For the First Time in Years, Notre Dame Should Not have a QB Controversy this Season
Brian Kelly needs to trust Ian Book at QB this season every step of the way.
For the past decade of following Notre Dame football, there seems to be a QB controversy almost every season. This dates all the way back to 2010 and 2011 with Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees, in addition to 2012 with Everett Golson and Tommy Rees. More recently, Malik Zaire and Deshone Kizer split time in 2015 and 2016, and everybody remembers 2017 and 2018 with Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book battling it out. Whether the controversy was for breaking team rules, academic misconduct, or simply underperforming, there’s always been drama around the quarterback position in South Bend. However, that should not be the case this year with senior, veteran QB Ian Book.
Book has answered the call his entire career at Notre Dame, beginning in the 2017 season against LSU in the Citrus Bowl game. He subbed in for starter Brandon Wimbush late in the second quarter and went 14/19 for 164 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. The moment did not phase Book, as he looked more poised than Wimbush and led the Irish to a victory.
Moving forward to the following season, after sitting the first three games of the 2018 campaign, Book picked up right where he left off after replacing Wimbush as starting QB. Not only did he lead the Irish to the College Football Playoff, he proved himself to be one of the better pure quarterbacks in the country, while also displaying the athletic ability to step outside of the pocket and run. Book finished the year with a completion percentage of 68.2%. This not only broke the school record, but it was also eighth-best in the country and third-best among those returning in 2019. He also had a passing efficiency of 154.0, 17th best in the country and ninth-best among those returning (Source: NCAA.com). He shattered any ounce of doubt among fans who did not agree with Wimbush’s benching. He truly is one of the best QB’s in the country heading into the 2019 season, and it is no surprise he was one of 30 players named to the preseason ‘Walter Camp Player of the Year Award’ watch list.
There is warranted skepticism with Ian Book’s lack of accuracy throwing the ball downfield, but he had all offseason to mitigate that weakness. He doesn’t need to be perfect with the deep ball. He just needs the opposing team to respect his ability downfield so they don’t load up the box, preventing the Irish from running the ball or from running their west coast style offense they ran last year, which featured short routes with Book getting rid of the ball quickly. Loading the box is exactly what Clemson did to them in the College Football playoff last season, and is why ND could not move the ball consistently. The opposing defense having to respect Book’s ability to throw it downfield frees up the middle of the field, which would make the Irish offense even more explosive given how deadly accurate Book is inside of fifteen yards. It seems that this has been the goal in camp so far this summer, as videos of ND’s practices has shown Book throwing the ball downfield much more than he displayed last year:
Redshirt freshman Phil Jurkovec was a highly touted recruit out of high school and is expected to be Book’s backup, but there should be absolutely no doubt as to who the quarterback is for Notre Dame this season. Even if Book struggles against Georgia in week 4, for example, it would be ludicrous for Brian Kelly to look at Jurkovec to be the starting QB. Having said this, it would not shock me at all if Kelly tried this given his track record with quarterbacks at ND. Kelly is too quick to doubt his quarterbacks and it happens almost every year, as explained previously. You cannot continue to have a revolving door at the position who runs the offense. Although it worked out last year, that’s about the only time in the last decade that it has. Plus, I’d argue Ian Book should have been starting since game one, as he was clearly the better QB between the two and was undoubtedly showing that in practice well before Wimbush’s benching. Having a QB controversy develops drama and uncertainty within the locker room, and can even divide it. The team needs to have one guy they can look to in times of duress, which is not possible when the head coach is leaning on two different quarterbacks. Ian Book needs to be that guy the entire locker room looks to with confidence to lead them to victory in close games. Not only is he a proven football player and accomplished quarterback, but he is a well-spoken, tremendous individual that you can build a team around. If Brian Kelly was smart, he would give Book the keys to the team and step out of his way.
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