Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2021

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

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Page 4 of 83 MARCH 2021 5 T ommy Rees knows now what Notre Dame fans ought to learn on 12 weekends this fall. "Contrary to popular belief, we were spoiled here for the last five years with Ian Book," Rees, Notre Dame's offensive coordinator, said in a Feb. 3 Zoom media session. He was poking at a notion of the contrary that has circulated among segments of Irish fans since some- time in 2019. The disdain in his voice for it could've knocked a building off its moorings. And rightfully so. Whatever you think of Book, there's one undeniable reality. Losing him deals Notre Dame's 2021 offense a setback. A meaningful one that leads me to this prediction: the Irish faithful will have more mo- ments when they wish he was still around than moments when they're glad he's gone, because of what he was and who's in line to take over. Let's start with the former. What was Book? You know the accolades by this point. All-time wins leader, three-year starter, two-time captain and so on. There's more. Book was good enough to help Notre Dame get to the College Football Playoff twice. A skilled improviser. A big reason the Irish toppled Clemson Nov. 7. Most of the time, a steady hand. In 2020, he finished top 10 nationally in ESPN's QBR metric, which values the quarterback on all play types and is adjusted for the strength of oppos- ing defenses. The NFL also sees more value in him than most think. At Janu- ary's Senior Bowl, opposing defen- sive backs voted him the National Team's top quarterback after a week of practices. His teammates were Arkansas' Feleipe Franks and Texas' Sam Ehlinger. "His mobility is the key to his eval- uation, and despite his inconsistent downfield reads and touch, his confi- dence and winning résumé go a long way with evaluators," wrote Dane Brugler, The Athletic's NFL Draft an- alyst, in a January Senior Bowl pre- view. "Book is a mid-to-late rounder for me, but some around the league, they see a quarterback who will go in the top four rounds." I know the "yeah, but …" rebuttal that follows, though. Everyone's goal inside and outside the program is to win in the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame had fatal flaws in its 2018 and 2020 CFP teams that kept it from advancing and toppling the eventual national champion both times. Yes, quarterback disparity was among them. Notre Dame's lack of top-flight signal-callers under coach Brian Kelly is a trend that needs cor- recting if it wants to push closer to college football's summit. Recent na- tional title winners and runners-up have early-round NFL Draft picks, Heisman winners or top-five finish- ers playing football's most impor- tant position and leading dynamic offenses. For all his accolades, Book is none of those. The bumps with his pocket awareness, anticipation and decisive- ness were real. The tallest hurdle that comes with finding Book's replace- ment is the likelihood Notre Dame needs, among other things, an im- provement on the quarterback with the most wins in school history to fetch a national title. The thing is, there's only so much clear upgrading possible from Book, who countless programs across the country would shave off fingers to have on their roster. The tier above him is occupied by few. It's where rare breeds like Trevor Lawrence re- side. Book, obviously, wasn't at that level. But there is a strong chance no one on the 2021 roster will be either. Perhaps ballyhooed freshman Tyler Buchner reaches that point in time. Expecting him to now, though, is going against the evidence of Kel- ly's prior 11 years and a bit out of touch with reality. The same goes for incumbents Drew Pyne and Brendon Clark, who have seven combined pass attempts and zero starts be- tween them. The range of outcomes for those three this year is unset- tlingly wide. That's why Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan is here. He's a known commodity, probably close to a finished product. He's an 18- game starter who piloted the Badgers to a 10-4 record, Big Ten West divi- sion title and Rose Bowl appearance in 2019. In his one full season as a starter, he threw for 2,727 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions while averaging 8.0 yards per at- tempt. He completed 69.6 percent of his throws. He's a comfortable pocket passer, but not known for his mobility. All told, sounds a lot like someone around Book's level. Not someone better than Book. Bringing in Coan is a move geared toward keeping Notre Dame in the CFP mix more than one brought in to deliver playoff wins. That's where Notre Dame is right now. It won't change without an offensive identity geared toward generating more ex- plosive plays and more skill-position playmakers. It won't change without a game-changer at quarterback. Give Book's tenure a label short of game-changing if you'd like. It's reasonable. But whether it's through a young quarterback's growing pains or a solid veteran's ceiling, this season is set up to deliver its share of hind- sight illustrations backing up Rees' assertion. ✦ Ian Book's Career Will Be Appreciated More In 2021 ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Finding an equal to Book under center in 2021 will be a difficult task for Notre Dame. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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