What It Means: Notre Dame's QB Position Without Jurkovec
As was reported earlier, Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec has entered his name in the transfer portal and intends to transfer. I want to dive more into why Jurkovec is leaving and what happens next for the Fighting Irish.
This decision by Jurkovec goes far beyond playing time. It was obvious that Notre Dame’s staff had little to no interest in allowing either Jurkovec or current freshman Brendon Clark to have a chance to unseat Ian Book for the starting position. Beyond that, public and private comments made by Notre Dame sources made it clear that Jurkovec wasn’t even seen as the quarterback of the future.
Instead of focusing on the skills Jurkovec brings to the table, the discussion was constantly about what he couldn’t do. It was clear from those comments that his style of play was not something the current staff covets.
Some on the Notre Dame side of things were already talking about current high school junior Tyler Buchner coming in and starting as a freshman in 2021. Head coach Brian Kelly said during the season that if he felt Jurkovec could help the team win he would play him, so clearly Kelly didn’t feel Jurkovec could help the team. The fact Notre Dame never put him in any kind of meaningful game situation backs that up.
Multiple sources I have spoken with also mentioned a strained relationship between Jurkovec and his position coach.
These are the reasons Jurkovec chose to transfer now instead of waiting a year, seeing how things played out in the spring and fall, and getting his Notre Dame degree.
Look at it from the player’s point of view. With all the comments made about him publicly and privately, how much confidence would you have that the next year would involve the coaches working hard to develop you as a player?
It would essentially be a wasted year in many ways. The only reason to come back is to hope that Book gets injured and you get your chance, and anyone that’s know Jurkovec or his family knows he would never, ever want that to happen or allow that to factor into any of his decisions, just like Book never would have wished that on Brandon Wimbush when he was a backup.
By leaving now, Jurkovec gets a chance to find a program that believes in him, wants him in the program and will invest in developing him as a player. Also, anyone that follows college football has seen quarterback after quarterback get a transfer waiver to play right away. If half of the things I’ve been told by sources are true, Jurkovec will have a case to get an automatic release.
This will not be appreciated by some and will be rejected by others, but this isn’t just my opinion or “read” on the situation, this is coming from spending the last few months gathering information from a wide variety of sources.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR 2020 AND BEYOND
First and foremost, this ends any discussion among the fan base about opening up the quarterback competition. This is Book’s team.
Book stayed healthy in 2019, and Notre Dame will need him to be healthy again in 2020. Otherwise, Notre Dame will be forced to play redshirt freshman Brendon Clark or true freshman Drew Pyne. Both are talented players, and like Jurkovec in 2019 they will lack experience.
Both Clark and Pyne have tools that would allow them to thrive should their number be called, but from an analysis standpoint I’m of the belief that Jurkovec was the quarterback on the roster that gave Notre Dame the best chance to beat the best teams on the schedule in 2020, if developed properly.
But the other young quarterbacks are also talented. Both earned four-star grades in my analysis, and Clark has borderline five-star upside when you consider his combination of arm strength and athleticism. Pyne is a precision passer, he’s smart and he’s a gamer that loves to compete.
Here is my analysis of Clark from my final 2019 rankings:
“Clark has the kind of build you want in a quarterback that will be asked to play in the pocket and also make plays with his legs. He is also a good athlete, which we saw this summer when at 6-2 and 213 pounds he ran a 4.74 in the 40-yard dash, posted a 4.37 pro shuttle and jumped 32.5 inches at the Nike Football The Opening Regional at Charlotte in April.
“Clark will need work mechanically, but he has a lot of tools as a passer. He has a strong arm and is an effortless thrower. At times he is a bit too much of an “all arm” thrower, but that can be worked out quickly with good coaching. When he does drive off his back foot the ball jumps out of his hand. Clark throws a really nice deep ball and his touch in the red zone is outstanding. He is a fearless thrower as well and puts a lot of balls into tough spots.
“His delivery is a bit long and there is room for him to improve from an accuracy standpoint, but he does have good arm speed, he shows a good feel for ball placement and he throws with really good timing. Combined with his arm strength, his timing and feel for ball placement is why he throws so few interceptions. I've also seen him make some really tough downfield throws in really bad weather conditions, which is important for a quarterback playing at Notre Dame.
“Clark shows a good feel in the pocket, and his pocket presence makes him hard to sack. He anticipates pressure well and quickly works out of trouble. What I like is that even though he'll tuck it, run and make plays with his legs, his first thought is to step away from trouble and still be in position to throw the ball. Clark does a good job keeping his eyes downfield when he's moving around, which makes him a dangerous player due to his ability to get the ball down the field and over the top of the defense.
“As a senior he was even more effective as a runner, both on scrambles and on designed runs, which added to his value and improved upside grade.”
Clark will need a lot of work and development, but if he maxes out his potential he can be a difference maker at Notre Dame as a both a passer and runner. He is also a winner, having led his Manchester squad to a 15-0 record and a state title in his senior season.
Pyne and Clark are opposites in many ways, but Pyne is also a player that earned a four-star grade from me. Here’s what I wrote about Pyne from the 2020 class analysis:
“Pyne was a four-year starter for New Canaan, and the talented signal caller ended his career with 9,411 passing yards, 105 passing touchdowns, 1,182 rushing yards, 20 rushing touchdowns and he completed 63.1-percent of his 1,111 career passes.
“Pyne lacks the physical intangibles of other top quarterbacks. He’s on the small side and he doesn’t have the cannon arm we see is other top players at his position. But Pyne brings the more important traits that make a top quarterback prospect. Pyne is smart, reads defenses well, shows excellent anticipation ability for his age, he is accurate and he’s both mentally and physically tough. His feel for the position is as good as any quarterback in the country.
“Pyne has a lightning quick release that is easily repeatable, and when his footwork is right he’s highly accurate. His quick release and ability to anticipate allows him to get the ball out on time, and helps ease his lack of elite arm talent. While he doesn’t have a cannon, Pyne’s arm is strong enough to push the ball downfield. I’ve seen him hit receivers in stride on post routes over 40 yards down the field., and that’s before he gets in a college weight room. He also gets very good zip on throws of less than 15 yards and he quickly gets the ball out with good zip on out cuts and comeback throws.
“New Canaan didn’t provide Pyne with much protection as a senior, which limited his production, but it also showed Pyne’s pocket mobility, toughness, and top-level pocket presence and pocket mobility. The one critique I have of him in this regard is when Pyne is running around he lets the ball get a bit too far away from his body. Pyne does throw quite well on the run by keeping his eyes downfield, he attacks downhill and he snaps the ball off with good accuracy and velocity.
“At times Pyne will rush his throws, especially in the quick game/RPO, but overall his mechanics are top notch. He keeps a good base in the pocket, he uses his core to throw and his follow through is impressive.”
Buchner will certainly be given a chance to compete for the starting job in 2021, especially now that Jurkovec is no longer in the mix. But do not assume the very talented 2021 commit will just walk in and take the job over, at least not if Clark and Pyne are given a chance to develop and shine. The quarterback roster moving forward remains talented, even with Jurkovec - who I view as having the most talent - transferring out.
The question now becomes the same as it has always been under Kelly, will the quarterbacks be developed? If so, the Irish should be good at the position.