Rapid-fire offense, shutout defense combine in Notre Dame's blowout of Bowling Green
SOUTH BEND — Ian Book’s chance to tie a single-game record came on Notre Dame’s first drive of the second half.
The Irish quarterback threw five touchdown passes in the first half of a 52-0 rout of Bowling Green Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium and needed another to tie the school record set by Brady Quinn in 2006.
Book fell a dropped pass short of what likely would have been the record-tying touchdown. Book threw a pass to a wide-open Javon McKinley on third-and-4 from the Bowling Green nine-yard line. If McKinley caught the pass, which was thrown slightly behind him, he probably turns it into a touchdown. Instead the Irish had to settle for a field goal.
Book’s day ended when backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec replaced him on the following drive with Notre Dame leading 38-0. Head coach Brian Kelly said the coaching staff and Book were aware of the chance to tie the record, but they weren’t going to force any extra opportunities.
“I told (offensive coordinator) Chip (Long), ‘You have one series with him (in the second half),’” Kelly said. “If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, no big deal. Because it’s tying the record. As I told him, tying the record is ‘meh.’ If you’re going to break the record, then maybe we’ll do something about it.”
Book did just about whatever he wanted against the Bowling Green defense led by former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Book finished 16-of-20 passing (80 percent) for 261 yards with five touchdown passes to four different players.
Tight ends Tommy Tremble and Cole Kmet started the scoring with touchdown catches in the first quarter. Wide receiver Chase Claypool caught a pair of touchdown passes next. Then McKinley caught the final touchdown pass with 1:24 remaining in the second quarter.
“We have some really skilled guys out there,” Book said. “It’s my job to get the ball to them, and I was definitely happy with the way the O-line protected (Saturday). They did a great job. I had a lot of time. I was able to push the ball downfield, and Coach Long talks about it all the time, great players make big plays, and that’s what we needed.”
None of the six scoring drives Book steered lasted longer than 3:03 or required more than six plays.
“We pride ourselves on having tempo,” Book said, “and something we really focused on this week was just getting into rhythm and really pushing the tempo and just moving fast. Part of our identity as an offense is going fast like that, so it definitely helps us.”
The Notre Dame running game averaged 6.85 yards per carry on the way to 233 rushing yards. Senior running back Tony Jones Jr. led the way with seven rushes for 102 yards. Sophomore running back C’Bo Flemister notched the only rushing touchdown — a one-yard run — in the fourth quarter with Notre Dame’s reserves in the game.
It was a day for the Irish depth to get involved with nine players logging a carry and nine players recording a reception. That didn’t include sophomore wide receiver Lawrence Keys III, who Kelly said was held out as a precaution while dealing with plantar fasciitis (foot).
“There’s enough talent there on the offensive side of the ball that if we’re required to get those guys touches, they’re going to make plays for us,” Kelly said. “Getting McKinley involved was something that we wanted to get done (Saturday). You saw the rotation at the backfield. That was an important piece of what we wanted to get done (Saturday) as well.”
McKinley’s second big game of his career came in Notre Dame’s second blowout of the season. He led the Irish with five catches for 104 yards and one touchdown against Bowling Green. His breakout performance came earlier this season with two touchdown catches for 85 yards in the 66-14 New Mexico rout.
McKinley’s role has increased in recent weeks. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior started the previous week against Virginia. But the production in the Georgia and Virginia games (zero catches) didn’t match his outbursts against lesser opponents.
What does McKinley need to do to replicate those big-time performances in big-time games? Kelly said McKinley probably needs more opportunities.
“Ian Book really trusts him,” Kelly said. “They kind of grew up together on the scout team and have a great relationship. I think there’s a lot of trust there, and I would not be surprised to see him continue to grow into the offense.”
Defensively, Notre Dame recorded its first shutout since a 31-0 win over Michigan in 2014, which came with VanGorder, who was fired in 2016, as defensive coordinator. Bowling Green’s attempt to score on a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter was blocked by defensive end Julian Okwara.
Okwara and fellow senior Jamir Jones each recorded a sack. Notre Dame tallied eight tackles for a loss. Safety Jalen Elliott forced the lone turnover of the game when he intercepted Grant Loy’s “Hail Mary” attempt at the end of the first half.
Loy replaced Bowling Green’s starting quarterback, Darius Wade, after the Falcons started the game with two three-and-outs. Loy completed 13 of his 25 passes for 106 yards and was sacked once.
The Irish limited Bowling Green to just 228 yards of offense.
“I was talking to Brian Kelly before the game and (defensive line line coach) Mike Elston,” said Bowling Green head coach Scot Loeffler. “This might be their best defense they’ve had in a long time. I said that earlier in the week.
“They’ve done a great job recruiting. There’s not a hole on their defense. They’re long. They’re athletic. They’re different. And they’ll be a top-five team.
“They’re a good football team. Great football team, in my opinion.”
Okwara celebrated the shutout after the game, but he said he didn’t want to assume it could happen until the clock hit zero.
“It was awesome,” Okwara said. “I was just talking to Jalen (Elliott) and all the rest of the guys in my class. We haven’t shut out a team since I’ve been here, so that was an exciting time for us.”
The scoring continued for Notre Dame with Jurkovec leading the offense. He completed his first drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Avery Davis. Flemister’s touchdown run capped Jurkovec’s second drive. Then freshman quarterback Brendon Clark was given the last drive of the game to run out the clock.
Jurkovec showed the dual-threat aspect of his game by throwing 5-of-7 for 79 yards and finishing second on the team with 42 rushing yards on four carries.
That prompted a question during Kelly’s postgame press conference about using a Jurkovec-specific package with Notre Dame’s starting offense.
“I don’t like to get into those kinds of packages unless they are really such a competitive advantage,” Kelly said, “and Phil is a really good player in those kinds of situations. I just haven’t found it to be a competitive advantage at this time.”
That’s certainly easy to say on a day Book made look easy. He recovered from an underwhelming performance the previous week against a tough Virginia defense.
Book made his progressions and seeing the field better a focus this past week in practice. Whatever it did, worked.
It could have been a confidence builder for Book, but he insisted he already has the confidence necessary.
“I don’t think it changes anything,” Book said. “I’m as confident, I think, as you can get in this offense. I know what we can do. I think everyone on the offense knows kind of where our bar is at and what we can achieve.”