2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

Issue link: https://comanpub.uberflip.com/i/1133608

Contents of this Issue


Page 51 of 163

50 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY TODD D. BURLAGE N otre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long issued a unique chal- lenge this offseason to senior start- ing quarterback Ian Book. This wasn't the kind of contradictory edict many successful coaches throw at players who have been told since youth league to always pro- tect the football like your life depended on it. "Gamble, sling it around, take chances, look downfield, force throws; incompletions and interceptions are forgivable," was the core message Long and the rest of the Fight- ing Irish coaches preached after Book played passively and ineffectively in a 30-3 College Football Playoff loss to Clemson in the Cot- ton Bowl to end Notre Dame's 2018 season. "Challenge, challenge, I don't care to see a check down," Long said of trying to instill a more aggressive approach to Book's quar- terback psyche. "I want him to try to throw the whole shot." As a high-percentage, low-risk quarterback last season, Book often made the position look easy because most of his throws were easy. Book dinked and dunked his way to a Notre Dame single-season record 68.15 completion percentage, narrowly surpassing Jimmy Clau- sen's record from 2009 of 68.0 percent. Book's conservative approach also has him at No. 3 all time among Notre Dame quarterbacks with a 147.3 career passing efficiency rating, trailing only Kevin Mc- Dougal's 156.7 from 1990-93 and DeShone Kizer's mark of 147.7 from 2015-16. While that was a superb achievement by a first-year starter, if Book's passer rating (17th nationally) or interception total (seven) slip a bit this season while his yards per at- tempt and completion climb, that's a trade- off the Irish coaches are willing to make. "Test the offense, right?" said Long, stressing that the younger Irish receivers feature game-breaking boundary speed that will be wasted without more aggressive downfield looks from Book. "Make throws that you probably wouldn't have made [in 2018] because I might have been mad about putting the ball in jeopardy." Even during an undefeated 2018 regular season, the Irish passing game remained so safe and secure that Dexter Williams had as many plays of at least 50 yards — three — at running back as Book and the Irish managed in the pass game. On top of that, the longest aerial play of the season came on a screen pass from Book that wide receiver Michael Young busted off for 66 yards against Wake Forest. Another of those three 50-plus pass plays came on a short toss and catch that running back Tony Jones Jr. took for 51 yards and a score at USC, Book's longest touchdown pass of the season. Book's only "actual" vertical pass play of more than 50 yards was a 56-yarder to wide receiver Chris Finke at Virginia Tech. "I'm not going to go too crazy where I start creating bad habits or anything like that," explained Book, aware of his vertical void last season but also understanding the difference between aggressive and reckless. "But I want to push the offense, push the guys, especially the receivers, and be able to show them I can make some of those throws. "That's what it takes to be an elite offense and an elite quarterback." Elite in the way Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, similarly to Book, began last season as the Tigers backup before tak- ing over the starting role in week five and eventually winning a national championship. And elite again in the way Lawrence shred- ded the Irish secondary for 327 yards and three touchdowns in the 27-point drubbing. The quarterback comparison in that Irish loss — a game in which Book was only 17-of- 34 passing for 160 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a lost fumble on a scram- ble — squashed much of the equity Book built nationally during his run of eight straight wins as a starter and raised some questions over his pocket poise and overall effectiveness. Was he not letting plays develop long enough? Was he thinking run before pass too often? Was his successful season a function of great play, or because no Irish opponent in the final pass defense rankings bettered Syracuse at No. 47? Book said he did everything possible this OPEN BOOK Senior quarterback Ian Book is being challenged to become more of a playmaker Book dinked and dunked his way to a Notre Dame single-season record 68.15 completion percent- age and currently stands third all time with a 147.3 career passing efficiency rating. However, Book's coaches are willing to take dips in those areas if it results in more big passing plays. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

Articles in this issue

view archives of 2019 Notre Dame Football Preview - Digital Edition