Midweek Musings

Bryan Driskell

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.

Join the Irish Breakdown community!

Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown podcast on iTunes.

Follow me on twitter: @CoachD178

Like and follow Irish Breakdown on Podcast

Comments (34)
No. 1-11
CoachDeDario
CoachDeDario

Ian Book is certainly a hot topic and deservedly so. Ask any former ND QB what it’s like and they will tell you the immense pressure they are under at all times. Ian Book has all the talent to be a great ND quarterback. His inconsistency is what causes me to get frustrated. I don’t care who then opponent is, if you can make throws, you can make them. He just needs to show he can make them all the time or at least when he needs to. He needs to be relaxed in the pocket and take what the defense gives him. I wish I had a nickel for every time I saw a WR running WIDE open and he tries to force the ball somewhere else or throw it away when he had plenty of time to make the right throw because I’d be a rich man! Bottom line is the 2020 season will provide Book with plenty of opportunities to prove he can be the successful QB that he has all the tools to be! Can’t wait to watch it with my IB gear on this year!!

1 Reply

frase
frase

Coach Vince welcome to Irish Breakdown.I really enjoyed your work at BGI especially your podcasts with Lou S.Looking forward to your interactions with a Coach Driskell.

Irish Mike
Irish Mike

Me either! ☘️

BPirish05
BPirish05

Obviously, we would want to the best of 2018 and 2019, to combine for this 2020 season. But, is it wrong to want the 2018 guy who made quick decisions, got the ball out quickly, and let the playmakers make plays? (I resorted to a cliche)

Irishfan11
Irishfan11

Great article. I believe Book can be a great QB but he has not shown that yet. He has been way too inconsistent, especially against better opponents on the road, which is when you need your QB at his best. I agree it’s mostly mental, since his performance seems very situational. Against lesser openers, he makes all the throws. Against tough opponents or in tough situations, he struggles. It’s like he speeds up too much and over processes the game.

One glimmer of hope. Book played very well against UGA at the end of both half’s. He seemed more free and comfortable. I can remember a deep sideline ball to Keys and a seam pass to Kmet that were right on the money. He also made some nice throws to Claypool. There have been other glimmers as well, VATech at the end. He was making better decisions and his throws were sharp. It seems like he is better when he goes no huddle and doesn’t have time to over think. Hopefully Rees can crack the code because the talent is there. Just my opinion

Ohio Irish
Ohio Irish

In 2020 Ian Book needs to go out there and do what he does best, hit the midrange passes and for the love of God, hit the deep pass when a WR or TE is open downfield.

Ian is not a super athlete or a fast one but he has been solid at getting Notre Dame yards with his legs, when he has needed to. I am NOT sold on the running game based on what I saw in the 2019 season and if Ian is once again the leading rusher in 2020, it could be a long year, because when all the pressure has been on Ian, he has faltered.

Lastly, Ian needs to quit paying attention to social media and what the fans are saying! I don’t want to see anymore of the immaturity that I saw from him, hushing the crowd. Focus on your skill set, get out of your own way and complete the passes. Consistently competing will shut the fans up, not acting like a brat on the field.

Paddymac
Paddymac

Nice to see some nuance in evaluating Book. One thing that wasn’t mentioned, that in my estimation, is important to point out, is that he has been in an offense that can’t run the ball at will (or even very effectively) against top tier opponents. That almost certainly has something to do with some of his struggle against top tier defenses. (But the criticisms and praise in the article are certainly valid)

Chip Long’s offense has also struggled to break down basic zone defensive schemes , across numerous QBs.

KMoore-24
KMoore-24

Ian Book is a very good football player. He has proved that as a starter at times. Book's problem is his game falls off a cliff when the opposition is really good. He beats up on the average to below average team while generally not playing well in the big games. This season Book has a golden opportunity in front of him but we will only go as far as he takes us. I can't put into words how big that Clemson game will be if Book can keep this team undefeated when they roll into South Bend. One thing I really wish Book would have done is handled the situation with Phil leaving better but that's water under the bridge now.

Paddymac
Paddymac

Agreed, but were they not able to stop the run with 3 or 4 man fronts? It wasn’t like they were selling out or run blitzing. You have more expertise on this, but I remember them sitting back in zone coverage and stopping the run and/or the pass with little difficulty, certainly Book’s inability Ron stretch the field or make certain reads had something to do with this. But, the strategy Pitt, Clemson, UVA, and VA Tech used certainly seemed to stifle Book and Long.

Fitz1105
Fitz1105

The one constant that I’ve noticed through Book’s time is that he’s slow to make decisions. It’s why his throws are usually late and why he’s very easy to defend at times. He was much more decisive towards the end of the year, but he still had problems. I think it’s due to a lack of confidence. Which may also be the reason Kelly chooses to protect him so much. In fact, I don’t remember him yelling at Ian like he yelled at Tommy. Book needs to stop listening to outside noise, get out of his head, and start playing to win.

thomasna33
thomasna33

Love what Mickens has been doing since being hired by ND. I have watched film of most of his offers and they can all play the ball in the air well. If you want corners to play the ball well in college then recruit ones that do it in high school. How many times have ND fans complained about corners being in good position but not getting their heads around to make a play on the ball? I don't think we'll have that problem with Mickens coaching the corners.

thomasna33
thomasna33

Watched Ryan Barnes video. He opens his hips before the snap a lot. Does this make his hip turn a bit faster since they are already pretty much open? In college will he be able to get away with that technique?


Football

FEATURED
COMMUNITY