Thoughts on Notre Dame football, its recruiting efforts and college football.
JUST HOW GOOD CAN IAN BOOK BE?
One of the most hotly debated players of the Brian Kelly era is quarterback Ian Book, a player I’ve both praised and been highly critical of during his under two years as a starter.
It seems there are two extreme views around Book. In one camp there are people who believe he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and buy everything Kelly says about Book. That camp obsesses over his touchdown to interception ratio this season, and his win-loss record as a starter, and refuse to hear any criticism about him because “He’s 20-3 as a starter.”
On the other side are those that seem to believe Notre Dame has gone 22-3 the last two seasons in spite of Book. His arm is too weak, he lacks talent and his mindset isn’t what you want in a quarterback from a leadership standpoint. He is what he is as a quarterback, he won’t get much better, and it will keep Notre Dame from truly competing for championships.
The truth is, if we’re being objective, is there is truth on both sides, but neither extreme properly incapsulates what Book has been. The side that believes Book has played like a championship quarterback is wrong, the side that believes Book is what he is, is also wrong.
Ian Book has not played like a championship quarterback up to this point in his career. Throwing out his starting record as evidence of him being a top quarterback misses the boat. That’s like me arguing that Trent Dilfer is a better quarterback than Dan Marino because he won a Super Bowl and Marino didn’t.
But also simply pointing out his flaws and ignoring the good he has done also misses the boat.
His two seasons as a starter have been polar opposites in many ways. In 2018, Book struggled throwing the deep ball but was deadly accurate with the short to intermediate throws. The Irish quarterback averaged 290.6 passing yards per game in his nine starts, and had a decent 18-7 touchdown to interception ratio. The only time he threw for fewer than 264 yards in a start was the playoff game against Clemson.
As a senior, however, Book was far less accurate on short to intermediate throws but improved throwing the deep ball, at least overall. His yards per game average dropped all the way down to 233.4, and he threw for less than 200 yards five times and less than 260 yards eight times. His yards per attempt dropped from 8.4 to 7.6, his completion rate dropped from 68.2% to 60.2%. If his yards per completion saw a big spike I could live with that, but it went from 12.3 to just 12.6, and that was due mainly to the New Mexico game when Book had three completions go for over 150 yards despite traveling less than 5 yards down the field.
But Book did have an impressive 34-6 touchdown to interception ratio the was aided by the fact he threw 15 touchdowns in wins over New Mexico, Bowling Green and Navy. Book feasted on the bottom dwellers on the schedule, averaging 264.3 yards per game, 10.0 yards per attempt and 16.0 yards per completion with 18 touchdown passes (two interceptions) in four games against opponents with a losing record that did not quality for bowl games.
Against the other nine opponents he averaged 219.7 yards per game, 6.7 yards per attempt, 11.4 yards per completion and he threw just 16 touchdowns. This isn’t new information, and I’ve written about that in the past, which you can read HERE.
I tend to be more sympathetic to those who believe Book has actually held the offense back, far more than the offensive line or running back position, which are the two groups often used as scape goats by those unwilling to be critical of the Irish quarterback.
But this is where I depart with that side of the argument. I don’t believe Book is a finished product, not even close. I also reject the notion he lacks the physical tools to be an impact quarterback in college. He’s shown the physical ability to make tough throws, and this throw against Navy tells us everything we need to know about his ability to stretch the field.
Book is also a very athletic quarterback that can do a lot of damage with his legs.
The issues for Book aren’t physical, they are mental. The fact is, Book has often looked rushed, and even panicked when he plays teams that are known for having good defenses. We saw it against Pitt and Clemson in 2018, and we saw it far more often in 2019. Yes, he settled down late in the year, but that’s the point, that production came against a number of teams with average to really bad defenses.
But the fact is, in those games he did show the poise and throwing ability to lead a championship caliber offense. He showed the ability to stretch the field, he went through his progressions better, he was a bit more willing to attack parts of the field he avoided for much of the year and he seemed a bit more willing to take a hit in the pocket, something he rarely did early in the season.
When I watch the “Good Book” there is no doubt he has the physical tools to rip apart every team on the schedule, including Clemson. No, he doesn’t have a bazooka for an arm, but this is college football, and his arm is plenty strong to dominate at the collegiate level. He’s certainly athletic enough.
The key now is becoming a more aggressive quarterback. I have always contended and still contend that if Book can take the poise and aggressiveness he shows against the inferior opponents and carry that into games against teams like Clemson, Wisconsin, USC and Louisville the 2020 season could be a special one for Notre Dame.
If that happens the people who have always defended him will say they were always right. They weren’t, but they’ll say it. The fact is Book hasn’t been that quarterback yet …. but he can be. If he finally becomes the quarterback he’s capable of, against all opponents, the 2020 season could be a lot of fun.
MICKENS MAKING A STRONG IMPRESSION
Mike Mickens was hired to coached cornerbacks at Notre Dame in mid-February, and when he was hired the board at his position was a mess due to how long it took Kelly to make the hire. By mid-March the college football world was turned upside down. Spring practices were delayed and ultimately canceled, as were spring games, and recruiting was placed on a dead period due to the COVID-19 fears.
Recruiting hasn’t gone well for Notre Dame over the last month, but Mickens (and DL coach Mike Elston) has been a bright spot. He has used that time to expand the board, with the staff throwing out a number of new offers. We aren’t talking about Plan B type players either, the offers Mickens is throwing out are to prospects that can flat out play.
On top of that, Mickens has connected with top corners already on the board, and in about a month and a half he has the cornerback board in a very healthy position.
When the Irish Breakdown staff talks to cornerback recruits we hear the same thing over and over, and that is they are connecting well with Mickens, and the new cornerbacks coach is putting in serious work on the recruiting trail.
The next key for Mickens is closing, and from a recruiting standpoint that’s the greatest trait needed by a position coach at a school like Notre Dame. It’s one thing to be a great evaluator of talent and a good coach, but if you can’t close the deal on top talent you’re always going to come up short on the field against the top teams.
Mickens needs to prove he can close, and right now the Irish don’t have a single cornerback in the class, but if his start is any indication, by the time we get to December the Irish cornerback class should be in very good shape.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Notre Dame 2021 defensive tackle commit Gabriel Rubio recently encapsulated the struggle athletes across the country are dealing with right now as most of the country is on a social distancing mandate.
Getting to the gym isn't an option for most. Not working out also isn't an option, at least not for players who have the drive to be great. Players are having to improvise on every level, and Rubio isn't letting all of. this keep him from putting in the work.
FILM TO WATCH
One of the cornerbacks Mickens recently offered was Gaithersburg (Md.) Quince Orchard standout Ryan Barnes. If you didn't read Jack Sullivan's article on Barnes, and how affinity for Notre Dame, you missed out. But don't worry, it's not too late, read it HERE.
But you definitely will want to check out his highlights.
Follow me on twitter: @CoachD178