Analysis: Quarterback Ian Book's accuracy, big plays return to Notre Dame's offense
The Notre Dame-New Mexico box score showed a career day for Ian Book.
The Irish quarterback set career highs in passing yards (360) and passing touchdowns (5). By adding a one-yard touchdown run on a quarterback sneak, Book became the first Notre Dame player to account for six touchdowns since DeShone Kizer in the 2016 season opener.
While Book’s brilliance may have been exaggerated by two short pitches forward in the backfield that qualified as passing touchdowns — a 59-yard catch and run by Avery Davis and 54-yard score by Chris Finke — the most important aspect of his game returned.
Book displayed his accuracy in completing 15 of his 24 passes. A 62.5-percent completion rate isn’t that high for Book, but he kept most of his incompletions on target too. Of Book’s nine incomplete passes, five of them were catchable throws. Only two of his passes were overthrown. The other two incompletions were throwaways.
Here’s a breakdown of Book’s 22 passes thrown to intended targets sorted by the depth of the target downfield.
Behind the line to 0: 5-of-6 for 141 yards and 2 TDs. One catchable incomplete pass.
1-5 yards: 4-of-4 for 79 yards and 1 TD.
6-10 yards: 0-of-1. One catchable incomplete pass.
11-15 yards: 1-of-2 for 15 yards. One catchable incomplete pass.
16-20 yards: 2-of-2 for 46 yards.
21-30 yards: 2-of-3 for 42 yards and 1 TD. One overthrow.
31-plus yards: 1-of-4 for 37 yards and 1 TD. Two catchable incomplete passes and one overthrow.
Book managed to put up those numbers despite a poor performance from Notre Dame’s offensive line, tight ends and running backs in pass protection.
On his 29 dropbacks, Book was pressured 11 times. A pressure rate of 37.9 percent against New Mexico is worse than all but three games last season: Michigan (56.3), Ball State (52.6) and Clemson (38.8).
On three of Book’s dropbacks, he was pressured by multiple defenders. That resulted in 16 pass protection breakdowns. Of those 16 losses in pass protection, seven of them came from unblocked defenders. The Irish offense needs to do a better job of identifying where the pass rush is coming from to prevent those pressures.
The other nine breakdowns came as a result of losses by right tackle Robert Hainsey (3), left guard Aaron Banks (2), center Jarrett Patterson (1), right guard Tommy Kraemer (1), left tackle Liam Eichenberg (1) and Book (1). The pressure credited against Book came when a New Mexico linebacker blitzed him after he left a clean pocket.
Book did a better job against New Mexico of turning dropbacks into runs when necessary. He ran four times for positive yardage that netted 44 yards. Only once was Book sacked, which resulted in a seven-yard loss. His four designed runs, three of which were quarterback sneaks, resulted in just nine yards and one touchdown.
Book handled the pressure fairly well. He finished 4-of-9 passing for 103 yards and one touchdown against pressure with one positive run for eight yards and the one sack.
Here’s how Book fared against the various pass-rush looks New Mexico threw at him.
Three-man rush (4 times): 2-of-4 for 9 yards. Two catchable throws.
Four-man rush (14 times): 7-of-11 for 107 yards and 1 TD. Two catchable throws. One overthrow. One throwaway. Three positive runs for 36 yards.
Five-man rush (10 times): 6-of-8 for 244 yards and 4 TDs. One catchable throw. One throwaway. One positive run of 8 yards. One sack for a loss of 7 yards.
Seven-man rush (1 time): 0-of-1. Overthrow.
Yards after catch
Notre Dame’s skill players came up big in aiding Book’s passing numbers. On the jet sweep passes alone, Davis and Finke combined for 121 yards after the catch.
The Irish finished with 239 yards after the catch in the game for an average of 15.9 yards per catch.
After throwing only three passes to intended targets beyond 10 yards against Louisville, Book aired it out more against New Mexico. The total depth of his 15 completions reached 124 yards (8.3 per catch). The total depth of his 22 intended throws came in at 270 yards (12.3 per throw).
Notre Dame also brought its screen game back into the mix against New Mexico. If you wanted, you could probably consider Notre Dame’s jet sweep passes as screens if we’re going to consider them passes, but I left them in their own category.
Book completed all three of his screen pass throws for 28 yards. Wide receiver Chase Claypool took one for 20 yards in the second quarter. Wide receiver Lawrence Keys III (five yards) and running back Kyren Williams (three yards) each caught a screen pass too. The three screen plays resulted in 37 yards after the catch.
Book will likely need to improve even more if Notre Dame wants to beat Georgia. The Bulldogs should be able to keep Notre Dame’s running game in check, which will put a lot of the offensive responsibility on Book.
Even though he only completed one of his four throws beyond 30 yards against New Mexico, Book nearly connected on two of the incompletions. Claypool and Keys just couldn’t haul in the passes and may have slightly misjudged the throws. Book and his receivers need to be on the same page to capitalize on those opportunities against Georgia.
Another deep pass to Claypool, which was not included in these stats, drew a defensive pass interference penalty.
Notre Dame’s pass protection needs to be as close to flawless as possible when it comes to communication and recognizing the pass rush. There’s no doubt that Georgia’s front seven will physically win some of the battles against the Irish, but Notre Dame must eliminate the mistakes that lead to unblocked pressure on Book.
The creativity offensive coordinator Chip Long displayed in his play calling against New Mexico will likely be required again on Saturday.