Concannon: Bowling Green win highlighted dual threat of Ian Book
Jack Concannon | Saturday, October 5, 2019
Ian Book has earned himself a reputation as a quarterback that does the small things right. He draws praise for taking care of the ball, his accuracy throwing the ball into traffic and his leadership abilities for this Irish squad.
One piece of praise the Irish senior quarterback rarely draws: the strength of his arm. The Irish offense isn’t built on vertical shots, attempting just 18 passes of 20 or more yards in their first four games, excluding throwaways. Book has always shown flashes of arm strength, but the Irish were yet to put it to the full test this season going into Bowling Green.
They certainly threw deep on Saturday, and Book rewarded them for it. Well-protected behind his line, Book stepped into deep throws with a confidence that we had yet to see, completing seven passes of 20 or more yards. He was calm and spread the ball among his receivers, with four different players catching touchdowns in the first half. He was accurate and trusted his receivers to make plays; it was an absolute clinic.
While many would attribute this to the relatively low level of competition in the secondary, Book made several impressive throws regardless of who was defending. He fit a perfect pass into good coverage to senior wide receiver Chase Claypool for a 34-yard touchdown strike. His 40-yard second-quarter connection with junior tight end Brock Wright was placed perfectly, allowing Wright to keep his speed and pick up yards after the catch.
While this aerial assault could just be a one-week game plan, I hope to see it continue. Junior wide receiver Michael Young is healthy and has the speed to take the top off of a defense. Claypool has great ball skills, and junior tight end Cole Kmet is almost untouchable in single coverage on seam routes. All of these weapons give the Irish the potential to complete vertical routes, and there is no reason why the Irish need to rely so exclusively on the short passes and screen routes that have gotten them this far.
When the Irish lean so exclusively on short passes and runs, it allows safeties to cheat in the box to help with the run. Against Georgia, star safety JR Reed began to creep up in the box in the second half, helping to stop the screens and runs that were good to the Irish in the first half. With Kmet double-covered and without the threat of Book dropping the ball in behind him, he was free to make plays near the line of scrimmage.
This is something the Irish need to avoid against their future opponents. Michigan safeties Khaleke Hudson and Josh Metellus are one of the most feared tackling duos in the league, with 78 total tackles between them this season. USC’s Talanoa Hufanga has started every game since he was a true freshman and will be a menace in run stopping unless the Irish give him a reason to stay out of the box.
They may have done exactly that today. Bowling Green’s defensive scheme seemed to have little faith in Book’s ability to beat them deep, and they paid the price for it. I give a ton of credit to the coaching staff for taking the leash off of Book and letting him throw the ball around. The Irish could have easily stuck to what worked so far, but they used this game exactly how you use a mid-season tune up game, to improve in your weak areas.
If the Irish had fed their running backs today and relied on their defense the way they did against Virginia, they likely would have won by a similar margin and would be in the exact same position they were in a week ago. Instead, Jim Harbaugh, Clay Helton and every coach approaching on the Irish schedule will be forced to evaluate the film and prepare knowing that they could see elements of the air raid we saw today.
The Bowling Green game was as lopsided as many expected, but if the Irish can maintain even some of the deep passing they showcased today, they got more out of this game than the score indicates.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.