Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 27, 2020

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

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30 NOV. 27, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED I f the defeat of Clemson piqued your curiosity or gave you belief, this handling of Boston College — more lopsided than the final margin suggests — allowed you to take the plunge with no qualms. Go ahead, do a cannonball into these unfamiliar but thirst-quenching waters. Notre Dame's quarterback is the reason the Irish are winning games and having flirtatious encounters with 50 points. It has been a minute since that was reality. And it's a sight that has Notre Dame fans across the country surely thinking big about what's next in the final six weeks. Yes, there are other factors in Notre Dame's 8-0 start. The No. 2-ranked team isn't riding the shoulders of one man right now, nor has it all year. But Ian Book is the constant. In the 45-31 win over Boston College, he offered a bit everything. He stood in pockets as walls closed in and delivered throws. He escaped sacks and dodged pressure to find receivers in scramble situations, which all looked so simple and natural. All told, Book completed 20 of 27 throws for 283 yards with three touchdowns. No sacks. No turn- overs. No mistakes that left a bad taste or lasting memory. "He was outstanding," head coach Brian Kelly said. "Probably in a large degree the difference in this game." There was no starker contrast be- tween these two teams than their quarterback play. Book, a three-year starter, was in total command. His former backup, Phil Jurkovec, com- pleted just 45.0 percent of his passes. The ones he hit were an impressive collection of strikes from the pocket and deft improvisation. The ones he didn't were confounding missed la- yups that were laborious just to watch (they're perhaps explained by a sepa- rated shoulder suffered Oct. 31). No matter how Book and Jurkovec played Saturday, what led them to their respective starting roles is an old tale not worth rehashing. As long as Book was at Notre Dame, Jurkovec would be his understudy. Like it or not. Hard not to now. There's a steadiness about Book. The highs in his game don't usu- ally involve fastballs zipped in be- tween two defenders or jaw-on-floor throws. The lows, though, barely reg- ister. It's hard to recall many off mo- ments from Book's play the last two weeks. They were essentially nonex- istent against Boston College. With every throw or timely scram- ble, Book put larger dents into old narratives. Notre Dame was right for sticking with him (not that it consid- ered otherwise). He can throw from the pocket. He can get better with age. A Kelly quarterback has progressed instead of regressed with more starts. He has another gear in him to help Notre Dame win rather than force the Irish to prevail in spite of him. How captivating is his recent play? Notre Dame posted 278 rush- ing yards on 5.9 per carry and it was met with indifference. The run game is the known commodity, a reliable force that allows Notre Dame to lean into its physicality and biggest strength, but isn't quite as satiat- ing as a quarterback in total control. Standout quarterback play evokes grander visions and higher ceilings. Physically, nothing is different with Book. He didn't lack athleticism and mobility until a few weeks ago. His arm didn't just become stronger. His intelligence and experience were al- ready established. He's simply at ease in his role in a way he hadn't been. "I wouldn't say anything crazy changed," Book said. "I'm who I am every day. I just knew there was more for me." There's one spot where his comfort is evident. When Book takes off from the pocket, it's no longer an automatic run. His athleticism often made those scrambles productive in prior years, but rarely was he looking to pass dur- ing them. Flushing him out — or in some cases, flushing himself out — all but ended the idea of a throw. Now, though, Book often leaves the play structure with an intent to pass, at least until he has seen everything has dried up. His eyes remain downfield. On the second of his three touch- down passes to fifth-year senior wide receiver Bennett Skowronek, Book found himself about to be engulfed by Boston College defensive end Marcus Valdez, who had generated interior pressure. He backpedaled out of the near-sack, rolled left and with his shoulders pointed toward the end zone, found Skowronek head- ing toward the sideline. Skowronek caught it in stride, turned up field and strolled seven yards into the end zone to give Notre Dame a 24-13 lead. "It starts with Ian, first of all, his presence in the pocket," Kelly said. "He's a unique player in that he has great escapability but also has a great sense of when to take off." Maybe Book's proficiencies are just now visible because there's clear trust and cohesion with his wide receivers that didn't exist early in the season. A crew of unfamiliar faces in August and one that still feels short on upside worked in lockstep with Book's ev- ery move. They scrambled as he did. They're separating with more consis- tency. Everyone has a clear role and opportunities that play to strengths. Mix those together, and it's a concoc- tion any college football team wants to have in its cupboard this time of year. "It's starting to add up," Book said. "I'm trying to take it to the next level. I wouldn't pinpoint one thing. I'm just elevating at the right time. It's a whole bunch of things. It's chemis- try, offense, defense. I couldn't do it without everybody on the offense." Notre Dame has taken flight with him. ✦ As Ian Book Finds More, So Does Notre Dame ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Book completed 20 of 27 passes for 283 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, plus added 85 yards and a score on the ground. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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