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Book, defense shine as Notre Dame dominates Bowling Green

| Saturday, October 5, 2019

Ian Book threw five touchdowns in the first half, and Notre Dame rolled to a 52-0 victory over Bowling Green on Saturday. Book was dominant, completing 15 of 17 passes for 255 yards with touchdowns to four different receivers — becoming the first Notre Dame quarterback to pass for five touchdowns in a single half.

The run game was very effective early on, allowing Notre Dame to run action plays which opened the field up for Book. Junior running back Tony Jones Jr. carried the ball seven times for 102 yards. Book looked as good as he has all season, and was allowed more freedom to take shots down the field. He had six completions of more than 20 yards, a big shift from Notre Dame’s more conservative offensive play calling earlier in the season.

Book said he places full confidence in the Irish offense.

“I know what we can do,” he said. “I think everyone on the offense knows where our bar is and what we can achieve. It’s about us believing in each other, playing for each other, and focusing on the details going out there every single day and doing it.”

The tempo was also impressive — four of the five drives took less than 1:30, a fact Book said was important.

We pride ourselves on having tempo, and something we really focused on this week was just getting into rhythm and really pushing the tempo and just moving fast. That’s part of our identity as an offense, so it definitely helps us,” he said.

Coach Brian Kelly said he was impressed by Book’s performance.

“I thought he did a really nice job of seeing the field, putting the ball in a position where he could make some contested catches, I liked the things he did today,” Kelly said. 

Notre Dame’s defense smothered Bowling Green from the opening snap. The Falcons opted to bench senior quarterback Darius Wade after just two drives in favor of the more mobile redshirt junior Grant Loy. Loy had more success, mixing quarterback keepers and checkdown passes to move down the field. They almost immediately abandoned the ideas of conventional pocket passing and running between the tackles in favor of quarterback rollouts and multiple trick plays, which were much more effective. However, the Irish defense always held firm when it counted most, stopping a fourth-and-inches from near midfield in the second quarter and blocking a 40-yard field goal attempt on Bowling Green’s first drive of the second half. Notre Dame got their only turnover when safety Jalen Elliot intercepted a long pass in the end zone as time expired in the second quarter; he ran into the Notre Dame locker room still celebrating and carrying the ball. 

Senior defensive end Julian Okwara spoke to the group’s approach and recent confidence.

“We come out here everyday to work our hardest to be the best defense in the country,” Okwara said. “We come out here and have that mindset everyday. We were confident in everything in the game plan and we had one of the best weeks of practice coming into it. We were locked in and we knew we had to go out there and play our hardest.

This game was Notre Dame’s first shutout since September 2014 when they defeated Michigan 31-0. Okwara also spoke to how meaningful it is for the senior defenders to get that first shutout.

It was awesome. I was just talking to Jalen [Elliott] and the rest of the guys in my class. [We were] talking about how we haven’t shutout a team since we’ve been here, so it was an exciting time for us,” he said. “The defense as a whole played very well and we were able to get some guys on the field that haven’t played before, so it was definitely a nice feeling.” 

Book played just one drive in the second half, leading to a 27-yard field goal for junior kicker Jonathan Doerer, before he was taken out for redshirt freshman Phil Jurkovec. Jurkovec picked up right where Book left off, leading a six-play, 75-yard drive down the field capped with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Avery Davis.

Kelly said he was happy with Jurkovec’s performance, but also joked after the game that he would start a quarterback controversy.

“Let’s start a quarterback competition. This is my first year that I haven’t had it, so I don’t know what to do,” Kelly said.

The scoring was capped on a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back C’Bo Flemister. Third-string quarterback Brendon Clark even saw some action, playing Notre Dame’s final drive. Another player that played near the end was fan favorite, former walk-on senior running back Mick Assaf. Assaf was accepted at MIT, but chose to walk on to Notre Dame.

Kelly said he was impressed with Assaf’s work ethic and dedication to the team. 

“[Assaf] is such a hard-working guy, loves Notre Dame, loves his role,” Kelly said. “You know, I don’t know that there’s a guy on our team that wouldn’t tell you that — from one of our walk-ons that he is not only a spark plug but a great leader.” 

Despite a strong performance, the team understands Bowling Green was battling injuries this week and USC next week will be a much stiffer challenge, Kelly said.

“They were undermanned today, they battled, they played as hard as they could, but it was certainly a situation where we were a better football team. We’re going to enjoy [the win] for 24 hours and then get ready for USC,” Kelly said. “There are some things that we have to tighten up in coverage. We are going to play elite receivers next week. Obviously, we can’t do some of the things we did this week, and our guys know that.”

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