By Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
My journey with Ian Book started on Aug 4, 2015 when he decommitted from the Washington State Cougars and committed to Notre Dame. A 3 star Quarterback rated as the 20th best pro style prospect in the country, he hailed from El Dorado Hills, California. On that day, as visions of Malike Zaire and the 2015 season were dancing in my head I took notice of the young man who would have a chance to follow in the tradition of Lujack, Hornung, Theisman, Clements and Montana. I can’t say I was overly impressed, just 6-1, not a big arm, not a speedster, “only” a 3 star, admittedly I was underwhelmed.
Then shortly after national signing day on February 3, 2016, I found out Book had been trained in High School by Will Hewlett, a QB Coach who was affiliated with the National Football Academy (NFA). NFA is an organization headed up by Darin Slack who was an All-American QB at The University of Central Florida (yes THAT school!) in 1988, and since has trained Quarterbacks and QB coaches. Lots of them-about 40,000 coaches and athletes trained in the last 25 years.
I am acquainted with Darin Slack because my youngest son attended 3 camps run by him while in High School. During those sessions, that parents were encouraged to participate in, we became disciples of his methods: a bio-mechanically sound approach to QB mechanics, and an impressive holistic approach to developing aspiring young quarterbacks into leaders on and off the field. The NFA way was further reinforced in us by my son’s offensive coordinator, Cory Kitchen, at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne. Cory is an NFA trained Coach.
If Book knew the NFA way I suspected he might be pretty good.
Book took a red shirt as a Freshman. Then came the Blue and Gold Spring game on April 22, 2017. Word out of spring practices had been that Brandon Wimbush was lighting it up and all were gathered to see just that in the stadium.
But then a funny thing happened, wearing red jerseys and given the limitation of what was essentially a touch football game for the QBs, Ian Book outplayed Brandon Wimbush. The stat lines: Book 17-22-0 interceptions, 277 yards and 1 TD, Wimbush 22-32-2 interceptions, 303 yards, no touchdowns. Running the football by the Quarterbacks was basically not a factor because they were not allowed to be tackled, so the game was mostly a measure of who could pass the ball better. That day, Wimbush wasn’t bad, but Book was better, better mechanics and better decisions, and he ran the read option better. At the post-game press conference Book said all the right things, so did Wimbush, but in my mind Book won the day, if not the spring.
During the summer and early Fall of 2017 the news out of South Bend was all about Brandon Wimbush. Wimbush was electrifying, but mostly with his feet. As the Irish “ran” their record to 8-1 all the QB talk was about Brandon Wimbush. In fact Wimbush was phenomenal at times, especially when he ran the football. Indeed, Wimbush was putting up record setting numbers with his feet, but his accuracy was suspect. Actually his accuracy was lousy. 49.5%, and Wimbush seemed to be able to actually make tougher throws better than easy ones! At times it was maddening to watch.
In week 6 of the season Wimbush was out with an injury and Book got the start against North Carolina. That day Ian Book did not exactly set the world on fire: 17-31, 1 TD, 2 interceptions, and 146 yards. Book did add 45 yards rushing. The Irish won handily against a weak North Carolina squad that day. But most pegged Book as simply an adequate back up. I thought he looked better than that , his misses were different from Wimbush’s, his mechanics better, his mistakes seemed to be understandable and fixable, and he could run the read option.
Not many listened to me.
Against Miami, Book entered the lineup in the 2nd quarter as the game was getting way out of hand in favor of the Hurricanes and the South Beach crowd was in a frenzy. After some initial success, he threw an ugly pick six. Wimbush returned on the next drive. The 3 interceptions by Book in 56 attempts during the regular season understandably did not build a lot of confidence with the coaching staff, but I continued thinking this kid had the ability to play the position and to learn from his mistakes.
On the other hand, by the end of the regular season I had no feel for what could fix Brandon Wimbush. I excused Book’s bad interception against Miami as a play a QB could learn from and I persisted in thinking Book was a player. At Stanford, a game that the Irish led going into the 4th quarter, Wimbush hit rock bottom: 2 interceptions, a fumble and a 39.3% completion percentage. Wimbush especially fell apart late in the game and the Irish lost their regular season finale. Book, by the way was 1-1 for 12 yards in this game.
In the 15 practices leading up to the Citrus Bowl, Brandon Wimbush suffered from some migraine issues and on two of those days Ian Book got all the reps. Bandon Wimbush remained the starter, but as Brian Kelly revealed after the game, it was his intention to play both quarterbacks against LSU.
With exactly 2 minutes left in the first half and the score tied at zero, Ian Book entered the game in place of an ineffective Wimbush who had completed just 3 of his 8 pass attempts. Book drove the Irish from their own 20, 51 yards in 11 plays culminating in a 46 yard Justin Yoon field goal to end the half, and a 3-0 ND lead. Book had done his job well in the 2 minute drill: 3-4 passing for 33 yards and one nifty keeper for 21 yards.
Brian Kelly kept Ian Book in the game in the 2nd half and a “Notre Dame moment” ensued.
After a really bad interception and a very public Kelly tongue lashing midway through the 3rd quarter when LSU had taken a 7-3 lead, Book went on to play poised football. First getting the Irish in position for another FG to end the third quarter and then tying the game up with a 12 play 75 yard drive culminating with an on the run 6 yard toss to Michael Young in the back of the end zone. Book next executed a shovel pass to Josh Adams for the 2 point conversion.
That set up the late game heroics.
Book, faced with tremendous pressure executed the 2 minute drill for the second time on the day. After a gritty goal line stand by the defense forced a short FG, LSU held a 17-14 lead. The Irish took over with 2:03 on the clock at their own 27. Book missed on his first attempt but on 2nd down he found Chris Finke good for 18 yards and the stage was set for the Notre Dame moment and perhaps for a young quarterback coming of age. On the next play from his own 45, Book received the snap out of the gun, took a short drop, set his feet and completed a sideline pass 25 yards up field to a place where only Myles Boykin could catch it. Boykin did the rest with a determined run to the end zone. The Irish won in come from behind fashion 21-17.
Boykin was named Citrus Bowl MVP, and Book owned a signature game and moment. His final stat line: 14-19, 1 interception, 164 yards, 2 touchdown passes and 64 yards on the ground (minus some sack yards).
Perhaps more importantly, Book showed a quarterback’s poise in the game, he came back and played well after the interception and he executed two 2 minute drills on a big stage and under a lot of pressure. The kid’s a quarterback, and he’ll only get better. Brian Kelly after the game declined to name who his number one quarterback is, that decision will be made in the months to come.
Brandon Wimbush is a tremendous athlete who was an accurate passer in high school and accounted for 30 touchdowns this year and a lot of red zone success. And don’t forget that the red shirt will be coming off of Avery Davis and 4 star recruit Phil Jurkovec is coming in. It’s going to be a spirited and interesting competition.
Don’t bet against Ian Book.