When Ian Book took over as the quarterback of the Notre Dame football team, the Irish offense took a significant leap. Did they take a step back against Pittsburgh?
After two concerning offensive performances against Ball State and Vanderbilt, Brian Kelly made a decision that very well could have saved Notre Dame’s season. The decision to start Ian Book at quarterback is one that Kelly agonized over. But that’s why Kelly gets paid the big bucks.
All Book did was lead the Irish to 56, 38, and 45-point outings over the likes of Wake Forest, Stanford, and Virginia Tech, respectively. The offense was humming and Brian Kelly looked like a genius.
But, given the way the Irish struggled offensively against Pittsburgh on Saturday, critics have had cause for concern.
As it seems, playing Book caught Notre Dame’s opponents off guard. With Book at the helm, the Irish could run the full gamut of the playbook. Undoubtedly, teams hadn’t seen the full array of the Irish offense and were on their heels.
Now, however, four starts in to his Notre Dame career, teams have some tape on Book. In each successive week, teams have shown a better understanding of how to best defend Book’s strengths.
Outside of the opening drive against Virginia Tech, Book has struggled to find lanes to get the ball to Notre Dame’s best playmakers. Teams have sat on the run and tried to take the short passing game away with great success. Compounding the problem, on adjusted completion percentage of passes 20 or more yards downfield, Book is completing only 28.6% of his passes. Translated, Book hasn’t been able to make the opposition pay for sitting on Notre Dame’s short routes by hitting receivers over the top.
All of Notre Dame’s offensive issues–the adjustments defenses make to Notre Dame’s short passing game, Notre Dame’s inability to run the ball effectively, and Book’s inability to connect on the deep pass–are reasons to be slightly concerned. But it’s also important to keep in mind that the Irish offense has only played 4 games with the current unit.
Without a doubt, fans have seen glimpses of the potential for Notre Dame’s offense under Ian Book, but the Irish definitely haven’t hit their ceiling. As Book becomes more comfortable making all the throws and sees more film of what teams will attempt to do to stop him, he will become more comfortable with where and when the ball needs to go to exploit a defense.
Notre Dame’s bye week came at the perfect time, as the Irish coaching staff will have more time to better grasp what teams like Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh were able to slow the offense. Given the recent success the Irish have had, it only makes sense to have confidence in the coaching staff’s ability to put the team in the best position to succeed.