Notebook: Notre Dame QB Ian Book pushing through a false ceiling this spring

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — On the final play of a two-hour practice Saturday, Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly elected to leave his offense on the field on fourth-and-10.

What happened next, with scads of recruits soaking in spring session No. 12 on a day with temperatures that soared into the mid-60s at Notre Dame Stadium, was a snippet of what Kelly hoped and believed Ian Book would become.

Facing a heavy rush from the edges, the Irish senior quarterback maintained his poise and his footwork. He stepped up into the pocket and fired the ball 25 yards down the field and into a tight window that junior receiver Michael Young turned into a touchdown reception.

“I always thought Ian was a great quarterback, period,” Young said after practice. “This spring I would say he’s just insane consistent. It’s not that he was never consistent. It’s like ridiculous.

“The ball is never in the wrong place. The timing is always there. It’s never too early. It’s never too late. He (places) the ball perfectly. He’s cool, calm, collected.

“When I’m out there playing receiver and you have a quarterback like that, that’s that amazing, sheesh, I really can do no wrong, because he’s going to make me right.”

Earlier, Book connected with Chase Claypool, facing double coverage, on a sliding sideline catch. The next play he hit Claypool again, this time with ND’s best cover cornerback — Troy Pride Jr. — playing perfect technique. And yet the ball placement was where only the 6-foot-4, 229-pound Claypool had a shot at it.

Spring football is really more about impressions than conclusions, at least for those on the outside looking in.

But on Saturday at least, with two more practices and the 90th Blue-Gold Game still ahead, Book pushed through what apparently was a false ceiling and delivered in the areas that were perceived weaknesses last season for a player who otherwise finished 17th nationally in passing efficiency and set a school record with a .682 completion percentage.

“Vertically throwing the football down the field with accuracy,” Kelly began to itemize of Book’s spring improvements. “Confidence. Movement in the pocket. All the things you saw today.

“Ball placement on back-shoulder throws and a little bit more air. We wanted more of (an arcing) type ball. We felt like his balls were flat last year when he pushed the ball vertically. A little bit more air for our guys to adjust to the football.

“All the things that he’s been improving on, and what we can see is a nice step up for him.”

Luke Jones to transfer

Less than a year after enrolling at Notre Dame, center Luke Jones has decided to transfer out of the Irish football program.

Kelly shared the news after Saturday’s practice. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Jones did not play as a freshman in 2018 after joining the team in June.

“He’s seeking a transfer,” Kelly said. “We met earlier this week, and he feels like Notre Dame is not the best place for him.”

The line at the center position started getting longer this spring. Fellow sophomore Jarrett Patterson moved from left tackle to become the No. 1 center at the start of spring. In recent weeks, early enrolled freshman Zeke Correll has been working as the No. 2 center.

During Saturday’s practice, junior Josh Lugg took reps as a backup center as well. Graduate student Trevor Ruhland will also contribute to the depth at center when he returns from injury.

Jones, a three-star recruit, signed with Notre Dame last February after previously being committed to Arkansas. Jones stuck with his verbal commitment to the Irish after then-offensive line coach Harry Hiestand left for the Chicago Bears and was replaced by Jeff Quinn.

Notre Dame’s scholarship count drops to 87 with the loss of Jones. The Irish need to hit the NCAA-mandated limit of 85 by the time fall semester classes start.

Notre Dame’s number of 87 includes two signed recruits — linebackers JD Bertrand and Marist Liufau — for whom the Irish have set up plans to work around the scholarship count if needed.

Alive and kicking?

Jonathan Doerer used an old holder (Nolan Henry) and a new approach Saturday while attempting place kicks on Saturday. While the junior was hardly perfect, his distance was consistently impressive and his accuracy was much better than it had been.

“He’s coming on,” Kelly said of a player who struggled most of the spring in attempting to follow all-time leading scorer Justin Yoon.

“He’s definitely finding a better rhythm. We were able to adjust his steps to the point where we feel we’ve got something now of consistency in his approach to the football. And it seems to be something that he can repeat. This is the nature of kicking, the ability to repeat that over and over again.

“We’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel for him and good for him, because he’s working really hard at it.”

Preferred walk-on Harrison Leonard arrives in June, and perhaps there’s an option beyond that. TCU punter/kicker Andrew David posted photos on his Instagram story Saturday of him taking a visit to Notre Dame this weekend.

David, who is in the 247Sports transfer portal, transferred once before, from Michigan to TCU. If he does follow through and transfer, he would be eligible for a grad-style transfer with no sitting out. A source told the Tribune that David, who is also considering Northwestern, would be a walk-on at ND.

The Massillon, Ohio, product punted 29 times for a 37-yard average last season for TCU and kicked off three times. He did not attempt any place kicks.

Studstill lands at South Florida

Safety Devin Studstill will get a chance to recharge his football career at the University of South Florida.

The former Notre Dame safety announced Friday on Twitter that he had committed to the Bulls to complete his graduate transfer. The 6-foot, 200-pound Studstill hasn’t been practicing with the Irish this spring and has been working toward receiving his degree in May.

A once-promising career at Notre Dame had stalled for Studstill. As a freshman in 2016, Studstill started nine games and recorded 38 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one interception and one forced fumble. But Studstill never found his way back into the starting lineup after the Irish hired defensive coordinator Mike Elko following the 2016 season.

Studstill totaled 18 tackles in 11 games played in 2017. He played in only six games and made four tackles last season with Clark Lea running the defense.

When Studstill graduates from Notre Dame, he will be eligible to play one season immediately at USF in a return to his home state. The Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High product came to Notre Dame as a four-star recruit and the No. 11 safety in the 2016 class, per 247Sports. Rivals rated Studstill as a three-star recruit and the No. 45 athlete in the class.

Walk this way

He caught the attention of the Irish coaching staff last season to the point that he earned a role on special teams.

This spring junior walk-on cornerback Temitope Agoro is pushing for more. It’s working.

“We really like his physicality off the ball,” Kelly said of the 6-foot, 203-pounder from Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Md., where he was a state qualifier in the Maryland Class 4A state track and field meet in the 200 meters and 400.

“As you know, we’re spending a lot of time on press (coverage). We gave up a lot of free-access throws last year. We did some great things structurally defensively, which we’re not changing.

“But some things that we’re adding are to take away some free-access throws. Press is going to allow us to do that. Timmy gives us a really physical presence there and so we want to spend some time with him, because he’s shown a real good proclivity to be a press corner in certain situations.”

Squibs

• For the first time during the media-open practices this spring, wide receiver Javon McKinley and cornerback Shaun Crawford and Donte Vaughn all participated in limited drill work.

McKinley started the spring indefinitely suspended, then suffered a hamstring pull after a conditional reinstatement that has had him working to the side with the other rehabbing players.

Vaughn underwent winter shoulder surgery, while Crawford tore the ACL in his left knee in August.

“They factor in heavily in terms of the fall,” Kelly said. “These are two guys — I told them, if they’re standing on the sideline with me against Louisville (the Sept. 2 season opener), I’ll be very disappointed.”

• Sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy, per Kelly, spent Saturday’s practice as a bystander because of a head injury.

• An interesting recruiting ploy — if it was indeed that — Ozzy Ozbourne’s “Crazy Train” blared over the Notre Dame Stadium sound system sort of randomly during a drill on Saturday.

Irish quarterback Ian Book has followed up a subpar performance against Clemson in the College Football Playoff Dec. 29 with a strong spring.
Notre Dame walk-on cornerback Temitope Agoro (26) is pushing for a significant role in the Irish secondary.