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irish insider

Book respected despite another CFP loss

| Monday, January 4, 2021

It was a hit that would make any fan cringe in pain, and for a second it looked like it might be the final snap of graduate student quarterback Ian Book’s career at Notre Dame. Six-foot-five, 310-pound lineman Christian Barmore leveled Book with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. But like much of Book’s career, he once again proved he’s tougher than he appears.

Just minutes before, Book and the Notre Dame offense were marching down the field, finally mounting a counter-attack to Alabama’s unstoppable offense. As Book rolled out of the pocket, he found freshman tight end Michael Mayer downfield and let the ball fly, only to underthrow and place it right into the hands of Alabama linebacker Christian Harris. Less than two and a half minutes later, Alabama responded with its fourth touchdown of the game to give them a comfortable 21-point cushion.

And just like that, what little hope the Irish still held to stage a comeback in the Rose Bowl unwound in a matter of minutes, with a 14-point swing in favor of the Crimson Tide. Despite the disappointment, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly reinforced his confidence in Book.

“I think if he had another shot at that he probably would have put — that would have been a fastball instead of a level two with some touch to it,” Kelly said. “… I told him, I said, ‘listen, I don’t fault you at all for trying to make that play.'”

After a quick break to shake off that hit, Book returned to the field in the fourth quarter. While the Irish ultimately suffered a 19-point defeat, the team’s fourth-quarter performance was perhaps its most productive, with three trips into the red zone, one of which resulted in a touchdown.

Book said missed opportunities are expected on such a big stage.

“We knew we were going to have some good plays,” he said. “And we were playing a really good team. We knew they were going to make some plays and we’d have some bad ones. That’s part of the game. It’s about forgetting about it and moving on.”

Book’s career has been defined by his ability to exceed expectations. A three-star recruit out of El Dorado Hills, California, Book looked destined to spend most of his time in South Bend on the sidelines. When his opportunity came against Wake Forest in 2018, he made the most of it, earning a reputation of steady leadership and game management. While his critics often bring up his lack of size or speed, his biggest fans will argue all that matters is what he produces on the field — wins.

“The kid’s a winner, and all he’s going to do is go on and be the best he can be, the best Ian Book he can be,” graduate student offensive lineman Robert Hainsey said. “And that’s all that he needs to be.”

Kelly said Book has cemented himself in Irish record books and not even the outcome of Friday’s game could change that.

“He’s won more games than any quarterback in Notre Dame history. Period. End of discussion,” Kelly said. “The guy’s a winner and we’re going to miss him. He just wins football games. And there is no other story, just a winner.”

Despite the loss, Book finished the game with 229 passing yards and 55 rushing yards. While Alabama jumped out to a quick lead, Notre Dame returned from the locker room with second-half adjustments. As the offensive line settled in under coordinator Tommy Rees, Book returned to his best self — creating outside the pocket.

With one second left on the clock, Book took the snap on the 15-yard line. Alabama blitzed and Book’s pass to senior wide receiver Avery Davis was too high, ending the Irish season and presumably Book’s career. In the immediate aftermath, it was captain Hainsey embracing Book as they consoled and reflected on their five seasons together.

“I told him I love him to death, love him with all my heart,” Hainsey said. “He’s been a great teammate and a great quarterback. And I couldn’t put it into words how much fun it’s been having him as a friend.”

Kelly echoed this, saying Book’s contributions to the program extend well beyond his performance on the field. He said he’s been privileged to experience the person and leader Book is in the locker room.

“The way he comes into the building every day, you would think that he won the lottery. Upbeat, positive, interacting with everybody from the person that’s serving food to the person that is spraying and cleaning in the building, support staff,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t matter who. He brings in such an energy on a day-to-day basis. And that’s kind of what people don’t see about him and that’s why he’s so respected.”

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