Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 9, 2019

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

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14 NOV. 9, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TODD D. BURLAGE N otre Dame head coach Brian Kelly found himself with a major dilemma — still with no obvious resolution — after the 45-14 drubbing on a rainy night at Michigan washed away Notre Dame's primary preseason goal of a College Football Playoff berth. With a second-tier bowl game left as a possible destination for his team, Kelly must decide whether to ex- haust all of his resources and squeeze everything possible out of 2019, or start coaching with a partial eye to 2020 and beyond, specifically at the quarterback position. Immediately after the Michigan mauling, Kelly decided that no deci- sion was necessary. "There isn't any kind of conversa- tion about making a change," Kelly said. "Ian Book is our starter, will be our starter." Even to a football novice, Book's shortcomings have become obvi- ous this season a n d t h e c r i t i - cisms to follow predictable. The Irish se- nior plays poorly against better de- fenses. Stats get padded against the weaker ones. He often doesn't recognize a re- c e i v e r c o m i n g open and prematurely gives up on pass plays to squeeze out some rush- ing yards. "Part of my game is being able to extend the play and get the ball out of there, I don't want to lose that," Book said. "But at the same time, there are times I need to work on be- ing in the pocket and delivering the ball, no doubt." And while Book prides himself on extending plays, NFL Draft analyst Scott Wright, founder and president of, has a different take. "Ian Book is seeing ghosts [i.e. not seeing the field well and being con- fused by the defense]," explained Wright, adding that there is little or no chance the Irish quarterback would be drafted if he comes out af- ter this season, and encourages Book to return to Notre Dame in 2020. "He takes off and bails on the pocket too early, he runs too early, and I think it is hurting his teammates because he is leaving a lot of production on the field. "His struggles have impacted guys like [senior wide receiver] Chase Claypool and some of the other weapons there." And as far as the growing criticism and endless analysis? "I don't listen to anyone who says any of that, so it really doesn't bug me," Book said. "At the same time, I'm listening to what's going on in here about what I can improve on. "But I don't want to lose any of my ability to being able to extend the play — that's the quarterback I am. At the same time, there are some times I should stay in there and make the right throw." Fifth-year senior wide receiver Chris Finke and the rest of the Irish have their quarterback's back. Finke rightfully explained that as the Notre Dame signal-caller, Book is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, so why engage in a Twitter war you can't win? "We try to block it out, whatever it is," Finke said. "I'll be the first to say that no one on this team really cares what anyone has to say. We don't play for what other people think of us. "We play for each other. What any- body wants to say about us, that's fine." EYE TO THE FUTURE? With no chance to make the Col- lege Football Playoff this season, Kelly was asked if at least rotating in sophomore quarterback Phil Jurk- ovec for some series might speed his backup's developmental process, and give the inexperienced signal- caller a head start for 2020 or 2021. Jurkovec, who has spent almost two full seasons in the Irish program, threw for more than 8,000 yards and 71 touchdowns at Pine-Richland High School in Pittsburgh, notably 4,000 yards and 39 touchdowns as a senior in 2017. A gifted athlete, Jurk- ovec added another 1,211 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground. "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," Kelly said. "I'm only inter- ested in how I can help our football team win." And Kelly believes, at least to this point, that Jurkovec cannot, so the coach will not pull the plug on the present to potentially build a brighter future. "If I thought for a second that Phil Jurkovec would be on the field to help us win in some fashion, he would be on the field," Kelly added. "This is as honest as I can be with you." That's the dilemma and decision Kelly and the Irish coaches face the rest of this season — balance the lumps with the learning these last four games c o u l d p ro v i d e J u r k o v e c ; r e - main all in with Book to better the odds of beat- ing Duke, Navy, Boston College and Stanford; or eventually find s o m e m i d d l e ground. " [ J u r k o v e c ] hasn't played a lot of real football," Kelly said. "It has been a lot of prac- tice football. It's an incredible game, right? You practice, practice, practice, practice, and then you play only 12 games. "He's practiced a lot and hasn't played a lot in college." And while Kelly proclaims that Book over Jurkovec is the final deci- sion, the coach was just as adamant last season about starting Brandon Wimbush over Book — right up until he wasn't anymore. "We believe that Ian Book is a young man that is going to work on the things necessary to be the kind of quarterback we want him to be," Kelly said. "He's won a lot of games." ✦ QB QUALMS Amid uncertainty, Ian Book seeks to block out the external noise and focus on internal feedback to improve his performance Book's struggles at Michigan (8-of-25 passing for 73 yards) brought increased levels of scrutiny and criticism from outside the program. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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