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Adams: Even more takeaways from another college football weekend

| Monday, October 12, 2020

This is becoming a weekly tradition at this point, but what the heck? I get to write about, and you get to read about, college football. Take that, COVID.

And no, there will not be any Kentucky football discussion. I’ll give everyone a respite for at least a week. So let’s get to it.

1. Is it just me, or was that 2018 Ian Book on the field against Florida State?

Book’s career arc at Notre Dame, much like the majority of quarterbacks during Brian Kelly’s Irish tenure, has been interesting, to say the least.

Book took over for Brandon Wimbush in 2018 because, to be blunt, he could actually complete a pass. Wimbush was an elite athlete, and he threw a decent deep ball, but he was hopeless in the short-to-intermediate.

Enter Ian Book, who completed over 70% of his passes in his first five starts of 2018, including two games over 80%. Then, he trailed off at the end of the season. He posted two performances just above 60%, a 56.4% showing on the road at USC and a 50% disappointment vs. Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.

It makes one wonder what happened to that early version of Ian Book. Where did he disappear to?

2018 Book was the best Book, regardless of what his inflated late-2019 stats may have suggested. Having a competent run game helped, but Book kept defenses on their toes. Sure, he was finally completing deep passes with efficiency at the end of last season, but by that point, I think he probably realized a) he had nothing to lose and b) no one could guard Chase Claypool. Also, he regressed greatly in that short-to-intermediate game that led him to becoming the starting quarterback at Notre Dame.

Book looked rougher than he ever had against Duke to start this season. We’ve beaten the horse to death on this, but it is a somewhat understandable reality given the freaky offseason and ensuing lack of time to gel with receivers. Then he didn’t really need to do anything to beat USF.

But Saturday night, that original Ian Book — who won over the coaching staff and Notre Dame fans — seemed to wake up from the coma he’s been in since suffering a rib injury against Northwestern in 2018.

A 16-25 performance for just over 200 yards isn’t outstanding, but you can discount a dropped pass by junior receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. and a couple more by sophomore running back Kyren Williams. Plus, while only one of three deep shots from Book connected, he wouldn’t have taken those chances in 2018, and as he continues to build a rapport with receivers, I don’t think I’m overly optimistic in saying we’re seeing some growth.

Coincidentally, that injury against the Wildcats kept Book out of the following week’s game against none other than Florida State, as Wimbush got the chance to show out on senior night. Nothing would be more poetic than for this to have been one long — excruciatingly long — extended break where the Northwestern blow jarred an alternate personality of Ian Book loose and it took a three-week, COVID-induced break for him to do some soul searching and reawaken his old self.

Talk about an epic origin story for the ultimate 2020 revenge tour leading up to Nov. 7.

2. What do turnovers and Denzel Washington have in common?

They’re the great equalizer. Get it?

I’m not going to delve to greatly into this. For further reading on the subject of how important turnovers are, I refer you to sportswriter Aidan Thomas’ post-FSU column on the matter. My point is that it is evident that while Notre Dame sits a rung above all non-Clemson ACC teams on the conference ladder, they are still not on the Tigers’ level until they show it.

That said, they have the best shot of any team on Clemson’s slate to fell Dabo Swinney and Co. so long as they play to their strengths, namely their offensive line and tight ends. However, they’re probably going to need help from what’s been one of strengths against meandering competition: forcing turnovers.

The Irish were third nationally in turnover margin last year, and that’s because the defense and special teams make plays on the ball — especially senior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and graduate student defensive end Ade Ogundeji — and Kyle Hamilton’s got magic hands. But the issue is that the turnover margin, much like last year’s school record points per game average, was built against subpar competition.

In the year they made the Playoff, Notre Dame managed to intercept and strip-sack Shea Patterson and Michigan — quality competition. The only reason Notre Dame was in the game against Georgia last season, despite two turnovers from Book, was Chase Claypool recovering a muffed punt. The only reason Miami was within 25 points of Clemson last night is because they blocked a kick and returned it for a touchdown.

The Irish got their first interception of the year Saturday night, which says something considering the golden opportunities graduate transfer cornerback Nick McCloud and a couple of other players have had. They need to make those plays against their lesser opponents to at least make Clemson think that the defense has turnover potential, and then they have to make at least one and ideally two of those plays on Nov. 7.

And while we’re on the topic of ACC competition…

3. Notre Dame’s schedule is still meh, but slightly more interesting

A few of Notre Dame’s opponents went against each other this Saturday. Georgia Tech wrecked Louisville with help from a few Cardinal turnovers and a defense you can put in the same category as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy: non-existent.

Boston College’s offensive line may be trying to get former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec killed, but he found a way to will the Eagles to a win over Pittsburgh. Hopefully, he can survive to face the man he failed to usurp on Nov. 14.

The Panthers have now dropped two in a row. Their defense remains pretty stout but gives up the occasional big play (a bit of a boom or bust defense), and their offense remains as meandering as their quarterback.

Duke got their first win of the season over Syracuse as the Orange continue to struggle ever since reaching No. 15 in the polls before a 36-3 loss to Notre Dame in Yankee Stadium in 2018.

I already mentioned Clemson beating Miami with Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne doing what they do. And finally, North Carolina’s offense was on steroids against Virginia Tech.

That last game is probably the most interesting given that North Carolina looked like what people thought Louisville would look like this season, plus a slightly more competent defense. It’ll be interesting to see if the Tar Heels end up fulfilling the hype a lot of people threw on the Hurricanes ahead of that Clemson matchup.


And thus comes the end of another edition of this now weekly endeavor. Hope you enjoyed the break from Kentucky football. We’ll see how long it will last.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

Contact Hayden