Notebook: Notre Dame QB Ian Book 'slippery like an eel'
NEW YORK — One postgame question took Brian Kelly much longer to answer, compared to others.
Has he seen his quarterback, Ian Book, rattled?
Notre Dame’s head coach tilted his head, paused and stared into the oblivion for several seconds. To his credit, the question forced him to jog his memory.
Sure enough, Kelly referenced a story from early 2017. At one point as a freshman, Book weighed 10 pounds under the desired mark. So at a weigh-in, the quarterback sneaked a 10-pound plate into his shorts. Strength coach Matt Balis caught on quick, and forced him to run sprints as a consequence.
“It was like, seriously? I mean, an 8-year-old does that,” Kelly said.
It has been a different story since, especially on the field. Book remained undefeated as a starter on Saturday, throwing for 292 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-3 romp over No. 12 Syracuse (8-3) in Yankee Stadium.
Book went 23-of-37 in his return after missing last week’s game with a rib injury.
“The ribs feel good,” Book said after career start No. 8 and seventh this season. “I was not even thinking about them going into the game.”
Some rust showed, as Book sailed a few high-percentage passes over the heads of intended receivers. He still flashed elusiveness in and out of the pocket, scrambling to open up his playmakers.
“Guys get very, very close to him, and you think you got him,” said Dino Babers, Syracuse's head coach. “And then, all of a sudden, he’s really slippery like an eel and he has the ability to, kind of like a punt returner, to go up, to go back, to go in, to go out. And our big guys really had trouble tracking him down.”
Most of Book’s damage came in the first half. He threw 253 yards in the opening two quarters before the No. 3 Irish (11-0) turned to their ground game. Book’s nine-yard connection with senior running back Dexter Williams in the opening quarter of the Shamrock Series game opened the scoring for ND.
Williams later added a 32-yard touchdown run, and carried it 13 times for 74 yards.
“It was something that we worked on over the week,” said Book about involving Williams in the passing game. "Obviously, getting the ball to Dexter anyway we can is what we want to do.”
Book’s biggest blemish came in the second quarter. Facing fourth-and-goal at the Orange 1-yard line, Book tripped backward, then blindly heaved the ball into the air — for the Orange’s Andre Cisco to intercept.
“I got stepped on and was falling backwards,” Book said. “I have to get my feet out of there as quick as I can.”
He made amends in the next half, finding Chase Claypool for a 10-yard score to increase the advantage to 29-0. Book was not as efficient in his return. But rattled? No — at least not yet.
“He’s going to hate that I told that,” Kelly said. “But he got rattled that day. On the football field, I have not seen him get rattled. He is really steady. Takes the information, processes it very well. (Quarterbacks coach) Tommy (Rees) does a great job. Tommy Rees does a great job of really one-on-one talking with him about what’s going on, and (he) absorbs it very well.”
Something about November seems to bring the best out of wide receiver Chase Claypool.
On Saturday, Claypool caught six passes for a team-high 98 yards with a 10-yard touchdown. He started the month with an eight-catch, 130-yard performance against Northwestern.
The most prolific game of his career came last November in a 48-37 win over Wake Forest. He caught nine passes for 180 yards and one touchdown that day.
Certainly being comfortable in the cold weather can’t hurt.
“It must be being from the North,” said Claypool, a Canadian product of Abbotsford, British Columbia.
Of course, he’d like to see this kind of production earlier in the season, too.
“I have to stay consistent with my performances, but the longer the season goes on, the more comfortable I get and then the more trust I gain and more chemistry that me and the quarterback gain,” Claypool said. “It’s really all clicking right now.”
Fixing false starts
As a team, Notre Dame hasn’t been penalized very much.
The Irish entered Saturday’s game with only five penalties per game, tied for 23rd-fewest nationally.
But one consistent issue has been false-start penalties on Notre Dame’s offensive line. Those continued against Syracuse. The Irish were flagged for four false starts — three on right tackle Robert Hainsey and one on left tackle Liam Eichenberg.
Center Sam Mustipher said correcting those false starts has to come from each individual. There’s not much the rest of the offensive line can do to prevent one player from moving early.
“It’s more individual, but we’ll never allow somebody to take the blame for that ever,” Mustipher said. “It’s just getting back to basics, focusing on what you have to do on the play.
“That’s kind of what I told the guys. ‘If you can’t block him, let us know. But I believe in you guys enough to where I think you can block anybody.’ It’s really just focusing and trusting the technique, going back to basics each snap.”
After Hainsey’s third infraction, he was briefly pulled from the game as Trevor Ruhland entered at right guard and Tommy Kraemer moved over from right guard to right tackle.
Tranquill’s off the hook
Notre Dame safety Alohi Gilman waited 11 games into his Notre Dame career for his first interception. He didn’t take long to add a second one. Gilman caught his first two interceptions of the season in the second quarter against Syracuse.
On the first interception, Gilman came over from his safety spot to help out linebacker Drue Tranquill covering wide receiver Taj Harris. The coverage combination looked similar to what should have been Gilman’s first career interception at Notre Dame.
Against Stanford in September, Gilman intercepted a pass, but it was negated by a pass-interference penalty on Tranquill. Gilman leaped in front of Tranquill as he was covering Stanford tight end Kaden Smith.
Gilman hasn’t been giving Tranquill a hard time about that penalty, but Tranquill knew what it meant.
“I was actually thinking of that this week,” Tranquill said. “I was like, ‘Man, if he doesn’t get one this year, that’s on me.’ Then he got two tonight. We’re good, man.”
• Notre Dame’s six sacks against Syracuse are the most in a game for the Irish since a six-sack output against Arizona State in 2013.
• After owning a 13-0 lead over Syracuse at the end of the first quarter, Notre Dame has now outscored its opposition a combined 112-23 in first quarters this season.
• Eleven freshmen made Notre Dame’s travel roster: defensive backs Houston Griffith, TaRiq Bracy and Paul Moala; defensive linemen Jayson Ademilola and Justin Ademilola; linebackers Bo Bauer and Shayne Simon; quarterback Phil Jurkovec; wide receiver Joe Wilkins; offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson and long snapper Michael Vinson.
• Personnel from three NFL teams were listed on the Yankee Stadium press box seating chart for Saturday’s game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants and Buffalo Bills.