Leftovers & Links: A perspective of Notre Dame’s passing struggles

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By no means is Notre Dame senior quarterback Ian Book setting the world on fire. Averaging only 6.6 yards per pass attempt against the Cavaliers during Saturday’s 35-20 Irish victory underscored that.

But also by no means is Book playing terribly. Project his current stat line across 13 games — keeping in mind he has been without a receiver for three of the four games thus far, a star tight end for two of them and the starting running back for all four — and Book’s season could be quite comparable to 2018’s, when he led Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff.

2019 prorated to 13 games: 63.0 percent completion rate, 3,227 yards with 26 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
2018’s nine games prorated to 13: 68.2 percent completion rate, 3,416 yards with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Trading a couple hundred yards for five fewer interceptions is a fair deal.

There is reason to think Book exceeds those projections, too, simply based on what remains on the Irish schedule. Having already faced SP+’s No.-12 rated defense (Georgia) and No. 27 defense (Virginia), Notre Dame will face only one more top-40 unit and half the remaining opponents sit outside the top-60. In order of appearance on the Irish schedule:

Bowling Green, No. 118 defense per SP+.
USC, No. 51
Michigan, No. 6
Virginia Tech, No. 52
Duke, No. 47
Navy, No. 73
Boston College, No. 89
Stanford, No. 63.

Clearly, this coming week may be a chance for both Book and the Notre Dame offense to work on some issues, particularly making quick decisions.

“He’s a quarterback that needs to trust what he sees and be committed to it,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “If I was able to use a word to describe him, he probably just needs to be more decisive and we’re going to work on him being more decisive. There are some plays out there where he knows he sees them after the fact. We’re going to work on that decisiveness. Once he gets to that level, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

The Notre Dame season-long scoring average record remains 37.6, set way back in 1968. It is currently at 38.25, and should jump upward this weekend. (Simple math of the opening odds projects the Irish to tally 53 …) Remove both this season’s defensive touchdowns from the ledger, and the average is still 34.75, a Kelly Era high.

The Book-led offense has not steamrolled as perhaps unreasonably expected, but it is also not holding Notre Dame back to date.

Senior receiver Chase Claypool’s 21 catches for 296 yards and two touchdowns in four games extrapolates out to 68 catches for 962 yards and six scores. That would be the most yards by an Irish receiver since Will Fuller’s 1,258 in 2015.

Perhaps this is expounded upon at the end of the week, the thought originally stemming from a conversation around a bonfire as Saturday became Sunday. It is easier to criticize to praise, an unfortunate aspect of human nature. It is easier to point out Book’s failings — and Saturday, they were inarguably more apparent — than his successes.

But seeing his struggles at the moment, particularly against a vintage Bronco Mendenhall-defense, does not make it a sure-thing they will last through the next two months. Frankly, there is more evidence in Book’s first 14 career starts to indicate otherwise. And by no means has sophomore Phil Jurkovec offered enough to consider benching a starter with a 12-2 record, those two losses coming to a national champion and a Georgia team intent on matching that.

*ends philosophical rant. Returns to copious film study of Bowling Green’s defense*
(Clearly, little-to-no such film study will occur this week, for all the obvious reasons.)

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