Irish depth shows in Citrus Bowl victory
Benjamin Padanilam | Monday, January 1, 2018
ORLANDO, Fla. — In order to reach the 10-win threshold Irish head coach Brian Kelly had harped on in the days leading up to Monday’s Citrus Bowl, No. 14 Notre Dame needed to find a way to beat No. 17 LSU.
And the Irish (10-3) did just that, leaving Camping World Stadium and kicking off 2018 with a narrow 21-17 victory over the Tigers (9-4, 6-2 SEC).
When Kelly took the podium after the game, he did so proud of his team. Particularly the stars of the game, sitting to his left and his right.
But those stars were not junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush or junior running back Josh Adams. They were not any one of the members of the team’s award-winning offensive line. And they were not any of the teams captains.
Instead, Kelly was joined on the podium by the team’s backup quarterback in sophomore Ian Book and the team’s sixth-leading receiver entering Monday in junior Miles Boykin.
It might not have been the cast of characters everyone expected to lead the Irish to victory, but it only made sense, given the two were responsible for leading the Irish to the storybook ending they sought. That ending: a 55-yard pass from Book that Boykin caught one-handed before breaking two tackles and rumbling in for the game-winning score.
“It was really almost just a blur,” Boykin, who was awarded the game’s MVP honor, said of the catch. “ … It was an extremely humbling moment for me just to be able to go out there and make a play to help my team win. We talk about — as a receiver, we’re playmakers and winning the 50-50 ball, we talk about that every day. During that moment, I had to make that play … Ian gave me a great ball.”
“It was the best play I’ve seen in my career here,” senior linebacker Drue Tranquill said, having watched the play on the video board from the sideline. “It was absolutely incredible. My jaw just kind of dropped, and I was like ‘Are you serious?’”
And while the duo’s performances may have caught many people outside the program by surprise, that certainly was not the case for those inside the program. In Boykin’s case, Kelly said he knew the junior wideout was going to have an impact — Boykin ended the day with 102 yards and a touchdown — in the bowl game victory from the beginning.
“Miles over here knows the story,” Kelly said. “We were in practice, and we knew that we were going to have to get a couple of one-on-one matchups on the outside, and I told Miles, ‘Miles, you’re going to win the MVP trophy,’ and he looked at me like I had two heads. But I felt like he had a chance. He’s got the ability, if we could get him the football. And Ian got him the football and Miles made a great individual play and, lo and behold, I’ve got the MVP sitting next to me.”
And for the man who delivered the pass to him, there was no indication leading up to the game that he would even see the field. But making an appearance towards the end of the first half and playing the entire second half, the sophomore quarterback delivered a 14-of-19 performance for 164 yards and two touchdowns, with his lone mistake being an interception in the third quarter — a turnover which could have led to a downward spiral but instead was followed by three consecutive scoring drives.
After the game, Kelly revealed that Book’s appearance in the game, even with Wimbush coming in as the starter, was always part of the plan.
“We went in with the idea of both of them playing,” Kelly said. “So this wasn’t a surprise to Ian. Ian was prepared. Brandon knew as well that both of them were going to play. That was the game plan going in.”
And when Kelly ultimately decided to stick with Book from halftime on, his teammates knew exactly what they were getting with the sophomore under center.
“Whenever Ian’s gotten reps with the [first team], he’s super calm and he makes sure we have all the information and we just trust him behind us,” senior guard Quenton Nelson said. “He did a great job today with his opportunity, and I’m very proud of him — proud to see that everyone else saw the same thing we see in him. He’s a great player.”
“Ian came in there and played with a ton of guts,” graduate student offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “His first major action — he had the start against North Carolina, but we put the ball in [Book’s] hands today, and he stepped up and made huge play after play after play.”
Book had help from some other less-heralded heroes on the Irish as well. While Boykin’s 55-yard touchdown will be the play everyone remembers, the previous drive ended with a touchdown catch by a player who entered the game without an catches to his name: freshman wide receiver Michael Young. Without three of the team’s top four targets available for this game, the Irish knew they would need other players to step up in the passing game, and they got just that from Boykin and Young.
“Next man up,” Young said. “I’ve been watching those [veterans], and they’ve been doing a good job of setting an example of how to come prepared each and every day and how to practice each and every day. For me, it was just going there, giving my all; showing the coaches, ‘Look, we might be down a couple guys, but we got a couple guys that are able to step up and get it rolling.’”
And step up they did, sending the team and its seniors out with one final win on the year.
“We had guys step up today that hadn’t had a gigantic role for us all year,” McGlinchey said. “Like Mike Young coming up huge, Miles Boykin had an unreal game, Ian Book — it’s just cool to see those guys come in and step up in such a big way and send our team out with 10 wins and our senior class out the way they deserved to be.”