Chase Claypool and Ian Book

Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool (left) helped quarterback Ian Book (right) improve as a deep passer in the 2019 season.

Ian Book captioned his social media posts announcing his return to Notre Dame with “#BeatNavy.”

The Irish will open the 2020 season against Navy in Dublin, Ireland on Aug. 29, and Book plans to be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback once again.

But if Book wants to change his legacy at Notre Dame, he needs to #BeatWisconsin and #BeatClemson. Immediately following his announcement, impatient members of the Notre Dame fan base took turns expressing their displeasure.

Book’s 20-3 record as a starter isn’t quite enough for the naysayers. Those three losses coming at the hands of Clemson, Georgia and Michigan have shown that Book doesn’t have what it takes to beat college football’s elite defenses, so the argument goes.

The critics have evidence to support their claim. Book’s passing efficiency numbers in those games don’t come close to his efficiency numbers against lesser opponents. In last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson, Book completed 17 of his 34 passes for 160 yards and one interception. Book finished the 2018 season with a 153.9 passing efficiency rating, but he managed a rating of only 83.6 against the eventual national champions.

In 2019, Book played against three defenses currently ranked among the top 30 in the FBS for passing efficiency defense: Georgia (No. 14), Michigan (30) and Virginia Tech (28). He logged passing efficiency ratings of 116.38, 69.73 and 112.88 in those three games, respectively. Book only managed to beat Virginia Tech of that trio with the help of his game-winning touchdown run of seven yards with 29 seconds remaining.

Following Saturday’s 33-9 Camping World Bowl victory over Iowa State, Book finished the 2019 season with a passing efficiency rating of 149.1, currently ranked No. 28 in the FBS.

That meant Book continued the trend of quarterback play at Notre Dame under head coach Brian Kelly. Book became just the second quarterback to start the majority of games in back-to-back seasons for the Irish under Kelly. Like DeShone Kizer in 2015 and 2016, Book’s passing efficiency rating took a slight dip in his second season.

Kizer’s efficiency rating dropped from 150 as a sophomore to 145.6 as a junior. Kizer then left Notre Dame early to enter the 2017 NFL Draft, in which he was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the second round.

Book’s NFL prospects heading into 2020 were much lower, so he wisely chose to return to the Irish. Though his efficiency rating dropped from the Kelly Era high of 153.9 in 2018 to 149.1 in 2019, Book can become the third quarterback of Kelly’s at Notre Dame to eventually boost his passing efficiency.

Current Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees improved his efficiency rating from 133.4 in 2011 to 135.4 in 2013 despite losing the starting job to Everett Golson in 2012. Golson’s efficiency rating jumped from 131 in 2012 to 143.6 in 2014 after missing the 2013 season with an academic suspension.

Despite Book’s dip in passing efficiency from 2018 to 2019, there’s reason to believe he’s improved as a passer. Book’s biggest knock following the 2018 season was his ability to stretch the field. Book and Rees were well aware of the perception, even if they refused to believe it.

“My perspective of it is it’s not an issue,” Rees told the Tribune last June. “Yeah, we’ve missed deep balls. Does that mean Ian Book can’t throw the deep ball? No. I’ve seen him throw better deep balls than anyone on the team. I’ve seen him make throws over 30 yards that a lot of guys can’t make.

“Now, we didn’t execute them in the game, and there are some technical things and some footwork things that we have to get corrected, but this whole narrative of Ian Book can’t push the ball down the field is false. I’ve seen him make the throws 100 times.”

Book didn’t necessarily rely on deep passes more often in 2019. According to Tribune film analysis, Book attempted the same number of passes beyond 30 yards of the line of scrimmage in 2019 as he did in 2018. But he became more accurate.

In 2018, Book finished 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) for 209 yards and two touchdowns on throws more than 30 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This past season, Book completed nine of his 21 throws (42.8 percent) at that depth for 376 yards and five touchdowns with one interception.

Book also improved on throws between 21 and 30 yards past the line of scrimmage, which allowed Book to nearly double his production on throws beyond 20 yards between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

In his first year as the starter, Book finished 17-of-45 (37.8 percent) for 536 yards and five touchdowns with one interception on throws beyond 20 yards. In 2019, Book went 32-of-58 (55 percent) for 973 yards and 10 touchdowns with two interceptions at that depth.

Now Kelly, Rees and whoever becomes Notre Dame’s new offensive coordinator need to identify Book’s biggest deficiencies and find a way to improve them. That will give the Irish the best chance to beat the likes of Wisconsin on Oct. 3 and Clemson on Nov. 7.

On ABC’s TV broadcast of Saturday’s Camping World Bowl, analyst Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback, complimented Book on his ability to use his athleticism in reaction to what defenses throw at him.

“He is best when he’s playing frantically physically but calm mentally,” Orlovsky said on the broadcast. “A challenge for a quarterback, but he’s good enough.”

But is Book good enough to maximize his abilities against top defenses? He will have more chances to prove it in 2020. Clemson and Wisconsin entered this week with two of the top 12 passing efficiency defenses for 2019.

The CFP No. 3 Tigers did enough to beat No. 2 Ohio State in Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields entered the matchup ranked as the No. 4 quarterback in the country in passing efficiency at 190.3. But Fields threw two interceptions against the Tigers — after throwing just one all season beforehand — and finished with a 122.13 rating in the 29-23 loss.

Clemson currently has the top passing efficiency defense in the country with a 96.32 rating. Wisconsin, ranked No. 12 in passing efficiency defense (113.23), lost twice to Ohio State. But in both games the Badgers managed to keep Fields under his season-long efficiency rating.

Though the defenses of Wisconsin and Clemson will look slightly different, those are the challenges that await Book in 2020. He’s already among the top six quarterbacks in Notre Dame history in career touchdown passes (4th with 57), career completions (5th, 500) career rushing yards (5th, 1,033) and career passing yards (6th, 6,118).

Book also has a chance to become the winningest quarterback in program history. He needs 10 wins to break the record of 29 shared by Tom Clements, Ron Powlus and Brady Quinn.

That means Book can set the record without beating Wisconsin or Clemson. But he can only remove the invisible asterisk that would come with the record by winning those big games.

After Book scored the game-winning touchdown against Virginia Tech in Notre Dame Stadium, Book raised a finger to his facemask as if to silence the doubters that questioned him all week long following the dreadful 45-14 loss at Michigan.

That all but proved that Book was well aware of the noise outside of Notre Dame’s locker room. That’s the pressure that comes with being the quarterback at Notre Dame. Even the good ones can’t escape it.

Book responded by leading the Irish to a six-game winning streak to end the season. But not all wins are measured the same at Notre Dame, and the pressure never subsides.

By choosing to return for his fifth year, Book isn’t running away from it.

Add one more hashtag to the list: #BeatPressure.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

(13) comments

jim masterson

Ian Book, happy that you returned for a final year

The vast, quite vast majority of ND fans are happy that you are at the helm of this team. Good luck going into 2020.

ClementstoWeber

I agree, if you're happy with 10-2. If that is the wish of this fine fanbase, than who am I to debate it. I come from an era when we thought going undefeated was the plan. As for next year: we will defeat Wisconsin, probably lose to Clemson (even though that has home upset written all over it), go 11-1, miss the playoff, and play on New Years Day. With the speed on this roster finally, it would be nice to have a guy who can throw the bomb. Go Defense! Go Irish!

NDTodd98

Agreed. Excited for him to have the chance to “drown out the noise.”

JackMBA

I agree that Book is an awesome QB and from my vantage point the MVP in the Bowl game whereas Gilman and Jones can be replaced easily

JackMBA

Gilman deserved to get the game ball in this awesome game

JackMBA

Ian Book was outstanding in both passing and running and carried the ND team in the Bowl game

ron a.

Just as his critics claim that Book doesn't see the whole field, they can't see, in their analysis, the whole field as to productivity and the player's individual responsibilities in affecting outcome. ( And most have NO concept of situational impact. COMMON SENSE should CLEARLY indicate his pass efficiency against Michigan, as an example, would have been much higher on a clear, sunny day.) Furthermore, because Ohio State's quarterback had lower pass rating against Clemson, does that mean "he can't win the big one"? Of course not. Big players don't have same rating across the board against all teams. Nonsense! Book has NFL skill set. He is tough. He is a competitor. And he has heart! Football is NOT a one man sport. The thing I most admire about Book is he seems to have bracketed all the nonsense that, in no way, would contribute to his success or the team's.

OverAll

he absolutely, definitively does not have an NFL skill set. If he did, he would be in the NFL. Ohio State‘s quarterback has actually won and performed well in many big games. Book hasn’t. You guys can say whatever you want, and I have nothing against book as a person but he is not and never will be an elite quarterback. If you’re OK with losing a few games a year, he’s your Huckleberry. If you’re like me and the poster above who wants this to be a championship program again, not good enough.

Exorcist88

Here is the thing. I think Ian Book has what it takes to win at Notre Dame and even the big games. I believe the problem is our play calling and the offense we run. I'm so sick of this read option offense. It was cute and caught defenses off guard when it first came out, but now teams have caught up with it, and unless you have elite speed (which Notre Dame never has) it just doesnt work. In a traditional offense Ian Book would flourish along with the rest of the offense. Our run game would have been A LOT better coming out of an I or Pro formation with a lead blocker, and this would take A LOT of pressure and responsibility off Book. You RUN the ball to open up the pass game. That is how it has always worked. I dont put not being able to win the big game on Ian Book, because I think he has enough talent to win thise games. I put it on the coach. It is the Brian Kelly's responsibility to put in a game plan that will work and I'm sorry he has proven to me that he cant win the big game. I've also watched him break several spirits of the kids playing for him and I dont respect an adult/coach who does that. The fact that Ian Book has stood up against his badgering is impressive to me. It is time for a head coach change if Notre Dame wants to win the big games or a championship for that matter. We will never win a championship with Kelly at the helm.

NDfanforalongtime

I don't subscribe to the thought that Notre Dame can only win a championship if they have an elite quarterback. Tony Rice was a "good" quarterrback and I'm pretty sure things turned out well for that 1988 team. Enough of making Book the whipping boy. It's the total package ND needs (again) for their next national championship.

OverAll

Tony Rice was 50 times better than Ian book

JackMBA

Ian Book is a great ND player and he showed his allegiance to Notre Dame by returning

emsgond

First of all IRISH FANS, who are WE to judge Ian Book???? Are WE running out of that tunnel???? NO. There is no perfection in football just hard work and dedication to do the best they can do. These are not pros just 19-22 year old's who quite frankly have accomplished quite a bit more than 99 percent of us at that age! Those who complain often have disappointing lives themselves with no fulfillment. Maybe half have lost betting? Believe me Ian has the old school guts to come back and represent his school and focus on trying to be the best he can be. This is a football World when young guys can be suckered into believing by others that they are better than they are and make a life decision between giving up school or going for the money. If ND fans want national championships they better pray that players stay the course for their entire eligibilty instead of jumping!!!!! A lack of returning players makes it impossible to build mojo during development and while ND will continue to win 9-11 games year after year in order to get into the big one your going to need veteran guts!!! It is my hope with the loss of key players those incoming transfers and freshmen will push the bar higher for this 2020 team. Ian is my man thick or thin and I'm excited to see the fight in the Fighting Irish for 2020!!!!

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.