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Should Irish Faithful be Excited that Ian Book is Returning Next Season?

After a season in which Ian Book beat up on average opponents and once again came up short against elite competition, Irish fans are divided as to whether or not Notre Dame is better off with him returning for next season.
Photo: Matt Cashore

Photo: Matt Cashore

As many fans already know, Ian Book announced Sunday evening that he will be exercising his fifth-year option and returning to Notre Dame next season, per below:

However, should Irish faithful really be excited that Ian Book will once again lead the Irish offense again next season? While this may seem like a ridiculous question to some people, given his overall body of work, others argue that the program would be better off moving on from Book. The idea is that, while Ian Book’s overall stats seem impressive on the surface, he fails to perform in big games and does not lead Notre Dame to victory against the college football elites. Fans point to the Clemson game last season in the College Football Playoff, in addition to the Georgia and Michigan games this season, to come to that conclusion. While a lot of the Ian Book naysayers have hidden in the shadows after his improved performance the last six games, after Book’s announcement last night they’re right where they were two months ago after the Michigan embarrassment. They’re stating, once again, that the Irish would be better off with Phil Jurkovec running the show. While there is some merit to this argument, the perception that Book does not show up in big games can be debunked, which I get into later in the article.

In addition to Book’s perceived lackluster performances against elite competition, there's another reason why ND may want to move on from Book. That reason is Phil Jurkovec, a once highly rated recruit coming out of high school who will be in his third year and ready to receive the keys to the Irish offense. Appearing in six games this season, Jurkovec converted 80% of his pass attempts and logged a 248.3 passer rating. These numbers are impressive, but it’s worth noting that they were mostly in garbage time and should be taken with a grain of salt. However, more so than the stats, the biggest factor I’m hearing as to why Jurkovec should be given the starting nod next season is the “eye test.” Jurkovec is 6 feet 4 inches and 227 pounds with an absolute cannon of an arm. He’s faster, stronger, and simply a better athlete than Book, and that’s why he has generated so much momentum as being the next stud QB to put on an Irish uniform. He theoretically would provide a different dynamic to the Irish offense, with his ability to throw the ball downfield and stretch the opposing defense, which has been the biggest weakness of Book’s ability the past two seasons. Jurkovec’s superior athleticism also makes him more of a rushing force, evident by his 5.9 average yards per rush this past season.

Even with Jurkovec's superior athletic ability and arm strength, that is no guarantee he will be a more effective quarterback than Ian  Book. The eye test can be deceiving, and former Quarterbacks Brandon  Wimbush and Dayne  Crist are perfect examples.

Even with Jurkovec's superior athletic ability and arm strength, that is no guarantee he will be a more effective quarterback than Ian Book. The eye test can be deceiving, and former Quarterbacks Brandon Wimbush and Dayne Crist are perfect examples.

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However, physical stature and arm strength are significantly overvalued when it comes to evaluating how a QB will perform on the field. Remember Brandon Wimbush? He also had a cannon and was as fast as any QB in the country. But, it didn't matter. Book took his starting position for one reason: throwing accuracy. Going off that, there was serious concern with Jurkovec’s throwing accuracy in fall camp before this past season started, as there were rumors he couldn’t even complete simple 5-yard outs consistently. Since he did not play enough meaningful snaps to prove that narrative false, it’s still up in the air as to whether or not Jurkovec can consistently throw the football accurately. Book has his shortcomings, but if there’s one thing he is elite at, it’s completing passes inside 10 yards. It’s also worth noting that Jurkovec is a physical clone of former Irish Quarterback Dayne Crist. Crist was a top recruit with an NFL ready body that was touted as the next Brady Quinn upon his arrival to campus. Even with all that talent, he simply could not put it all together on the field. He eventually transferred to Kansas and couldn’t even hold a starting position there. Look, I’m by no means saying Jurkovec will suffer that same fate, I'm simply stating that the “eye test” is overvalued and production on the field is what matters.

Getting back to the perception that Ian Book does not perform well in big games, before people continue to believe that, let’s take a look at the stats. Against Georgia this season, Book was 29/47 with two touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 41.7 passer rating. Take away the two picks that were not his fault and those stats immediately go from modest to very formidable. Against a ranked Navy team, Book lit the stat sheet up and turned in one of the better QB performances of the Brian Kelly era. He went 14/20 for 284 yards with five TD’s, zero interceptions, and a passer rating of 98.8. This performance against Navy seems to get lost when Irish fans talk about Book’s overall performance this year, and it should not.

I suppose every fan who is against Book’s return is pointing at the Michigan game, in which he went 8/25 for 73 yards, one TD, and a passer rating of 12.6. There’s no sugarcoating the fact that those stats are not pretty. However, given the monsoon-like conditions in which it’s not only tough to grip the ball, but difficult to see 10 yards downfield, why would Chip Long elect to throw the ball 25 times? A gameplan of horizontal run plays and slow developing RPO’s in those conditions is incompetence from a strategic standpoint. Michigan elected to run the ball downhill at the teeth of the defense to the tune of 49 points, which is the appropriate gameplan given the circumstances. My point is this: don’t put that Michigan game on Ian Book. That embarrassment is on former Offensive Coordinator Chip Long, and he was fired for it.

The one game where the argument of Book not showing up in big games does have merit, is against Clemson in the CFP last season. Book was hesitant, had happy feet in the pocket, and was scared to take any shots downfield. He checked down to receivers inside five yards all game long and showed no sign of confidence in his ability. It was ugly. However, one lackluster performance against an elite front seven that bullied a very good Notre Dame offensive line does not seal Book’s fate as a quarterback that does not perform against the elite of college football. The entire team did not show up and was simply outmatched by an opponent of superior talent and ability, evident by their going on to embarrass the Crimson Tide and win a national title one week later. Make no mistake, that was one of the better teams in College Football history.

It's also worth pointing out that Book showed out in other big games against ranked opponents in his tenure at ND. As a starter, he’s led the Irish to a Citrus Bowl victory against LSU, in addition to wins against ranked teams such as Stanford, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse in 2018 and Navy and Virginia this past season. Doubting Book’s ability going into his fifth year, given his track record, proves exactly how spoiled some Notre Dame fans can be. Instead of trusting the narrative the media pushes that Book does not show up in big games, how about you take a look at the stats and come to a conclusion yourself? Ian Book has started 24 games in his collegiate career and has lost three of them. After the completion of next season, he will have shattered practically every record held by a Notre Dame quarterback. Yet, fans would rather trust Jurkovec, who has proven nothing at the collegiate level, over a guy with that pedigree? It's mind-boggling. Here's what you should do: welcome Ian Book with open arms and don't cry for him to be benched after every ounce of adversity next season.

Featured Photo: Matt Cashore