SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- Wait a minute.
What did Brandon Wimbush just say?
I spent Wednesday evening standing next to the University of Notre Dame quarterback who was benched Saturday night during the first half of the Fighting Irish's 41-8 loss at Miami. They looked spooked, and they played even worse. They're now 8-2 for the season while dropping from third to eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings. Previously No. 7, Miami leaped to Notre Dame's old No. 3 spot at 9-0.
Somebody to my left said something like this to Wimbush from the conference room of Notre Dame's football headquarters: Since the Irish can't win the national championship anymore, give us your Plan B.
"To win a national championship," Wimbush said with a straight face as I raised my eyebrows with others. Even if the Irish handle Navy and its always baffling triple-option offense Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, they'll close at No. 22 Stanford (7-3), where they've lost four straight. Not only that, but Cardinal players have taken six of their past eight games against Notre Dame, and with no conference championship game for the Irish as an independent, they already have a whole bunch of CFP contenders ahead of them.
Undaunted, Wimbush continued to insist Notre Dame has about as much chance of winning it all as anybody.
"I didn't even pay any attention to what came out (after our loss to Miami), but I heard, and we obviously still have a shot," Wimbush said, spending another media session with his striking composure and confidence. "That's the goal. If we win Saturday, and then move forward from there … We're just taking it day by day, week by week, and whatever happens happens. But this team is motivated, and we know we still have a chance."
If so, that "chance" for Notre Dame begins and ends at quarterback, because it always does in football. Wimbush is finishing his first season as a starter as a junior, and he's been decent. He occasionally was spectacular. Before the Miami game, he progressed enough with his legs and arms to complement the Irish's NFL-caliber offensive line and potent running game. Then there was the Notre Dame's opportunistic defense, which helped the Irish enter last weekend ranked fifth in the country in turnover margin. We're back to quarterbacking again, because Wimbush rarely turned the ball over, and the same went for his teammates.
All of that changed for Wimbush and the Irish against Miami. They had four turnovers, including a couple of interceptions in the first half by Wimbush to double his total for the season. At the start of the game, he nearly completed a long pass to the end zone on Notre Dame's opening series for an early lead. By the end of the game, he went 10 of 21 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. In between those things, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly replaced Wimbush down the stretch of his shaky first half with Ian Book, the backup and a sophomore who hasn't played much.
Even though Wimbush returned later in the second half, especially since Book threw a pick-six in relief, you have to wonder about Wimbush's psyche for the rest of the season.
"Um, I was good," Wimbush said, before nevertheless admitting that his slowly healing left hand remains a problem on handoffs, and that he knows he has to improve on "little" fundamentals that lead to huge problems. "I mean, it's tough as a competitor to have somebody take your spot, but I knew it was to the team's benefit. I knew that pretty quickly, and I went out there trying to help [Book] the best that I could. I wanted to win the game as much as anybody else wanted to win the game, so that's that."
Not quite. According to Kelly, Wimbush hasn't lost his starting job, but the demanding coach said his quarterback has much work to do.
"He knows he's got to be more efficient, more accurate, and that has to get better," Kelly said Tuesday. "You know, he's in his first year starting, but it can't be this is as good as it gets. He's a competitor. He knows that it's got to get better."
Wimbush has company along those lines. In addition to the Miami fiasco, the Irish lost 20-19 at home to Georgia, now seventh in the CFP rankings and No. 1 in the country before its blowing out Saturday at Auburn. Simply put, the Irish have struggled on the big stage since the Golden Dome was erected, or at least since the heydey of Lou Holtz. They're 7-12 against ranked teams since they were flattened by Alabama during the national championship game following the 2012 season.
Soon after the Miami players high-stepped into Hard Rock Stadium with their gold chain for turnovers in front of a packed house screaming like crazy from the time they entered the turnstiles, the Irish were done.
"No, I don't think so. I don't think so at all," Wimbush said, who was operating as just a spectator in uniform on the sidelines during the 2015 season when Notre Dame nearly survived the noise and the mystique at Clemson before losing in the final seconds. "I thought [Miami] was a great atmosphere to play in, and I thought the guys were excited. Like I said, our confidence and our mindset going into games is to execute the offense like we can, without any external factors on the way you play. You know, sometimes you don't have a good game, and this past Saturday was just one of those games."
Those games keep teams from national championships.