Kelly: Ian Book is back for Notre Dame and ready to get physical

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune


Ian Book is not only back, according to Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, but he’s ready to run the football when called upon.

“We wouldn’t have played him if we had to put him in bubble wrap,” Kelly said of his No. 1 quarterback after Thursday’s practice inside the Loftus Center. “You just can’t play a quarterback under those conditions.”

So presumably the nation’s leader in pass completion and No. 4 QB in pass efficiency will be multidimensional in Yankee Stadium on Saturday, when he returns from a one-game absence.

The 6-foot, 203-pound junior and the rest of the third-ranked Irish (10-0) clash with a 12th-ranked Syracuse team that hits opposing quarterbacks often. The Orange (8-2) are 10th nationally in sacks at 3.3 per game. They were 112th nationally last season.

Book suffered a rib injury early in ND’s 31-21 victory at Northwestern on Nov. 3, but played through it to finish the game. Senior Brandon Wimbush, ND’s starter the first three games of this season and 12 games in 2017, stepped in and helped the Irish to a 42-13 romp over Florida State Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium.

Book returned to practice on Tuesday and to the top of the depth chart.

“I think he’s had a good week,” Kelly said. “Normal rust on Tuesday, but Wednesday ran the offense effectively, and then (Thursday) just settled in as if he had not had a week off. (Thursday) was a really good day.”

Book has thrown for 1,824 yards and 15 touchdowns, with four interceptions, in six starts and three cameo relief appearances this season. But he’s also been a big part of the running game.

Since Book became the starting QB on Sept. 22, only running back Dexter Williams (113) has more carries in that span than Book (64). And Book has more carries himself than running backs Tony Jones Jr. (31) and Jafar Armstrong (28) have combined since Sept. 22.

They are ND’s second- and third-leading rushers, respectively.

Book is ND’s fourth-leading rusher with 218 yards and four rushing TDs.

Davis resurfaces

The player who spent the 2017 season behind Book on the quarterback depth chart, Avery Davis, is still making progress at his new position, running back, per Kelly. That’s despite getting just one carry over the three October games (Virginia Tech, Pitt and Navy) and the Nov. 3 game with Northwestern.

Davis, a 5-11, 204-pound sophomore, rushed for 10 yards on four carries Saturday night against Florida State and has 70 yards on 22 carries for the season.

“This is just physical development,” Kelly said of the small role Davis has now and the potential for it to grow next season. “He’s going to look a lot different to everybody in the spring. We just have to be patient with him.

“He catches the ball really well. He’s willing to stick his nose in there. He’s just not physically there yet, but this spring will be his opportunity to really grow.”

Yankee Stadium resurfaces

Kelly noted Thursday that the Yankee Stadium grounds crew had installed a new natural grass surface for Saturday’s game, which isn’t always a guarantee of great — or even satisfactory — field conditions.

In fact, the last time the Irish played in that facility, the now vacated Pinstripe Bowl win over Rutgers in 2013, the 2,500 yards of new sod that was installed had all the grip of a Slip ‘N Slide.

“The field, it was interesting,” Kelly said after the 29-16 win in late December on an unseasonably warm afternoon (53 degrees). “We changed spikes. We had our molded (cleats) on, and we changed to our screw-in (cleats) after our program warm-ups, because we were not able to get any hold on the field.”

Kelly said the field played completely different in the walkthrough, because the ground was still frozen. When the field thawed, it became slick.

“Didn’t affect the outcome of the game in any fashion,” he said. “We’ve played in worse conditions. But we had some slick spots.”

Kelly said Thursday that Notre Dame officials have been out to inspect the field, and “they think it’s a great surface.”

Personnel matters

Kelly said senior Trevor Ruhland, an intermittent starter at right guard, has recovered from an elbow strain to the point where he can play Saturday, but that junior Tommy Kraemer would be the starter against the Orange.

• Cornerback Julian Love, per Kelly, showed no ill effects this week from a minor injury suffered in the Florida State game.

“Didn’t miss a rep. Had a really good week of practice,” Kelly said.

Butler weighs in, sort of

Former Notre Dame and Syracuse cornerback Devin Butler was having some fun on Twitter Thursday with the prospect of his two former teams playing each other. He, however, ultimately did not reveal who his rooting interest would be.

Butler is currently a starting cornerback for the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Redblacks (14 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery). Ottawa won the East Division and will play Hamilton on Sunday for a berth in the CFL’s version of the Super Bowl, the Grey Cup.

Notre Dame QB Ian Book (12) returns to the Irish starting lineup Saturday night at Yankee Stadium against Syracuse.
Notre Dame’s Avery Davis (3) runs the ball in the late stages of ND’s 42-13 win over Florida State Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.