SOUTH BEND — For the second time in 2018, Notre Dame is making a quarterback change. Although this time, it’s not as willingly as the first one.
Senior Brandon Wimbush will get the nod at quarterback on senior night Saturday when the third-ranked Irish (9-0) play their home finale against Florida State (4-5).
Wimbush is starting in place of the injured Ian Book, who suffered a rib injury when he was kneed in the midsection in the first quarter of the Irish’s 31-21 victory over Northwestern last week. Book stayed in the game and told reporters after the game that he was fine.
Reports of Book’s injury were first reported Thursday morning by Irish Sports Daily.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was non-committal to the media Thursday night if Book would be able to play Saturday, saying he was “day-to-day.” However, Kelly confirmed in an interview with Notre Dame’s student newspaper “The Observer” that Book will not play against the Seminoles.
Kelly also told “The Observer” he was optimistic they’d have Book back for next week’s game against No. 13 Syracuse at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Saturday will be Wimbush’s fourth start of the season. He went 3-0 in the first three games of the season, as the Irish defeated Michigan, Ball State and Vanderbilt in that span.
Wimbush didn’t play great in the latter two games, though. In the two victories over the Cardinals and Commodores, Wimbush threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions, all of which came against Ball State. Notre Dame only won the two games by a combined 13 points. The senior has one passing touchdown and four interceptions total in 2018.
Book, in his six games as starter, has 15 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. The only game action Wimbush has seen since week three was mop-up duty against Virginia Tech.
Despite the lack of statistical success, Wimbush is 12-3 as a starter at Notre Dame. Kelly is more than confident in the abilities of his senior QB.
“The quarterback that is taking reps for us is a guy that you would say is of championship quality,” Kelly said. “He’s 12-3 for a reason.”
Book is the more accurate of the two passers, as he’s completed 74.5 percent of his throws to Wimbush’s 55.3 percent. Wimbush is stronger with his legs than Book, though, as he rushed for 803 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2017. He had 144 yards rushing and a touchdown in his first three starts this season.
“He’s a good runner of the football, so you’re going to see him run the football a little bit,” Kelly said. “We don’t change a ton of what we do, other than what he’s been successful at. Maybe we add a little more of that.”
Saturday is expected to be a cold day in South Bend. The game-time temperature is expected to be in the mid-20s with a chance of snow throughout the day. The conditions are set-up for a team like Notre Dame to thrive against a team coming from Tallahassee, Florida.
“It’s going to be pretty cold, and I think that part may even be fun about it,” wide receiver Chris Finke said. “We’ve been acclimated to it as the temperature has been dropping. They’re practicing in 80-degree weather this week, so no matter how much they’re mentally preparing for it, they can’t really physically prepare for it.”
Despite the inherit advantage with having practiced in the cold weather all week, Kelly believes the conditions are being overplayed.
“As long as it’s not the Ice Bowl … It’s going to be cold. Put some leggings on,” Kelly said.
The Irish will honor 32 seniors and graduate students before the game. This will be the second senior night for seven graduate students, including Drue Tranquill. The linebacker is expected to start after playing only a handful of snaps last week against Northwestern due to an ankle injury. He’s also playing with a cast on his broken right hand.
It’s been a long journey for Tranquill as he plays his last game at Notre Dame Stadium. He’s focused on only one thing, though.
“I want to win. I think that’s the focal point,” Tranquill said. “It’s been a long journey. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of emotions. The most important thing is winning and keeping this dream alive.”
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN
WHAT: Florida State at No. 3 Notre Dame
WHERE: Notre Dame Stadium
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
RADIO: 101.5 FM