Quarterbacks

Associated Press

9-win, 30-TD quarterbacks like Wimbush are rare; Links to read

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It is not easy to win nine or 10 games in one season. It is not easy for Notre Dame, for any team, and it is not easy for a quarterback.

If granting the premise the Irish would have won at North Carolina if junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush had not sprained his foot the weekend beforehand, then Wimbush indeed notched nine wins this season. That does not credit him with the Citrus Bowl victory over LSU, though it is certainly possible he would have found a way to win that game, too.

In doing so, Wimbush accounted for 30 touchdowns, 16 through the air and 14 through the ground.

Those two facts alone will guarantee Wimbush a chance to start at quarterback for Notre Dame on Sept. 1, as they should. After all, how many nine-win quarterbacks were there in 2017? How many players scored 30 combined touchdowns? Not many.

Obviously there will always be a Baker Mayfield or a Lamar Jackson, but consistent and frequent production is not as easy as the two Heisman winners make it seem. If narrowing the focus to Power Five teams, only 21 quarterbacks won nine games this season. That should probably bump to 22 out of deference to McKenzie Milton leading Central Florida to an undefeated season.

It bears noting the Irish faced six of those quarterbacks: Georgia’s Jake Fromm (13 wins) USC’s Sam Darnold (11), Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke (10), Miami’s Malik Rosier (10), North Carolina State and Ryan Finley (9), and LSU with Danny Etling (9).

Again keeping the field to the Power Five conferences with an exemption for the 13-0 Knights, only 14 players managed 30 total touchdowns, including Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford (29 passing, 10 rushing).

Between the two lists, just nine quarterbacks can claim both:
McKenzie Milton, Central Florida: 13 wins; 37 passing touchdowns, eight rushing.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma: 12 wins; 43 passing, five rushing.
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: 12 wins; 35 passing, 12 rushing.
Trace McSorley, Penn State: 11 wins; 28 passing, 11 rushing.
Sam Darnold, USC: 11 wins; 26 passing, five rushing.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State: 10 wins; 37 passing, 10 rushing.
Malik Rosier, Miami (FL): 10 wins; 26 passing, five rushing.
Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame: 9 wins; 16 passing, 14 rushing.
Luke Falk, Washington State: 9 wins; 30 passing.

This is not to say Wimbush should have an easy path to the starting gig for 2018. Before a long offseason of quarterback headlines and interminable debates, this is to say Wimbush has produced enough he will and should get his chance, despite any late-season struggles and obviously-needed improvements. Underselling Wimbush’s 2017 serves no point but to offer an exceptionally-flawed argument.

A FUN BIT OF TRIVIA:
No NFL team has both hosted the Super Bowl and played a divisional playoff game at home in the same year. The Minnesota Vikings will do just that Sunday (4:40 p.m. ET; v. New Orleans; FOX), as the Super Bowl will be at U.S. Bank Stadium in a few weeks. Some might deem the Vikings as “Notre Dame North” thanks to their reliance on former Irish safety Harrison Smith, tight end Kyle Rudolph and — less of a reliance, to be accurate — receiver Michael Floyd.

That is not the piece of trivia, though.

Stanford Stadium hosted the 1985 Super Bowl, with the San Francisco 49ers beating the Miami Dolphins.

Anyone who has been to a Notre Dame game at Stanford can use that fact to realize in a tangible manner just how much the NFL has grown in the last three decades. The idea of the world’s largest entertainment event being held at The Farm is genuinely beyond fathoming for those of a certain generation, this scribe included.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
Monday’s Leftovers: On Notre Dame’s dual needs at defensive coordinator and those effects
Notre Dame promoting Lea & Elston bodes well for at least the short term
Harry Hiestand leaves Notre Dame on good terms and in good shape
A quick breakdown of Notre Dame’s offensive roster

OUTSIDE READING:
Jack Lamb on Clark Lea: “best possible choice” for Notre Dame
Clark Lea’s promotion was a win for continuity, and one Notre Dame sorely needed
Optimism for Notre Dame football in 2018 starts with the Irish defense
Irish ‘feel really good’ about O-line in ‘18
In Harry Hiestand, Matt Nagy hits a home run on his first swing at Bears’ coaching staff
Notre Dame’s Moore Award personal for Taylor
What happens if the Vikings reach Super Bowl LII? Expect plenty of logistical challenges

Editor’s Note: Yes, the above quarterback bit was originally intended to run a bit longer in the weekly “Friday at 4” slot, but the timing did not fit last week with the defensive coordinator shift and the time was not at hand this week to get the piece put together as “Friday at 4” dictates.

Then again, stalling for a day creates another day of halfway-worthwhile content in a time of year that is devoid of much substance, aside from coaching changes, transfers, NFL declarations, et al.

And in the spirit of “Friday at 4,” how great would it be to have Dr. Stephen Strange as a weekend partner in figurative crime?

A quick breakdown of Notre Dame’s offensive roster

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While Notre Dame awaits stay-or-go decisions from junior linebacker Te’von Coney and junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, its offensive side of the roster is set … for now. As was briefly discussed in the most-recent “Monday’s Leftovers,” the Irish roster is currently at 87 players. That could rise as high as 90 if the incoming recruiting class rounds up to 25 signees and both Coney and Tillery return for the 2018 season.

A quick, even terse, look at the offense can provide reference for conversations and debates at both the virtual and real-world bar as the roster sheds a handful of players.

A couple quick notes: The order of this listing is not intended to stake a stance on positional competitions (cough quarterback cough). This is simply presenting the options available moving forward.

The designations following each of the 10 receivers are inherently speculative. With junior Equanimeous St. Brown declaring for the NFL and sophomore Kevin Stepherson not expected to be around next season, Notre Dame will need to tinker and experiment with receiver alignments throughout the offseason.

To a degree, the same goes for the offensive linemen, particularly among the backups. Rarely is there a genuine second-unit. Rather, one or two utility options will serve as backups for the whole line.

Quarterback (4):
Jr. Brandon Wimbush
So. Ian Book
Fr. Avery Davis
Incoming fr. Phil Jurkovec

Running back (5):
Jr. Dexter Williams
So. Tony Jones
So. Deon McIntosh
Fr. C.J. Holmes
Inc. fr. Jahmir Smith

Receiver (10):
Jr. Miles Boykin (field)
So. Chase Claypool (boundary)
Fr. Michael Young (slot)
Sr. Freddy Canteen (slot)
So. Jafar Armstrong (field)
So. Javon McKinley (boundary)
Jr. Chris Finke (slot)
Inc. fr. Braden Lenzy (slot)
Inc. fr. Kevin Austin (boundary)
Inc. fr. Micah Jones (field)

Tight end (6):
Jr. Alizé Mack
Sr. Nic Weishar
Fr. Cole Kmet
Fr. Brock Wright
Inc. fr. George Takacs
Inc. fr. Tommy Tremble

Offensive line (12):
Fr. Robert Hainsey (LT)
Fr. Josh Lugg (LG)
Sr. Sam Mustipher (C)
Sr. Alex Bars (RG)
So. Tommy Kraemer (RT)
So. Liam Eichenberg (T)
Fr. Aaron Banks (G)
Jr. Trevor Ruhland (G, C)
Fr. Dillan Gibbons (G)
Inc. fr. Cole Mabry (G)
Inc. fr. John Dirksen (G)
Inc. fr. Luke Jones (T, committed, not signed)

Specialists (4):
Jr. Justin Yoon (PK)
Sr. Tyler Newsome (P)
So. John Shannon (LS)
Fr. Jonathan Doerer (KO)

Things We Learned from the season: 10-3 Notre Dame is two glaring holes from being much more

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How do you turn 4-8 into 10-3? Start with better coaching. Add in thought-out offensive scheming to hide an inexperienced quarterback’s deficiencies. Then rely on defensive strengths to compensate for undeniable weaknesses.

It also helps to have been more talented than that 4-8 reflected in the first place.

Now, how do you turn 10-3 into a College Football Playoff spot? That is the question facing Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly this offseason, a much less drastic task than dealt with a year ago, but a no less pressing one.

The change in direction after 2016 focused on staff changes, program overhauls and a general change in philosophy. Each of those maneuvers hit the right note.

Brian Kelly (Getty Images)

Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko found a worthwhile defense where a vacuum had been last September. Notre Dame may have tired by the end of the season, but the physical benefits created by a new strength and conditioning staff were apparent, nonetheless. Kelly’s relationship with the players appeared more genuine than it had in at least five years, most notably when senior left guard and captain Quenton Nelson didn’t think twice about wrapping his head coach in a spine-crushing bear hug from behind after the victory at Michigan State.

Building on those foundational blocks will be an equally-difficult task. That will need to come from a more tangible category, the players on the field. Specifically, success in 2018 — scoring against a top-flight Michigan defense in the season opener on Sept. 1, avoiding any mistakes in a raucous environment at Virginia Tech in early October, limiting what could be a potent USC offense to close the season — will hinge on two positions that underperformed in 2017: quarterback and safety.

Obviously, Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush and the rest involved in that starting competition will get the headlines. That was guaranteed as soon as Kelly dodged a question on the topic after Notre Dame beat No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl on Monday, 21-17.

“I don’t think I’m ready to get into all of those things,” Kelly said. “We just won a football game, and then we’ll make all those decisions later.”

That postgame was not the time for Kelly to begin prognosticating the futures of sophomore Ian Book and freshman Avery Davis. Nor was Orlando, Fla., the place. The time will be in early March at the beginning of spring practice, the place being the practice fields with “FIGHTING IRISH” plastered two stories high across its edge.

Sophomore quarterback Ian Book performed well enough leading Notre Dame to a Citrus Bowl victory, he will be right in the middle of a quarterback competition moving forward. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

When Kelly gave Book a lengthy leash throughout the Citrus second half, he immediately established there would be a chance for the season-long backup to wrest away first-string job before kicking off against the Wolverines. It may have happened anyway, even if Kelly pulled Book after an avoidable mistake of a red-zone interception. In fact, it should have either way.

That is not to say Book should have taken over as a starter earlier in the season. The scheme deployed by offensive coordinator Chip Long relied on the Irish offensive line and its running game. Wimbush made that aspect much more dangerous. His struggles with accuracy and passing progressions, however, limited the offense from any greater performances.

If Notre Dame wants to become more than an impressive 10-3, an arm cannot be tied behind its back like that. If Book doesn’t break loose, by offering him that opportunity in the spring, Kelly also inherently cracks the door open a bit to Davis. Come summer, incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec will have his chance, as well. Any coaching staff aversion to change has been dismissed already.

The Irish know they need to find a quarterback. He may already be around. He may have started 11 games this year and merely needs an offseason focused on his throwing motion.

He may be playing in the U.S. Army All-American Game on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET (NBC). If that is the case, Jurkovec will not shy from the challenge.

“I have no expectations for myself,” Jurkovec told ND Insider’s Tyler James while in San Antonio. “I’m going in, I’m competing. Nothing’s going to be given to me, so I’ll earn whatever I get.”

Let’s reiterate this: Jurkovec may not be 2018’s answer. This season only showed he could be.

Similarly, Notre Dame may need to turn to an incoming freshman to solve its greatest weakness — perhaps 2017’s only — on defense. The Irish safeties could not have impacted games much less. The three relied upon, senior Nick Coleman and sophomores Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill, combined for 105 tackles, one tackle for loss and five pass breakups. The leading tackler of the trio, Coleman with 44 tackles, finished behind six other defenders.

Sophomore safety Jalen Elliott simply did not make enough plays in 2017 to warrant assured playing time in 2018. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

An argument could be made safeties not making many tackles is a sign of strong play from the front seven. It is not an inaccurate argument. This season, strong play up front kept the pressure off the safeties, lest their ineffectiveness manifest itself in more dramatic ramifications. For Elko’s defense to grow even further, a playmaker on the backline will be necessary.

And to be clear, Elko expects his unit to be even better next season.

“Year two really allows you to attack the details of what you’re trying to get accomplished,” he said Friday. “You get to a point where so much [of] year one is broad stroke because you’ve got to get it all in and you’ve got to be able to run and that clock is coming to start the first game.

“Now that the kids have a really solid base, you can really go back and refine everything you’re trying to do and you’ll see a group that understands the details of what we want to accomplish a lot better.”

Nine positions were ready by the time that first game came around in Elko’s debut campaign at Notre Dame. They had the solid base. Adding details at those spots is a tantalizing thought for 2018.

The safeties had not reached such a point even by the season’s end. When Tigers quarterback Danny Etling completed a 30-yard pass to a sliding receiver on a third-and-16 in Monday’s second quarter, it was more indicative of a safety’s failing than of anyone else’s blown coverage. In a third-and-long, the safety’s entire purpose is to prevent a big play, a break downfield.

Elko will need to refocus his efforts on the broad strokes at safety, if nowhere else, heading into year two, but he may not need to with both openings. Current sophomore Alohi Gilman would have started for the Irish this season if the NCAA had granted him a waiver for immediate eligibility following his transfer from Navy. There is every reason to think that will still be the case in 2018.

A move may be in the cards for Irish sophomore cornerback Julian Love, but only because he has proven he is that good. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Elko will have three options to place alongside Gilman. Stick with Coleman, move sophomore cornerback Julian Love or turn to incoming freshman Derrik Allen.

The late-season emergence of sophomore cornerback Troy Pride makes the thought of Love at safety tenable. Notre Dame has a number of viable options at cornerback in Pride, senior-expected-to-return Nick Watkins, junior Shaun Crawford and sophomore Donte Vaughn. Love is the best of the bunch, but he is presumably and likely the best of the safeties, as well. His instincts for the ball border on unteachable, as evidenced by his thirst for one final interception this season during LSU’s final, desperate drive.

As for Allen, Kelly pointed to his playmaking ability as a primary reason he was such a priority in recruiting.

“He was the first guy that we saw that had the ability to cover man-to-man, play the ball in the air and get the ball down on the ground with his size,” Kelly said on Dec. 20, the early signing day. “That was the trait that we had to have in this class. It was a must, must, must. It was underlined five times. We have to find this player.”

The Irish needed to find that player because he wasn’t around at safety this season. While the trio there tallied three pass breakups, Love managed 20 with three interceptions.

Aside from the two holes, Notre Dame looked to be a viable contender in 2017. Special teams need improvement, but they never cost a game and junior kicker Justin Yoon was as excellent as always. Long and Elko showed an acumen for their personnel, most obvious in outcoaching LSU’s rightfully-heralded coordinators. Statement wins over USC and North Carolina State, not to mention the at-the-time under-the-radar victory at Michigan State, proved the Irish had the talent to compete.

Except, quarterback and safety — neither performed nor showed ready potential necessary to push Notre Dame to the next level. In different ways, each of the three losses made that clear. Safety’s solutions are somewhat clear, and it is likely none of this year’s starters have that honor next season. That would be a step forward for the defense.

Quarterback may be a bit trickier. It may rely on development, it may come down to a phenom, it may not happen.

Things We Learned: Kelly is open to a Notre Dame QB competition; WRs emerge

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Notre Dame did not intend for sophomore quarterback Ian Book to lead the offense throughout all of Monday’s second half in its 21-17 victory over No. 17 LSU in the Citrus Bowl. If anything, Irish head coach Brian Kelly expected to give opportunities to both Book and junior quarterback/season-long starter Brandon Wimbush.

“We went in with the idea of both of them playing,” Kelly said afterward. “This wasn’t a surprise to Ian. Brandon knew as well that both of them were going to play.”

Book’s effectiveness to close the first half, after three consecutive stalled Wimbush drives, showed the reserve would provide the best path to a season-ending victory. Much as he did when starting for an injured Wimbush at North Carolina, Book showed he is a more than capable collegiate passer. He is composed in the face of pressures big (a top-flight defense on national television) and small (an effective pass rush), and he works through his progressions well when needed.

“He really is extremely accurate in throwing the football,” Kelly said. “We took advantage of what his strengths are. … He’s a [redshirt] freshman, so he’s going to learn more within our offense.”

Book finished with 164 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-19 passing.

Learning he could perform against a defense as strong as the Tigers’ is notable knowledge moving forward. What is more ground-shifting is Kelly willingly opening the door to a quarterback competition simply by planning on playing Book in the first place. Following the regular season-ending loss at Stanford, Kelly declared Wimbush his starter with hardly any prompting. He left no room for qualifiers or wonderings otherwise.

“He’s our starting quarterback,” Kelly said then. “He’ll be starting in the bowl game.”

Technically, that was true, but something changed between Nov. 25 and Jan. 1. Book entered the gameplan. A conversation was started.

Perhaps that began with migraines keeping Wimbush out of two practices during bowl preparations, allowing Book to take every first-string snap those days. That may have been his moment to shine, forcing Kelly and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long to recognize he deserved a New Year’s Day opportunity.

Brandon Wimbush (Getty Images)

Considering that at all, and then following through on it, means Kelly, Long and the Irish expect a quarterback competition to unfold over the next eight months. Whether that expands beyond Book and Wimbush to include current freshman Avery Davis and/or incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec is a conversation for another day.

Brandon Wimbush will need to earn the honor of starting against Michigan on Sept. 1, 2018. He will not be the only one vying for the distinction.

Yes, Wimbush still deserves to be in the competition. He missed throws again on Monday, most egregiously throwing too high for junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on a drag route. Even if throwing over the defensive line, that ball needs to be within St. Brown’s range on a pattern designed for yards after the catch, a la his 75-yard touchdown reception at Stanford.

Wimbush also accounted for 30 touchdowns (16 passing, 14 rushing) this season. Kelly used that fact to illustrate Notre Dame’s depth at the position.

“We’re very talented at the quarterback position,” Kelly said. “Ian showed today. Brandon showed that he’s very capable of running. … We are just very deep at the quarterback position and very fortunate that we have [Book].”

That depth will produce a starter in the next eight months. It is no longer an assurance it will be Wimbush.

Junior receiver Miles Boykin‘s Citrus Bowl performance, including the game-winning touchdown catch, sets him up well to be a contributor in 2018. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

That starter better be ready to throw to Miles Boykin.
The junior receiver finally broke through in the Citrus Bowl. With two of the top three Irish receivers sidelined, someone needed to step up. Boykin did so in such a manner his name will be in Notre Dame lore for decades to come. Three catches do not make for a great afternoon, but when the last of those is a one-handed, tackle-shedding, 55-yard game-winning touchdown, the spectrum shifts.

Boykin’s highlight reel catch also happened to lend itself to many fantastic photos. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Boykin’s frame makes him a threat. It was why he was considered a likely starter throughout all of spring practice and a good portion of preseason practices. That range made him an excellent counter to LSU’s excellent coverage cornerbacks.

“One of the things that was really important in this game was to get him the ball in a position where — their defensive backs were outstanding — that they couldn’t make a play on the ball,” Kelly said. “… That’s something that [Boykin] and Ian and Brandon work on.”

There is little-to-no chance sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson is with the Irish when the Wolverines arrive in South Bend. There is still a chance St. Brown declares for the NFL this month. New targets will be needed, and Boykin finally showed what he offers in a competitive environment.

Michael Young will also be in that conversation.
Kelly predicted the freshman receiver would be heard from. Indeed he was, even if to the tune of only two catches for eight yards and a touchdown. Young saw plenty of snaps, very much a part of Long’s planning. That faith alone indicates Young has moved up the depth chart enough to be involved from the outset of next season.

Same goes for Nic Weishar.
The senior tight end has already indicated he will return for his final season of eligibility. His two catches for 13 yards may be underwhelming, but they came within the scheme and demonstrated he may be a perfect fit as the attached tight end offering a large target in short-yardage situations. Twice on the same third-quarter drive, Book turned to Weishar along the sideline. Weishar caught both passes cleanly, converting a third down with the second grab.

Losing fifth-year senior Durham Smythe could be a step backward for the offense. He put together an exceptional final season. Instead, Weishar should be able to step right into that role.

On the other side of the ball, freshman safety Jordan Genmark-Heath joined what will be an active spring conversation.
Notre Dame needs better safety play. That is undeniable and, again, a topic for further discussion yet this week. Genmark-Heath saw extended action for the first time this season, making five tackles and avoiding any catastrophic mistakes.

Facing LSU is not a situation to trot out an inexperienced safety. Tigers offensive coordinator Matt Canada uses more motions and misdirections in one day than some teams do in an entire season. Genmark-Heath needed to be properly prepared to not be embarrassed, and Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko had him ready.

Revealing a gem like that is one of the purposes of bowl practices. Notre Dame did not need 15 sessions to focus on LSU. Instead, some of those were used to work on fundamentals and basics. That aspect moved Genmark-Heath into a spot where he could be counted on.

He may not start at safety in 2018, but as that position enters eight months of utter uncertainty, Genmark-Heath will get his chance.

Quenton Nelson is heading to the NFL, obviously.
The senior left guard removed any naïve hopes of him returning for another year of college football after the Irish victory.

“It was my last rep at Notre Dame and this week was sentimental,” Nelson said. “I’m so happy we finished strong.”

He is a presumptive top-10 NFL Draft pick. He should go.

Notre Dame senior left guard Quenton Nelson, left, will head to the NFL with a year of collegiate eligibility remaining. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

No other decisions were announced immediately after the bowl game. The likes of St. Brown, junior running back Josh Adams, junior tight end Alizé Mack and junior linebacker Te’von Coney have until Jan. 15 to make up their minds.

Kelly will once again hold one-on-one meetings with each and every player in the coming weeks.

Kelly credited that implementation for sparking many of the program-wide changes following last season’s 4-8 debacle. He intends to do it again.

Book and Boykin heroics give Notre Dame a Citrus victory

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Notre Dame had not put together a successful two-minute drive all season until sophomore quarterback Ian Book found junior receiver Miles Boykin for the winning score in Monday’s Citrus Bowl, topping No. 17 LSU, 21-17. The 55-yard touchdown delivered Notre Dame its 10th win of the season and first New Year’s Day victory since 1994.

“To get to 10 wins in two of the last three seasons, it’s really a nice mark for our football team,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said.

Suffice it to say, sophomore quarterback Ian Book was an unlikely hero for Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Book took over for junior quarterback and season-long starter Brandon Wimbush late in the second quarter. The three preceding Notre Dame drives all failed to gain a first down, netting a total of five yards. Book preceded to lead an 11-play, 51-yard drive for a field goal four seconds before halftime, breaking a scoreless tie.

“We have confidence in Ian,” Kelly said. “He hasn’t played a lot of football, but we threw him right into the fire and he leads a winning drive in a game that was on the line. He has that ability. It doesn’t surprise us that he’s able to do that.”

Kelly said he intended to play both Book and Wimbush all along in bowl preparations, but that plan was apparently shelved at halftime. Wimbush never saw the field again, finishing the day 3-of-8 for 52 yards passing and 38 rushing yards on four carries.

After that initial success, it took Book a bit to find a sustainable rhythm. He threw an interception to end the first Irish drive of the second half, and then turned excellent field position into only another field goal toward the end of the third quarter.

In that interim, Notre Dame’s defense held the Tigers in check, barely. Though LSU gained 399 yards and averaged a strong 5.3 yards per play, the Irish forced three field goal attempts in the red zone, including two on drives that reached the one-yard line.

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Book took one snap in the first-quarter, throwing an incomplete pass on a third-and-10. When he returned to the field to lead the two-minute offense, it seemed he would take that opportunity and then Wimbush would return after halftime. Book went 3-for-4 for 33 yards on the drive, rushing for 27 more.

He should not have taken a sack on a third-and-four at the end of the drive, but the six-yard loss did not knock Notre Dame out of junior kicker Justin Yoon’s range, and there was hardly time left to take more than one more shot at the end zone, anyways.

The first signs of production from the Irish offense ensured Book would remain at quarterback the rest of the afternoon.

OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
LSU missed two first-half field goals. Those were hardly defensive successes. What was a defensive accomplishment, though, was tackling Tigers junior running back Derrius Guice inches from the end zone in the fourth quarter’s closing minutes.

Sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes and freshman safety Jordan Genmark-Heath brought down the future early NFL Draft pick on a third-and-goal from the three-yard line, but LSU going for the last few inches on fourth down seemed a certainty. Instead, head coach Ed Orgeron sent out his field goal unit, a questionable move on a good day but an even more surprising one given the two misses earlier.

“Obviously, you think about it, but you go ahead,” Orgeron said. “You go ahead with two minutes left to go. Your defense had played well. I didn’t think they were going to score. I thought we could stop them. I wanted to give our team a chance to win.”

Orgeron will now have eight months to second-guess that decision.

PLAY OF THE GAME
Obviously, Boykin’s game-winning, one-handed, tackle-shedding touchdown will be the moment to remember.

Book and Boykin gelled from the moment Book took to the field. Two of his five first-half pass attempts went toward Boykin, completing one for 18 yards and a first down on that drive for Yoon’s first field goal. Boykin finished with three catches for 102 yards, earning Citrus Bowl MVP honors.

“We were in practice, and we knew we were going to have to get a couple of one-on-one matchups on the outside, and I told Miles, you’re going to win the MVP trophy,” Kelly said. “He looked at me like I had two heads, but I felt like he had a chance.

“He has the ability if we can get him the football.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME
Book may have had a stronger claim to the postgame hardware. For that matter, his first touchdown may have been more impressive than the deep ball to Boykin. Six yards from the end zone with five receivers and an empty backfield, Book had plenty of time but no open targets. When pressure did start to develop, he rolled out while keeping his eyes moving, surveying his targets.

Finally, he found a window to freshman receiver Michael Young.

Book finished the day 14-of-19 for 164 yards and two touchdowns passing, also adding 64 yards on seven rushes (sacks adjusted). His ability to genuinely consider both the run and the pass in run-pass options made life more difficult than LSU had expected.

“[Book] made a difference,” Orgeron said. “We had a plan. He came in and scrambled. Zone-read gave us problems. [He] extended plays.”

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Junior linebacker Te’von Coney made 17 tackles Monday, underscoring Notre Dame’s hopes he will return for his senior season, a decision he said he has not yet made.

STAT OF THE GAME
The Irish offense lacked three of its top four pass-catchers from the regular season, with sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson and junior tight end Alizé Mack both suspended and sophomore receiver Chase Claypool out with a shoulder injury. Freshman tight end Brock Wright, used as a situational blocker, was also sidelined by a shoulder injury, and sophomore running back Deon McIntosh, the team’s third-leading rusher, was suspended, as well.

“We were a little shorthanded out there,” Kelly admitted afterward. “… Young players out there that I think started on scout team.”

Yet, Notre Dame averaged 6.07 yards per play against one of the country’s best defenses. For context, the Irish offense averaged 6.42 yards per play in the regular season.

With Book taking snaps, Notre Dame worked even more efficiently. Book’s offense gained 267 yards on 40 plays, an average of 6.68 yards. Wimbush’s time in the game gained 103 yards on 21 plays, an average of 4.90 yards.

SCORING SUMMARY
Second Quarter
0:04 — Notre Dame field goal. Justin Yoon 46 yards. Notre Dame 3, LSU 0. (11 plays, 51 yards, 2:00)

Third Quarter
11:37 — LSU touchdown. Derrius Guice 20-yard reception from Danny Etling. Jack Gonsoulin PAT good. LSU 7, Notre Dame 3. (5 plays, 43 yards, 2:16)
2:47 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 49 yards. LSU 7, Notre Dame 6. (5 plays, 18 yards, 2:20)

Fourth Quarter
11:13 — LSU touchdown. Guice two-yard reception from Etling. Gonsoulin PAT god. LSU 14, Notre Dame 6. (12 plays, 75 yards, 6:34)
7:49 — Notre Dame touchdown. Michael Young six-yard reception from Ian Book. Two-point conversion good. Josh Adams two-yard reception from Book. LSU 14, Notre Dame 14. (10 plays, 75 yards, 3:24)
2:03 — LSU field goal. Gonsoulin 17 yards. LSU 17, Notre Dame 14. (12 plays, 76 yards, 5:46)
1:28 — Notre Dame touchdown. Miles Boykin 55-yard reception from Book. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 21, LSU 17. (3 plays, 73 yards, 0:35)