Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 12, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 OCT. 12, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED F air or not, and even while leading an improving, top-10 team, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is in- creasingly being asked about his comfort level with senior starting quarterback Ian Book. Much improvement was expected from Kelly's second- year starting signal-caller, but based on the eye test so far this season, Book doesn't play much differently this year from last. The two biggest areas of growth during the offseason the Notre Dame coaches chal- lenged Book to focus on were his reluctance to throw down the field and a tendency to give up on a play too quickly. And through the first five games this season, not much progress seems to have been made in ei- ther area, even Kelly suggested as much. "He probably just needs to be more decisive," Kelly said. "There's some plays out there that he knows he sees after the fact." To Kelly's point, one particular play against Virginia stands out as to why Book continues to look more average than elite while playing the position. Facing a second-and-nine on the first offensive drive of the game, junior tight end Cole Kmet busted wide open on a seam route for what should've been a can't-miss first- down throw from Book, and perhaps even a touchdown. Impatient and frazzled, Book looked away from Kmet, bailed, turned his back to the line of scrim- mage and instead scrambled for eight yards. The end result of the play wasn't bad — and the Irish scored on the drive — but this became a snapshot of another missed opportunity and an example of Book settling for safe instead of score. "He's a quarterback that needs to trust what he sees, and be committed to it," Kelly added. Book will always be a solid game manager who puts ball security first — often to a fault — and isn't going to hurt his team with bad decisions or costly turnovers. And statistically speaking, Book is on pace this season to chase 3,000 passing yards and 20-some touch- downs, although his completion per- centage is down about eight points from 2018. The most concerning issue to Notre Dame followers and the Irish coaches remains Book's inability to stay poised in the pocket and find more plays down the field. "We want to continue to see that natural process of managing our of- fense," Kelly said. "But he's also got the ability to be explosive. I think that is the next step for him." Against Virginia, the Irish defense played so well, Book wasn't asked to do much, and he didn't. For only the second time in his career as a starter (the other com- ing in the 30-3 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff last sea- son), Book failed to throw or run for a touchdown, bringing up another question — does the Irish quarter- back wither against elite defenses? Book moved to No. 5 in the coun- try in pass efficiency after game two when he confidently shred- ded New Mexico's soft pass defense with five touchdowns and 360 passing yards, both ca- reer highs. Mediocre performances the next two games against No. 3 Georgia and No. 18 Virginia — arguably the two best pass defenses the Irish will face this year — then dropped Book's quarterback rating to 41st, and dragged his public perception down with it. Kelly continues to insist that because Book has started only 14 career games at Notre Dame, there is still plenty of learning and improvement to come. But given the here-today-gone-to- morrow routine that elite col- lege quarterbacks take to the NFL, 14 starts are an adequate sample to show marked and steady improvement. So, if Book isn't improving, does it mean he's regressing? Given the dubious history of second-year starting quarterbacks under Kelly, it's a valid question. Everett Golson, DeShone Kizer and Brandon Wimbush were all expected to make noted progress between their first and second years as the starter. Each went the other way. Book has a fifth year of eligibil- ity remaining in 2020. And given that he's projected no better than a fourth-round NFL Draft pick and would possibly go undrafted if he leaves Notre Dame after this season, expect Book to be back next year. And while having a quarterback return as a three-year starter sounds great in theory, history proves that when almost any signal-caller spends five years in a program, what you've seen in the past is what you're going to get in the future. And is that good enough? "Could we be a little bit better? Sure, I think we all could be," Kelly said. "So, I'm certainly not displeased with Ian Book, that's for sure." ✦ The Jury Is Still Out On Ian Book UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Head coach Brian Kelly recently said of Book: "He's a quarterback that needs to trust what he sees and be committed to it." PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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