No. 3 Notre Dame may or may not be without junior quarterback Ian Book against Florida State on Saturday, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday following practice. Book is “day-to-day” with an “upper body” injury sustained early against Northwestern last week.
“We knew he was banged up during the game,” Kelly said. It seems safe to presume Book’s injury came in the first quarter.
“Then subsequent follow-ups on Sunday (showed) that we were going to have to keep an eye on him throughout the week.”
With Book “limited” in practice, senior Brandon Wimbush has “gotten the bulk of the work.” As much as Kelly tried to make it seem there is a question of who will start Saturday, that practice bit should be all the indication needed. It will be Wimbush returning to the starting lineup, fittingly on Senior Day. Of course, Wimbush led Notre Dame to its 3-0 start this season before Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long opted to give Book his starting shot. Wimbush has spent the last seven weeks as the typical backup quarterback while also focusing on what he has needed to improve.
“A lot of it was fine-tuning some mechanics and really being a lot more sound,” Kelly said. “… He just needed to make a couple fine-tune mechanical things and he’s throwing the ball pretty good this week.
“The quarterback that is taking reps for us is a guy that you would say is of championship quality. [Wimbush] is 12-3 for a reason.”
That may be hyperbolic, but Kelly’s point to Wimbush’s experience is a worthwhile one. He did, after all, beat the No. 4 team in the country to open this season. Should the flaws that led to Wimbush’s benching — the 55.3 percent completion rate, the four interceptions compared to one touchdown, the 7.75 yards per attempt — show themselves again with Book sidelined, the Irish could turn to freshman Phil Jurkovec.
At the end of September, Kelly said he would need a week to ready Jurkovec in a game plan, as this year’s focus with the former four-star prospect has primarily been on skill development. Presumably, that was some of this week.
“Phil’s got some learning to do,” Kelly said Thursday. “But he can run our offense. Not the entire playbook, but we’re not going to put a guy out there who is lost. He’s going to be able to run the offense. He can throw the football down the field. He can run some RPOs. He can run some screen-option. There will be plenty for you to defend if Phil is on the football field.”
Jurkovec saw mop-up duty in the blowout at Wake Forest, not coincidentally Book’s first start this year. With that being the freshman’s only appearance, though, he could play in up to three more games this season before losing a year of eligibility.
“Obviously if Phil is called upon, this would be a great usage of this particular rule here,” Kelly said. “You’d hate to lose a kid like Phil’s year of eligibility because you’re forced to play him under these conditions.”
Kelly said if Book is healthy enough to play Saturday, his lack of practice this week will not rule him out.