Analysis: Shuffled offensive line keeps Notre Dame QB Ian Book clean

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Accuracy from Ian Book has come to be expected. The Notre Dame quarterback leads the country in completion percentage (76.5) for a reason.

Yet after a completing more than 80 percent of his passes for the second consecutive game, it’s easy to wonder if the junior from El Dorado Hills, Calif., can continue to play at such a high level.

If Book receives the kind of pass protection he was afforded against Navy, it’s easier to believe. Book was pressured on just five of his 37 dropbacks on Saturday night — by far the best performance from the Irish offense this season.

The Midshipmen pressured Book on just 13.5 percent of his dropbacks. Notre Dame’s previous season-low for pressure rate came against Virginia Tech at 23.7 percent.

Book completed 27 of his 33 passes for 330 yards* and two touchdowns with one interception against Navy. How did he get to those numbers? Let’s take a closer look.

*Update: I'm told the stats are correct even if it doesn't make a lot of sense. On the play Miles Boykin fumbled, he was given a 10-yard reception. But because Navy didn't recover it until three more yards down the field, he gets credit for those yards too. At least that's how it was explained to me. For the sake of charting, I'm going to call that catch a 13-yard reception. The rest of the numbers have been updated.

Previous note: The box score from Saturday’s game appears to be incorrect in two places. Ian Book threw for 327 yards (not 330) and wide receiver Miles Boykin totaled 55 receiving yards (not 58). I discovered the play-by-play statistics did not match the totals while charting the plays for this story. 

• The few times Navy did create pressure, it impacted Book. He completed only one of his three passes for seven yards in the face of pressure. His two incompletions were a product of an overthrow to an open Cole Kmet and an underthrow to an open Jafar Armstrong. Both of those plays may have resulted in touchdowns if Book made an accurate throw. Book rushed twice for a gain of 12 yards against the other two pressures.

• Offensive lineman Aaron Banks was responsible for only one pressure in his first career start. It wasn’t egregious either, but the left guard was pushed five yards deep into the pocket to prevent Book from stepping into the missed throw to Armstrong.

Two pressures against Book came from unblocked pass rushers. One pressure came from running back Dexter Williams not finishing a block even though Book did escape a near sack. The only other pressure Book forced upon himself.

• Navy was not very aggressive in overloading Notre Dame’s pass protection. The Irish were never outnumbered on a dropback and had the numbers advantage on 30 of them. The Midshipmen were able to generate good pressure when the numbers were even. On just seven dropbacks with even numbers, Navy pressured Book three times. He completed four of his seven passes for 26 yards on those dropbacks.

• Navy relied almost exclusively on four-man and five-man rush looks. Here’s how Notre Dame fared against each pass rush quantity.

Three-man rush (1 time): 1-of-1 for four yards.

Four-man rush (22 times): 17-of-19 for 239 yards with one overthrow. Book rushed three times for 33 yards. Navy generated two pressures from a four-man rush.

Five-man rush (13 times): 8-of-12 for 73 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, one overthrow and one underthrow. Book ran once for three yards. Navy generated three pressures from a five-man rush.

Six-man rush (1 times): 1-of-1 for 14 yards.

• Book didn’t stretch the field with a pass attempt of more than 30 yards downfield, but he fared well on throws beyond 15 yards. Here’s how Book’s throws were distributed by depth.

Behind the line to 0: 10-of-11 for 72 yards with one pass breakup.

1-5 yards: 5-of-5 for 66 yards and one touchdown.

6-10 yards: 7-of-9 for 75 yards and one interception with one overthrow.

11-15 yards: 0-of-1 with one pass breakup.

16-20 yards: 2-of-3 for 43 yards with one overthrow.

21-30 yards: 3-of-4 for 74 yards and one touchdown with one underthrow.

31-plus yards: None.

• Book’s 330 passing yards included 193 yards after the catch (12.1 yards per catch). His completions came at an average depth of 5.1 yards for 138 yards total. Book’s incompletions came at an average depth of 11.3 yards.

• Book successfully utilized play fakes and the screen game. He completed 13 of his 14 passes following a play fake for 143 yards. The lone incompletion was a pass breakup. Book also ran once for three yards following a play fake.

Book completed all five of his screen passes for 44 yards. Armstrong (2 catches for 9 yards), Chris Finke (1 for 26), Williams (1 for 7) and Alizé Mack (1 for 2) combined for 62 yards after the catch on screen plays.

Takeaways

Notre Dame’s offensive line tinkering couldn’t have worked much better than it did against Navy. Inserting Banks in at left guard and moving Trevor Ruhland into the starting lineup at right guard worked wonders in pass protection and in the run game. The Irish averaged 5.9 yards per carry to reach 254 rushing yards. Banks, in particular, showed his ability to move defenders out of the way both as a pull blocker and with a defensive lineman across from him.

The run game success should be celebrated more than the pass protection. Navy has one of the least productive pass rushes in the country with only seven sacks in eight games. But Notre Dame’s rushing total was only three yards short of the season-high allowed by Navy.

Book has continued to play so well that any critiques are certainly nitpicking. He threw only six incomplete passes, and yet two of them could have been touchdowns if thrown better. Two others may have been completed if not for nice plays by defenders to knock them down. Book doesn’t have to throw deep in order to put up good numbers, so it’s hard to imagine Notre Dame pushing hard for those deep balls unless forced out of its short-to-medium passing game.

Book’s interception was a bad decision both in terms of the actual throw and the time-and-place in the game. He put extra pressure on Notre Dame’s defense in the fourth quarter when it wasn’t necessary. When the Irish run into a team at a similar talent level, those mistakes will be magnified.

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book was only pressured five times against Navy.