Is Notre Dame QB Ian Book Now Being Underrated?

Bryan Driskell

Anyone that is familiar with my work over the last two years knows that I was quite critical of Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book’s performance last season. It was a season that ended with great statistics, but it was short in strong big-game performances.

As we head into the 2020 season, Book is expected to be the leader of an offense that must play at an elite level if the Irish are going to make a run at an ACC Championship and a College Football Playoff berth.

Yeah, it’s still strange writing that part about playing for an ACC Championship, but that’s a different story. Back to Book ….

Book had some brilliant moments in 2018, and he was downright deadly with short to intermediate throws. He struggled with the deep ball and had a few bad turnovers, but it was a quality first season in the lineup.

Fast forward to 2019, and Book’s deep ball was dramatically improved and he was an impactful runner, but he took a step back in the short to intermediate zones.

The question for Book in 2020 is can he combine his strong short to intermediate game from 2018 with the deep ball/run game success from 2019. If he does, the Notre Dame signal caller could be one of the nation’s best quarterbacks.

Despite my criticism of Book, I still find the debate about him quite confusing. There seems to be no middle ground with him, and that’s just as true of outside analysts as it is for Notre Dame fans. Take the recent Pro Football Focus ranking for the nation’s top quarterbacks for 2020.

The author, Anthony Treash, ranked Book as the nation’s 17th best quarterback heading into the season. Even if Book plays the exact same way he did last fall he’s better than the 17th best returning quarterback in the country. 

Some of the players ranked ahead of Book were head scratchers, and it seems that PFF is focusing on a couple of small aspects of his game to drag him down further than his combination of experience, talent and production otherwise should. His big-game performances are legitimate reasons for concern, but he’s not alone in that area, and that’s what separates good quarterbacks from great quarterbacks.

Here's one example ...

Georgia quarterback Jamie Newman ranked third on the list. I just do not get the infatuation with the Wake Forest transfer, who benefitted from playing in a league with poor defenses, and he had one of the nation’s best pass catchers on his team.

Just look at their overall 2019 numbers, and their production in big games.

Passing

Book — 3,034 pass yards, 34 TD, 6 INT, 60.2%, 149.13 rating, 7.6 YPA
Newman — 2,868 pass yards, 26 TD, 11 INT, 60.9%, 145.36 rating, 7.9 YPA

Rushing

Book — 546 rush yards, 4.9 YPC, 4 TD
Newman — 574 rush yards, 3.2 YPC, 6 TD

Total Offense

Book — 3,580 total yards, 38 TD, 7.0 YPP
Newman — 3,442 total yards, 32 TD, 6.4 YPP

Newman lost star receiver Sage Surratt in the final four games of the season. In those four games Newman averaged just 179 passing yards per game, completed just 48.1% of his passes and throwing the same number of touchdowns (4) as he did interceptions (4).

The third best quarterback in the country should not struggle that much without his top wideout. 

Newman went just 6-14 for 41 yards and two interceptions in a 52-3 loss to Clemson. He went 12-27 for 175 yards (3 scores) in a bowl loss to Michigan State. So Newman supporters can’t really use the “big game play” against Book in this instance.

Notre Dame and Wake Forest played four common opponents last season (Louisville, Boston College, Duke, Virginia Tech). Let’s take a look at their numbers in those games.

Passing

Book — 949 pass yards, 10 TD, 4 INT, 58.8%, 129.54 rating, 6.4 YPA
Newman — 1,016 pass yards, 8 TD, 5 INT, 56.0%, 131.90 rating, 7.6 YPA

Rushing

Book — 336 rush yards, 2 TD, 6.6 YPA
Newman — 255 rush yards, 1 TD, 3.5 YPA

Total Offense

Book — 1,285 total yards, 12 TD, 6.5 YPA
Newman — 1,271 total yards, 9 TD, 6.1 YPA

Those numbers don’t scream to me that one guy should be ranked as the third best quarterback in the country and the other should be ranked 17th.

Here's another example ...

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis ranked seventh on the list, and he’s another player that is getting far too much preseason hype. Slovis, of course, won’t be playing this season due to the PAC 12 canceling its fall campaign, but there were high expectations on him. 

Slovis runs an Air Raid offense that has turned average quarterbacks into 4,000+ yard passers for over a decade. It’s a system that guarantees a certain level of production, and that production doesn't always equal great play. When Pat Mahomes did it the play was brilliant, and you could tell. When Graham Harrell - the current OC at USC - passed for 10,816 yards and 93 touchdowns in this offense back in 2007-08 it was clear he was very good at executing the system, but he wasn't an elite quarterback.

I think this must also be considered. Who would have more success, Ian Book running the USC offense, or Kedon Slovis running the Notre Dame offense. I think if the roles were reversed Book would put up monster stats in that offense, especially with his running ability, while Slovis would have his fair share of struggles carrying out all the requirements of the Notre Dame offense.

Kent State’s Dustin Crum, Arkansas State’s Layne Hatcher, Miami’s D’Eriq King, Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr., Arizona’s Grant Gunnell, Northwestern’s Peyton Ramsey and UCF’s Dillon Gabriel were all ranked ahead of Book. There might be one quarterback in that list that a strong case could be made for having over Book, but it’s not a case I would make.

Book has a lot to prove this season if he wants to be a championship caliber quarterback, and from a pure Notre Dame perspective that should be the ultimate standard that is used to evaluate him. But when comparing Book to other quarterbacks around the country, his production, skill and experience is clearly being under-valued and under-appreciated by the PFF analysis.

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Comments (13)
No. 1-5
chamgel
chamgel

I think this article is spot on. The issue with Book isn’t that he is bad, he’s not, it’s can he be a game changer? Can he be a difference maker against Clemson? Against a defense with the talent and speed of Florida State? Can he produce if ND makes the playoffs? So yes, I agree he is being underrated, because against the majority of the schedule Book is fine. He’s not going to lose is a game we otherwise shouldn’t.

ndocd
ndocd

Book is a decent QB who probably got more props than he deserved after taking over for Wimbush in 2018. The Wimbush directed offense did enough to beat Michigan but looked pretty bad against Bowling Green and Vandy. So he gets pulled and Book slides in for the Stanford game and that win cements his starting position. But lest we forget, it was the presence of DEXTER WILLIAMS in that game and games following that renewed the Irish offense. I often wonder how much stronger our offense would have been with Wimbush's arm and the combination of his and Dexter's legs. Can you imagine opposing defenses trying to figure how to stop these two? With Wimbush back in the lineup against a mediocre FSU team, we got to see in that blowout where there was no real advantage that Book brought to the offense.

Like you, I have been skeptical about Book. Granted, he is rock solid against inferior opposition, but will we see him win just one big one? He has no signature win, unless you point to the comeback win against VaTech. But VaTech was 5-2 coming into South Bend, having lost to BC and Duke, and having wins against the likes of Furman, Old Dominion and Rhode Island. There is no way that the offense should have struggled in that game, and IMO, Book did not do anything more than he should have done. He did nothing special other than barely salvaging a game that should have been an offensive blowout.

Again, I'm not about to crucify the guy, but I need to be convinced that he is more than just a capable QB that had the benefit of strong offensive lines that protected him and solid defensive units that kept the Irish in their games. Unfortunately, assuming the season plays out like it's scheduled, Book might just have one chance to prove that. If he doesn't beat Clemson, he may in fact end up with the most wins by an ND starter at the end of the year, but I would have to put an asterisk next to that record.

KevinPS
KevinPS

Great article, Bryan. The nice thing is that Book has this all in his hands.

TxIrish
TxIrish

Interesting article. A couple of months ago Bryan had an article saying Book was one of the top QBs in the nation entering this season. That caught me off guard and made me think... almost by definition, a QB with Books experience would be one of the top QBs by default. Even if he's one of the top 10 QBs in the nation, there a wide gap between him and the one at the very top. But like Kevin said above, Book can show us on the field that he belongs on that conversation. And if he does, that means the Irish will have had a very good season.

BBoru
BBoru

Book will have plenty of opportunities to prove that 17th is a bit low. But let's not gloss over some of the real life opportunities that were missed. In the 2019 Georgia game ND got the ball at midfield shows the frustration.

1st & 10 at ND 48
(1:51 - 4th) Ian Book pass complete to Tony Jones Jr. for 3 yds to the Geo 49

2nd & 7 at UGA 49
(1:33 - 4th) Ian Book pass complete to Chase Claypool for 9 yds to the Geo 40 for a 1ST down

1st & 10 at UGA 40
(1:29 - 4th) Ian Book pass incomplete to Chase Claypool

2nd & 10 at UGA 40
(1:22 - 4th) Ian Book pass complete to Tony Jones Jr. for 2 yds to the Geo 38

3rd & 8 at UGA 38
(0:58 - 4th) Ian Book pass incomplete to Chase Claypool

(0:58 - 4th) Timeout GEORGIA, clock 00:58

4th & 8 at UGA 38
(0:48 - 4th) Ian Book pass incomplete to Chase Claypool, broken up by DJ Daniel

Newman stats are caused by the systematic problem of over rating SEC players, even when they are not technically SEC players (has not played a game yet).

You remember Joe Montana and the chicken soup game...does anyone remember had missed on 20 of his first 27 attempts, including four interceptions before leading the comeback after being benched (what was it 34-12 with 8 minutes left)?

4th quarter/big games are still the barometer that separates QB's with talent; to great QB's who get talked about long after they stop playing.

Strange as it seems; if he beats Clemson, then all the rest is forgotten.


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