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Irish offense set to take center stage under Book during Blue-Gold Game

| Friday, April 12, 2019

For the past eight years under head coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame football has often featured a revolving door of quarterback rotations, with different circumstances calling for different players to step up. However, as the Irish prepare to take the field Saturday for the annual Blue-Gold game, there seems to be little debate as to who’s calling the shots from the pocket.

Junior Ian Book emerged onto the scene last season in his second-career start against Wake Forest and never looked back. The 6-foot product out of El Dorado, California, proved to be a steady presence on the field, leading the program to its first College Football Playoff appearance. Meanwhile, freshman Phil Jurkovec came in highly touted and saw action in two games, having to split time behind the dual play of Book and former quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Ian Book drops back to pass during Notre Dame’s 30-3 loss to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29.

With spring practice underway and the annual Blue-Gold game Saturday, offensive coordinator Chip Long and the rest of the coaching staff expect Book to continue to progress as a leader on the field, while the emphasis on Jurkovec has been improved accuracy and comfort in running the offense.

Long said he has high expectations for Book as he enters his senior year. As a junior, Book passed for 2,628 yards — in addition to 280 rushing yards — on his way to recording 24 touchdowns on the season. Although Jurkovec has a strong skill set, Long left no doubt that this team is Book’s to lead for the time being.

“Ian’s been doing it for three years — he knows the offense really well,” Long said. “He’s brought really good, steady leadership. He’s not a vocal guy, but he walks with great confidence, and you can see that with his play with the receivers this spring, and all those skill guys.”

On the other side of the coin, Jurkovec has continued to develop, with Long identifying his game management as one of the areas they’re looking to expand upon this season.

“Phil, we have to understand the offense. Day to day, there has to be some type of improvement,” Long said. “You’ve got to be the kind of guy that can come in and win a game. He had to learn the offense, take the steps, kind of where Ian was when we first got here.”

Despite the areas still in need of growth in Jurkovec’s game, Long repeatedly cited his attitude and confidence as key assets to the future of the position.

“Phil wants to be a great player, and that’s the No. 1 thing you got to have in a great quarterback,” he said. “He’s got great confidence.”

Focusing on the more technical aspects of the game, Long commented on Jurkovec’s accuracy as a major element to look out for Saturday.

“He’s been throwing a nice deep ball, but I think more than anything it’s just understand the offense,” he said. “Going through his progression and once he gets confident with that, that ball will come out a lot cleaner.”

Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish rising sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec throws a pass during Notre Dame’s 56-27 defeat of Wake Forest on Sept. 22.

As integral as Book and Jurkovec are to the functionality of the offense, Long was sure to note the efforts of the rushing and receiving corps to the success of the team, particularly commenting on the tight-end unit of sophomores Cole Kmet and Brock Wright and freshman Tommy Tremble.

Kmet and Wright have both been active on the field since their freshman year, but it’s Tremble whose newcomer status has made him a pleasant surprise for Long.

“He’s really come on the last two weeks. If there’s a guy on offense that’s progressed to where I think he could really help us next year, I think it’d probably be him,” Long said. “He has great athleticism, great speed — really physical player. He just has to learn football.”

Long also emphasized the style of Tremble’s play as coming naturally. Behind a strong receiving unit paired with the leadership of Book and the confidence of Jurkovec, this team will look to return to the conversation of being a playoff contending team, Long said.

“Explosive plays. … That’s one of our biggest goals, yards after the catch, yards after the run,” he said. “Being able to create out there.”

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