The headline will be more alarming than it should be, but it is nonetheless true. Generally, people hate quarterback competitions; they are awkward, can divide the team (as Drue Tranquill admitted the 2016 competition did), and they can slow the growth of the team overall. But, that is as much an indication of the poor job Kelly did that season than the competition itself.
Kelly talked about needing to take the next step toward winning a national championship in 2019, and I believe that means better quarterback play next season. To be clear, this isn’t some hit piece on Ian Book. He raised the standard of play at the position this year and he is one of a handful of players where without him, 12-0 doesn’t happen. He played very well. However, he has areas where he needs to grow and if someone else excels in those areas then that person should be the starter. And the only way to see that person rise to the occasion is to give them the chance to do so.
Book has started 10 games for the Fighting Irish football team and has won nine of them, so that’s obviously very good and an indication he can play winning football. He finished 17th nationally in passer rating, just behind his Saturday counterpart Trevor Lawrence, and 9th in completion percentage. It wasn’t just the team that thrived around him, the stats showed he was the driver behind it. He played well, therefore the team played well. However, there was a steady drop in performance from week to week as teams got film of him in the offense, and his efficiency took a dip as well.
His passer rating dipped from 181.21 in September to 162.46 in October to 150.64 in November. He also saw his completion percentage fall from 76% in September and October to 61% in November. We also saw dips in the overall performance of the offense during this time.
Looking at the teams offensive percentile performance, per S&P+, over the last nine regular season games they really hit against Wake Forest and Stanford, Ian first two starts, at 87% and 81%. The following weeks saw some steep drops, however. 76% against Virginia Tech, 23% against Pitt, 72% against Syracuse, and 51% against USC. In all, Ian’s offense never broke 85% post-Wake Forest, and after Stanford only broke 80% against Navy (83%), and Northwestern (81%). The teams highest offensive performance on the season was 94% against Florida State, a Brandon Wimbush production.
The team wasn’t the high powered juggernaut we thought we had following the first two weeks of the Ian Book era.
It should be noted that Book was dealing with a rib injury that he played through against Northwestern, which kept him out against Florida State, and apparently lingered into the end of the season, according to reports. That could have been a factor in the drop in play. But, the Clemson performance was a similar story.
Ways to go rewatching the Cotton Bowl, but here’s a number to put on the pressure Ian Book faced:
Under Pressure: 4-of-13 for 37 yards and 6 sacks
No Pressure: 13-of-21 for 123 yards, INT
Season high for attempts under pressure, season low for attempts not facing pressure.
— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) December 31, 2018
Book was under a lot of pressure against Clemson, as we all knew was coming, but 61% and 5.9 yards per attempt from a clean pocket is pretty poor. Clemson is the best of the best, but that’s the standard. And in college football, the ability to play from a clean pocket is not always a luxury you are afforded with.
(As an aside, does is make more sense to you why Notre Dame went with Wimbush against Michigan and kept with him the following two games? His scrambling and improvising ability was really important.)
Which brings us to Book’s competition.
As a reminder, Jurkovec is the 6-5, 215 pound 83rd ranked prospect from the 2018 class at quarterback. He won a state title at public high school Pine-Richland in Pennsylvania, which is no small thing.
Here’s a refresher for what he can do:
What strikes here is his mobility, obviously, but also his ability to make throws while on the run and moving the pocket. This is something Wimbush couldn’t do consistently and that Book didn’t excel in, although he was a playmaker at times escaping the pocket, his touchdown to Boykin against Virginia Tech being an example.
But again, we’re talking about the top of the sport here, which is where Notre Dame wants to get to. They need to find out if Jurkovec can get them there.
I’d honestly expect Book to win this battle, he played really well last season. And he was able to improve his game from 2017 to 2018, there is no reason to think he won’t make similar strides going into next season. But, Notre Dame also can’t afford to be stagnant at this spot. They were not good enough to reach the pinnacle in 2018, and improving the position will get them there.
As for dealing with a quarterback battle, I think Kelly, Chip Long, and Tommy Rees are good enough to manage it. It’s what they are paid to do, and they handled the quarterback situation in 2018 quite well. We saw Alabama and Clemson make similar decisions, replacing successful quarterbacks for the upside of a title, Notre Dame wasn’t afraid to do it last season, and shouldn’t be afraid this season.