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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush is dealing with a foot strain, but Irish coach Brian Kelly sounds optimistic about his availability.

Saturday, October 07, 2017 1:00 am

Irish's good health has Kelly smiling

Starting QB Wimbush still question mark

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame at North Carolina

When: 3:30 p.m. today

Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

TV: ABC

Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM

From a teamwide perspective, Notre Dame is as healthy as it's ever been in Brian Kelly's eight-year tenure. The coach knows it too, which is why that sound you hear is Kelly knocking on wood on his lectern as he contemplates a short injury list.

“We are healthy,” Kelly said. “Yeah, we've got an ankle here and a bump here and a bruise here, but we're a healthy team. I'm happy where we're at, I'll tell you. We've been in a lot worse straits than we are now.”

While the 21st-ranked Irish (4-1) have indeed been lucky with injuries, today's game against North Carolina (1-4) might present their first dose of adversity. That's because starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush is the player whose status is in question.

Wimbush has a foot strain. The injury is to his right foot, his plant foot. He will get seven days off next week when the Irish have their bye, but should Kelly turn to backup Ian Book today in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, especially if Wimbush is significantly less than 100 percent?

The question is widely debated, but it's been hard to get a read on Kelly's thinking. He labeled Wimbush a game-day decision but sounds optimistic about the sophomore's availability.

“He's in a good place,” Kelly said. “We're off next week, so it's all in this week.”

Book, who redshirted last season after arriving from Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills, California, would make his first career start if Wimbush is on the sidelines.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said his defense was preparing for Wimbush and would alter its approach only if Book actually takes the field.

“We don't know a whole lot about him,” Fedora said.

Book has played in four games in reserve duty, completing 3 of 8 passes for 51 yards. Notre Dame is banking on Book being up to the challenge if necessary.

“He's here for the same reasons Brandon's here,” Irish tailback Josh Adams said. “He wants it just as bad.”

Left tackle Mike McGlinchey referred to Book as “a gamer.” He threw for 277 yards and a touchdown in the 2017 Blue & Gold game.

“Ian's here for a reason,” McGlinchey said. “He's going to do a great job if his name is called. He's a good kid, slings the ball around, takes a lot of pride in knowing his responsibilities and has worked very hard this week.”

Notre Dame is averaging 41.4 points per game and should be able to put up points against a Carolina defense that ranks 90th against the pass, 113th against the run and 113th overall in the 130-team FBS this year.

The struggling Tar Heels are at the opposite end of the injury spectrum. Six starters have suffered season-ending injuries: right tackle William Sweet, wide receivers Austin Proehl and Thomas Jackson, middle linebacker Andre Smith, tight end Carl Tucker and defensive end Tyler Powell.

cgoff@jg.net