“Winner:” Ian Book going down in history books as Irish make title push
Colin Capece | Friday, December 18, 2020
Saturday won’t be the first time graduate student quarterback Ian Book and the presumptive top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft — Trevor Lawrence — will square off against one another. Lawrence beat out Book not only at the 2018 Cotton Bowl, but also at the Manning Passing Academy last summer.
“His team won when we coached against each other in a seven-on-seven game, but he had [Peyton and Eli’s nephew] Arch Manning who was really slinging it around,” Book joked Tuesday ahead of the ACC Championship game.
But while the passing prodigy and five-star recruit from Cartersville, Georgia outshined the little known three-star recruit from El Dorado Hills, Calif. in their previous two matchups, something just feels different as No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Clemson prepare to lace it up in Charlotte, this time with an ACC title and a spot in College Football Playoff on the line. Since the two quarterbacks last stood across the field from one another, Book has quietly ascended to become one of the nation’s best signal callers. His career at Notre Dame can be succinctly defined in the words spoken by head coach Brian Kelly on Nov. 7: Ian Book is a winner.
Book almost joined a different Power Five program closer to home, as he committed to Washington State as a junior at Oak Ridge High School in April 2015. He had also been offered by Boise State and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, who was hired by Kelly to be the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame in March of 2015. Sanford continued to recruit Book after joining the Irish, and the quarterback eventually flipped his commitment in August 2015.
As a freshman in 2016, Book joined a crowded quarterback room that included future second round NFL draft pick Deshone Kizer, experienced Malik Zaire and talented prospect Brandon Wimbush. He found himself at the bottom of the depth chart and didn’t make any appearances in Notre Dame’s 4-8 season, the program’s worst since 2007.
Book was named as Wimbush’s backup heading into the 2017 season, but when he eventually received playing time, he made the most of the opportunity. Book appeared in 10 games that season and made his first career start on the road against North Carolina, replacing an injured Wimbush. Book showed poise despite his inexperience, completing 17 of 31 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 45 yards in a 33-10 Irish win.
The redshirt freshman also filled in for an injured Wimbush later in the season at home against Wake Forest, going a perfect 8-8 for 50 yards and a touchdown. When Wimbush struggled in the first half of No. 14 Notre Dame’s Citrus Bowl matchup against No. 17 LSU, Book came on and delivered once again. With the Irish trailing 14-6 midway through the fourth quarter, Book scrambled to extend the play and tossed a six-yard touchdown to former Irish wide receiver Michael Young to tie the game. With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Book connected with former wide receiver Miles Boykin for a 55-yard touchdown to propel the Irish to a 21-17 win, their first in a New Year’s Day bowl since 1994.
Book’s performance in 2017 displayed to the coaching staff that he was capable of winning games for the Irish. In the fourth game of 2018, looking for an offensive spark, Kelly turned to him once again. Book was named the starter for the road matchup with Wake Forest and proved his head coach right, throwing for 325 yards and two scores and rushing for 43 yards and three scores. He had officially taken hold of the starting job and has never looked back since. Book led the Irish to a perfect regular season and a College Football Playoff berth in 2018, completing a nationwide ninth best 68.2% of his passes.
In 2019, Book was named a captain and was just as prolific a passer. His 34 passing touchdowns ranked sixth in the nation and marked the second most in a single season by a Notre Dame quarterback, trailing only Brady Quinn’s 37 in 2006. Book became the first quarterback in Notre Dame history to throw for at least 2500 yards and 30 touchdowns while also rushing for 500 yards, leading the Irish to a 10-2 regular season and a win over Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl.
Book’s development throughout his career has been due in large part to current offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, who was hired by Kelly as the quarterbacks coach in 2017. Book has talked glowingly about Rees’ influence on his game and the advice he has provided Book regarding his role as Notre Dame’s quarterback, a position Rees was in just seven years ago. Book also credits Rees with the ability to help him learn from past performances.
“His memory is really incredible,” Book said of Rees. “We’ll watch a throw I make on film and he’ll say its just like a throw I made in 2018 and he’ll be able to immediately pull it up. It just makes it that much easier for me and the other quarterbacks to learn. Good plays, bad plays, he remembers everything.”
Book also admires that Rees doesn’t try to overcoach his quarterbacks despite his extensive experience.
“We really just focus on understanding coverage pre-snap,” Book said. “Rather than focusing on the throwing aspect of playing quarterback he tries to put our eyes in the right spot in film study throughout the week. He expects a lot from me and from this quarterback room, and that’s the way it should be.”
Heading into a COVID-19 ravaged 2020 season, the knock on Book was that he couldn’t win the big game and had been padding his stats and his record against weak competition. He struggled against Clemson’s pass rush in the Cotton Bowl embarrassment. In 2019 he came up just short on the road in a showdown with then-No. 3 Georgia and never got comfortable in the pocket in a blowout loss in Ann Arbor to No. 14 Michigan.
The narrative surrounding Book quickly changed, however, after he led Notre Dame to a 47-40, double-overtime win over Clemson at Notre Dame Stadium. Book went toe-to-toe with Tigers freshman phenom D.J. Uiagalelei, passing for 310 yards and a touchdown against the top ranked pass defense in the ACC. When the Irish trailed 33-26 with 1:48 to go, Book led his team on an eight-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to tie the game before the Irish defense sealed the first Notre Dame upset of a No.1 team since beating Florida State in 1993.
The Clemson triumph validated what Kelly has been saying for the past three seasons with Book at the helm: his quarterback is more than just a game manager who defers to his teammates. Book, instead, is a bona-fide competitor who can will his team to victory against the nation’s elite. After becoming the winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history with a win over Syracuse on senior day, his 33rd as a starter, Book now has the Irish in position to contend for a national championship. The Irish will have to play another competitive game with the Tigers to make the College Football Playoff despite Clemson being favored by more than a touchdown. Book as usual, however, is just focused on winning.
“We proved the guys in our room right on Nov. 7,” Book said. “Not many people thought we would win that game, but it’s all about the guys in our room. Our whole team believed that we could win that game before it started, and this game will just be the same thing. People are saying there’s no way with all their players coming back, but we believe we can win, and that’s what matters.”