SOUTH BEND — The urge for Ian Book to leave the pocket will come again.
When Notre Dame’s starting quarterback begins to feel pressure, he relies on his athletic ability to try to escape the pocket and make a play.
But aborting the pocket isn’t always the right choice. Sometimes there’s room for Book to slide into the pocket created by his offensive line while remaining protected and delivering an on-time throw.
Book likely will be faced with a number of those pocket decisions Saturday against Virginia’s prolific pass rush. The No. 18 Cavaliers (4-0) entered the week tied with Florida for the most sacks (20) in college football this season.
Last week against Georgia, head coach Brian Kelly wanted Book to focus on staying in the pocket. The plan worked — at least in protecting the 6-foot, 212-pound Book. Georgia, which averaged four sacks per game before playing the Irish, failed to record a sack.
“He likes to slide a little bit to see,” Kelly said after noting Book’s height. “His better vision point would be inside versus a 3-4 defense. Sometimes you like to slide out to see a little bit better. Vision was going to be better for him last week inside the pocket. He did a nice job with that.”
The pocket an offensive line creates against a 3-4 defense should be firm up the middle because the guards can help the center block the nose guard with no other interior defensive linemen. A 4-3 defense requires the center and guards to account for two interior defensive linemen. Virginia also utilizes a 3-4 defense, but Kelly said the Cavaliers run it differently than Georgia.
Virginia’s defensive line has accounted for only 2.5 of the team’s 20 sacks. Four of the top five sack leaders on Virginia’s roster are its starting linebackers: inside linebacker Jordan Mack (five sacks), outside linebacker Charles Snowden (3), outside linebacker Noah Taylor (3) and inside linebacker Zane Zandier (2).
Kelly called Mack one of the best inside linebackers the Irish will see this season and noted that Snowden’s effort against Old Dominion on Saturday earned him National Defensive Player of the Week honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
The 6-7, 235-pound Snowden recorded 15 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks in the 28-17 win.
“They have elite players on each level of their defense,” Kelly said.
In other words, plenty of talent to keep Book’s attention.
The physical nature of Notre Dame’s 23-17 loss to Georgia could take its toll on the Irish. But after spending time with his team during the required check-in Sunday, Kelly said he feels like the group is in a pretty good spot.
“We’re only three weeks into the season. We had a bye week. It is not like we’re begging for a week off,” Kelly said. “We came out of it pretty good. Our guys are ready for more was the sense I got.”
He’ll learn more with how his team handles practice the next few days. The captains already called for a team meeting before the team met with Kelly on Monday afternoon.
“We expect physical and demanding practices this week, load them on,” Kelly said. “It is the grind time. Let’s get after it.”
The challenge of a Virginia team on the rise won’t allow for any coasting through the week. Reaching the goal of winning out requires the avoidance of a letdown.
“Virginia has their attention, there’s no doubt about that,” Kelly said. “So they know they have to pay attention to their detail and play well against a quality opponent. There’s no question when you play a team of this caliber. They recognize how important it is to go back to work.”
The false start penalties committed by Notre Dame’s offense at Georgia were still bugging Kelly on Monday. In each of his three press conferences since Saturday’s loss, Kelly has taken the blame for failing to prepare his players.
Three of the false starts, all of which were called on tight end Cole Kmet, appear to be related to the issue Kelly already has explained. Quarterback Ian Book continued to use his clapping cadence out of habit even though the offense was using a silent count (signals from quarterback to a lineman). As a result, Kmet appeared to move at the sight or sound of Book clapping rather than waiting for the snap.
“I’m sick about it,” Kelly said. “I have been a head coach for 29 years. I know better to be quite honest with you. We didn’t spend enough time, obviously. I thought I did.
“I made a terrible miscalculation in that I felt like our quarterback was prepared, but he wasn’t. That falls on me. Consequently, we had three critical cadence issues that who knows where they could have led to. That falls on my shoulders. I have to do a better job.”
The two false start penalties on offensive tackles Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey may have been unrelated to the clapping cadence. Georgia’s defensive line shifted right before Eichenberg and Hainsey flinched on both occasions. The Jarrett Patterson snap that caught Book off guard on fourth-and-2 in the first quarter also happened immediately after the Georgia line moved sideways.
Half of the penalties on Notre Dame against Georgia came on false starts. The Irish found plenty of other ways to make mistakes including an illegal formation, an ineligible man downfield and a holding on a Georgia kickoff that wasn’t even returned.
“We had 12 of them. That’s way too many,” Kelly said. “I think 10 of them were foolish penalties, and that falls on the staff and me in particular to clean up foolish penalties. A couple of those are penalties that we have to fix.”
Notre Dame totaled 11 penalties through the first two games.