Performance of Notre Dame quarterback didn’t surprise his coach
In hindsight, perhaps the insertion of reserve quarterback Ian Book into the Notre Dame lineup late in the second quarter of Monday’s Citrus Bowl game with LSU wasn’t as surprising as it should have been. After all, starter Brandon Wimbush has played less than consistent football since early November. So when he again was having a difficult time completing passes (Wimbush finished the game 3 of 8 passing for 52 yards), Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly pulled the trigger and went with Book, who played outstanding football in rallying his team to a 21-17 victory in the final minutes.
“We have great confidence in Ian,” Kelly said following the win. “He hasn’t played a lot of football, but we threw him right into the fire and he leads a winning drive with the game on the line.”
The mid-game personnel move may have caught the Irish Nation (and the media) off guard, but Kelly said Book playing wasn’t a surprise to anyone within the Irish program as the bowl game approached.
“We went in with the idea of both of them playing,” Kelly said. “This wasn’t a surprise to Ian. Ian was prepared.”
Book was “prepared” in part due to the fact that Wimbush had missed a couple of recent practices with a migraine headache, and that extra work allowed the back-up to have the opportunity to lead the Notre Dame offense without interruption.
“He just needs experience,” Kelly said of Book, “and he got it today. He got a lot of reps in the prelude to this game… so he was well prepared for this game.”
Book demonstrated the ability to guide an opportunistic passing attack and when the aggressive and athletic Tiger secondary was swallowing up the Irish receivers, he could keep plays alive with his mobility.
He finished the game by completing 14 of 19 passes for a pair of scores and 164 yards, while also running for 36 yards on 11 carries. Neither of which surprised his coach.
“Ian is an extremely accurate passer,” Kelly said. “He’s got a really fine ability to locate the football. He throws strikes. That’s the strength that he has.”
“We saw if you do not play him in the option game, he is extremely capable of pulling it and being effective in the run game.”
Wimbush has been heralded as a dual threat quarterback with an ability to lead the Irish into the future, but Book showed better passing ability in one afternoon than Wimbush has in months.
Kelly wasn’t going to speak on the topic of any quarterback controversy moving forward, but he did say that he felt good about the position for his program.
“We’re very talented at the quarterback position,” Kelly said. “Ian showed today (and) Brandon showed that he’s very capable of running. He had 30 touchdowns this year – 30 touchdowns. So we are just very deep at the quarterback position and very fortunate that we have (Book).”
Monday’s game wasn’t Book’s first foray into “the fire,” as Kelly referred to his coming off the bench. He replaced an injured Wimbush in early October and led Notre Dame to a convincing 33-10 road win at North Carolina, as he played the entire game.
In that win, Book completed 17 of 31 passes for 146 yards and a score, but he did throw a pair of picks in that game and also had a poorly timed throw against LSU in the third quarter.
“We talk about it every week,” Book said, “there are going to be highs and there are going to be lows. Part of playing the quarterback position is being able to move on to the next play.”
“I messed up and made a mistake and immediately sat down with (quarterbacks coach Tom Rees and Kelly) and had to move on to the next play. We still had a bunch of football left to play.”
Obviously, he is far from a finished product, but Kelly has seen enough in Book, despite the limited game experience, to have confidence in him.
“He’s got that ability,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t surprise us that he’s able to do that. He’s a quarterback at Notre Dame, so there are high expectations. We knew what he could give our football team.”
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