Notre Dame QB Phil Jurkovec will do his fighting elsewhere

Stuck in development limbo with Irish, redshirt freshman is seeking a fresh start by transferring.

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Phil Jurkovec’s arm is top-notch, but the Irish have been unsatisfied with him in a number of other areas — including accuracy and signal-calling — and had no plans to play him ahead of established starter Ian Book.

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Back in late October, in those first fragile days after getting blown out at Michigan, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was asked — in several different ways — whether he might give more playing time to backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

After all, the redshirt freshman from western Pennsylvania had been considered Notre Dame’s quarterback of the future ever since he made his oral commitment in May 2016, at the tail end of his sophomore year at Pine-Richland High School. And incumbent Ian Book, whom Jurkovec replaced in the fourth quarter at Michigan Stadium, was coming off a 73-yard passing night, the worst of his career.

Kelly, halfway through his 10th season at the helm of the Fighting Irish, shook his head.

“If I felt like playing Phil for five plays, four plays, would make us a better football team, I would do it in a second,” he said then. “If I thought for a second that Phil Jurkovec should be on the field to help us winning in some fashion, he would be on the field.”

That answer immediately flashed to mind Wednesday after reports surfaced that Jurkovec had entered the transfer portal. A person close to Jurkovec confirmed those reports and added there was optimism about what lies ahead.

“We’re excited to see how it unfolds,” the person close to Jurkovec said. “Whoever picks him up is striking gold.”

Jurkovec, who has three seasons of eligibility remaining should he receive a transfer waiver, threw just 17 passes while appearing in eight total games for the Irish over the last two seasons. Two of those passes went for touchdowns.

The strength of his arm and his ability to throw the deep ball have never been questioned. However, Jurkovec’s pocket awareness, defensive recognition and accuracy remain works in progress, especially after he took 12 sacks in a harrowing Blue-Gold Game performance in the spring.

At the time, offensive coordinator Chip Long (since fired) said if Book was on advanced calculus as a signal-caller, Jurkovec was “still getting past algebra.”

There also was the matter of Jurkovec’s throwing motion, which he said in April was being tweaked by the coaching staff. He mentioned as much at the Cotton Bowl a few months earlier.

“He’s not played a lot of real football,” Kelly said after the Michigan loss, where Jurkovec led a late touchdown drive. “It has been a lot of practice football. He hasn’t played a lot in college. Making those quick decisions, changing protections — those are the thing that he’s going to have to continue to work on.”

At 6-5 and 227 pounds, Jurkovec is perhaps an even bigger threat with the ball tucked under his arm. He averaged 5.9 yards on 22 carries this past season, including a pair of 42-yard rushing days against Bowling Green State and Boston College.

A program willing to feature Jurkovec as a dual threat would figure to have the upper hand in his second recruitment. A maniac in the weight room, Jurkovec tests off the charts in nearly every physical area and takes a linebacker’s mentality to the field.

There’s still time for him to live up to that four-star rating he earned as a high school phenom who piled up more than 11,000 combined yards and 71 touchdowns.

Remember, the well-traveled Mike Sanford was still Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator when Jurkovec originally committed to follow in the footsteps of Johnny Lujack, Terry Hanratty, Tom Clements and Joe Montana and make the 375-mile trek west from the Pittsburgh area. Sanford recently landed at Minnesota, where the ascendant Golden Gophers are coming off an 11-2 season under charismatic coach P.J. Fleck. Alas, incumbent quarterback Tanner Morgan still has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

With Notre Dame yet to name Long’s successor, Jurkovec opted not to remain with the Irish after Book announced he was returning as a fifth-year senior. Holding the clipboard for one more season was an option, but it became an increasingly risky one with Brendon Clark — the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year — and 2020 signee Drew Pyne pushing from below.

There’s also the specter of 2021 commit Tyler Buchner, a top-50 national recruit who’s putting up video-game numbers in La Jolla, California.

Jurkovec may yet make it to advanced calculus. It just won’t happen at Notre Dame.

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