Noie: Ian Book settles in to beat UNC, but don't expect QB controversy at Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Postgame protocol never really mattered to Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Ian Book.

Didn’t need to know it. No reason.

Following football games, Book would head off the field, get out of his gear, grab a quick shower and disappear quietly into the evening. Other guys on the team could answer the whys and hows of what had happened.

That wasn’t the case Saturday for No. 21 Notre Dame against North Carolina at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Making his first career start, Book went the whole way, passing for 146 yards and running for 45 more as Notre Dame steamrolled yet another overmatched opponent for a 33-10 victory.

Instead of heading for the team bus with a box dinner under his arm afterward, he was summoned to sum up his day in the interview room.

“It was awesome,” Book said. “It felt amazing. It’s been a dream to always play college football.”

The kid from Northern California made his first career start in North Carolina. Rainy North Carolina. Notre Dame made an official announcement via Twitter about 22 minutes before kick that it would be Book and not junior Brandon Wimbush, who suffered a strained right foot in the previous week’s win over Miami (Ohio).

Everything supposedly changed when Book took the field with the first-team offense a little after half past 3. But for Book, nothing really did. Not Saturday. Not for much of last week when it looked like Wimbush would play, then sit, then play, then, ultimately, not be able to answer the bell based on the way he moved — or didn’t move — during Friday’s walk-through.

Book prepared the same way he has all year — like he’d have to play. Early. Often.

“That’s just how I’ve got to prepare,” Book said. “You never know what could happen. I’ve been preparing to always be ready since Day One, since the season started.

“From a mental standpoint, I always tell myself, ‘You’ve got to be ready.’ I prepare every week to play.”

The first real indication that it would be Book arrived about 55 minutes before kickoff in the corner of the east end zone. That’s where Book was taking shotgun snaps with starting center Sam Mustipher. Wimbush was next to him working with backup center Trevor Ruhland.

Starters with starters. Backups with backups.

A short time later, it was on. Book in the huddle. In the shotgun. In the middle of it all making plays. Sometimes he did. Other times he didn’t. He threw a touchdown. He threw two interceptions. He was chased out of the pocket and took some hits — even a few big ones —\– really for the first time since his senior season in high school nearly two years ago.

Afterward, he felt it. It felt good.

“Little sore,” he said with a smile. “Little more sore than normal.”

There were times when he looked comfortable. Other times confused. But there Wimbush remained on the sideline, given some additional time to heal before Notre Dame embarks on the second half of its schedule with a prime-time game against rival Southern California on Oct. 21.

Book was the guy. He played like it. The other 10 guys on offense felt his presence. Almost immediately.

When did they know Book would do what was needed to do to get this team to 5-1?

“Right from the start,” said left tackle Mike McGlinchey. “First college start against a very talented defense in some pretty poor weather conditions, for a young kid, he stepped up and did a great job for us.”

What is it about Notre Dame playing in the Carolinas that seems to rub the weather gods the wrong way? For the third-straight season, the Irish ventured south to battle an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent and had to deal with a salty Mother Nature.

Again.

This wasn’t Clemson in 2015 or right across Interstate 40 from here and North Carolina State last fall. But weather was an issue. Expected to be sunny and 85 degrees, it instead was cloudy and rainy and a whole lot of humid.

This time, though, the Irish headed for their plane and the charter flight home happy.

Watching the weather radar for the next round of rain was more interesting than a first quarter that featured five punts. Notre Dame’s defense held North Carolina to three three-and-outs and 15 yards in the opening 15 minutes.

There was a lot to like early for the Irish defense. Overall? Not so easy on the eyes everywhere else. By early in the fourth quarter, fog had started to form on the press box windows, making it difficult to see. Nobody complained. There was little left to watch with a critical eye. A running clock was encouraged.

Notre Dame’s offensive philosophy with its backup quarterback? Wear down the other guys. With the passing game. The Irish came into Saturday’s contest averaging just over 70 plays per game. They then fired off 50 in the first two quarters. Half of those were Book passes. More than a few of those on the road, the way Book wants to play. Likes to play.

“He’s a very confident kid,” Kelly said of Book. “There were no jitters with him.”

Actually….

“I had some nerves when I first got out there,” Book said. “I get nerves. Nerves are good.

“It shows you care.”

If it feels like Notre Dame has been there before — two quarterbacks vying for the top job — it has. Last season — before the wheels fell off — when it remained to be seen how Kelly would juggle DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire.

Didn’t work out too well. At all. For anyone. The result was 4-8.

Don’t expect Kelly and the Irish to venture down the same road. Not now. Not later. Quarterback is one guy’s job. Only. Win or lose, flourish or falter, Book should return to the backup role when Wimbush is deemed healthy enough to jump back to the lineup on a full-time basis.

It’s the best way to work. The only way.

Book will work that way.

“I’m not going to change anything,” he said. “Treat it the same way I did before. I’m just going to keep it the same.”

This is a team that could be going places. With that defense. With that run game. With that starting quarterback and that backup.

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Notre Dame sophomore Ian Book (12) throws during ND's 33-10 victory over North Carolina, Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. It was Book's first collegiate start. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)