. 1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Steve Beuerlein (1983)

The veteran Kiel was replaced by the freshman Beuerlein after a 1-2 start, and Notre Dame promptly went 5-0 in his first five starts, the longest winning streak in head coach Gerry Faust's five seasons.


Tony Rice (1988-89)

I have a full box of letters I saved from this era from people who said Notre Dame can never, ever be successful with an option QB that can't pass, and how future pro Kent Graham needs to be the QB and provide a "balanced" attack. Plus, the option is outdated. Like Montana in 1977, Rice entered the 1988 season with poor passing numbers, including a 42.7 completion percentage, one TD and four interceptions in his 82 career passes.

Notre Dame then embarked toward a national title and school record 23 straight wins.

Kevin McDougal (1993)

As a senior he replaced No. 2 NFL pick Rick Mirer only because freshman and National Player Of The Year Ron Powlus suffered a broken collarbone the week before the opener. McDougal finished as the all-time pass efficiency king and ND finished a debatable No. 2 to Florida State, which it had defeated in November.

Jarious Jackson (1998)

After Powlus' graduation and a six-loss season, the newbie Jackson led ND to a 9-1 mark — and it probably would have been 10-1 had he not been injured while "taking a knee" in the end zone in the 39-36 win over LSU the week prior. Without him in the lineup because of an injury, the Irish lost 10-0 at USC.

Matt LoVecchio (2000)

The true freshman began his career 7-0 (11-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, plus 300 yards rushing and an NCAA record low eight turnovers by the team) while bouncing back from a 5-7 campaign to get to the Fiesta Bowl.

Carlyle Holiday (2002)

The option QB was considered a bad fit for new coach Ty Willingham's West Coast offense, but he and walk-on Pat Dillingham led a surprising 8-0 and 10-1 start.

And of course, we all know that head coach Brian Kelly’s greatest success at Notre Dame has occurred with novice, if not neophyte, quarterbacks.

• In 2010, with current first-year quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees, the Irish were 4-0 when he took over as the starter after a 4-5 start.

• In 2012, first-time starter and redshirt freshman Everett Golson, with some major help off the bench from Rees, led a stunning 12-0 regular season and appearance into the BCS Championship before losing to Alabama.

• Reeling from a four-game losing streak in 2014, Kelly opted to start Malik Zaire for the first time, in the Music City Bowl, versus favored and ranked LSU. Zaire is named MVP in the 31-28 victory.

• With Zaire suffering a season ending injury during game 2 in 2015, redshirt freshman Kizer rallies the Irish to a triumph in the fourth quarter for the first of three times in that season to enter the regular season finale 10-1 — where he puts Notre Dame up 36-35 with 30 seconds left at Stanford before losing.

Moral of the story: Neither inexperience or much experience at quarterback means much without an overall strong team base all around him.


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