Brian Kelly sticking with Ian Book as Notre Dame's starting quarterback

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Phil Jurkovec looks pretty good in practice.

At least that’s how Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly described his backup quarterback on Monday. But barring an injury to starting quarterback Ian Book, Jurkovec’s most meaningful reps will likely be limited to practice.

“There is no quarterback controversy,” Kelly said. “There isn't any kind of conversation about making a change. Ian Book is our starter, will be our starter, and Phil will continue to be ready if he's called upon.”

Even though Kelly clarified after Notre Dame’s 45-14 loss to Michigan on Saturday that Jurkovec’s appearance in the fourth quarter was only related to the score being lopsided, the questions weren’t going to subside.

Jurkovec found a little bit of success while playing against Michigan’s backups. He completed three of his four passes for 60 yards and one touchdown and rushed for a net of two yards in three drives. He also lost a fumble.

Book recorded the lowest pass-efficiency rating (69.7) of his 17 career starts in completing 8-of-25 (32 percent) for 73 yards and one touchdown.

Earlier this season, Kelly ruled out the notion of creating a special package to get Jurkovec, a gifted runner with a strong arm for deep throws, involved with the starting offense in games. He didn’t specifically deny that again on Monday, but he remained adamant that he would put Jurkovec in the game if it gave Notre Dame an advantage.

“If I felt like playing Phil for five plays, four plays, would make us a better football team, I would do it in a second,” Kelly said. “I'm only interested in how I can help our football team win.

“This is not about an ego or we have to play one guy or two guys. I want to just win football games by playing the best players that will help us win. If I thought for a second that Phil Jurkovec would be on the field to help us winning in some fashion, he would be on the field.”

The focus at quarterback remains on trying to improve Book heading into Saturday’s home game (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC) against Virginia Tech (5-2). Kelly will stand by the senior and his 14-3 record as a starter and his lack of turnovers (only two interceptions and one lost fumble) this season.

Yet following subpar passing performances in consecutive starts against USC and Michigan, Book clearly isn’t a finished product.

“We have to continue to work on going through your progressions, hanging in there,” Kelly said. “He had some key drops. We need all 11 guys to play better quite frankly.

“We didn't lose that game because of Ian Book. He has to play better, no doubt. The things that we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks, he has to continue to work on.”

Book’s struggles against Michigan can’t be framed as an outlier. Some of the issues on display, whether it’s finding open receivers or staying in the pocket, have started to feel more like a trend.

The repetition of mistakes by Book hasn’t discouraged Kelly and the coaching staff from having hope that those issues can be corrected every week.

“We're coaches. We're teachers. We're so much more optimistic than you folks are,” Kelly said. “We believe that Ian Book is a young man that is going to work on the things necessary to be the kind of quarterback we want him to be. He's won a lot of games.

“We didn't win last week. I get it. We're all disappointed. But we're going to move on. We're going to learn from it. We're going to be humbled because of it. We're going to get back to being who we are.”

If that requires offensive coordinator Chip Long to tweak his offensive game plan to better accentuate Book’s strengths, Kelly wants that discussion to happen.

“If we're not having those discussions and you guys are having them, you should take our jobs, quite frankly,” Kelly said. “Those are in-depth conversations that should take place, that do take place, and we take it serious that we have to look at all of those things, and they have to be vetted out each and every day as we move forward to improving our football team.”

Ian Book will remain Notre Dame’s starting quarterback following a poor performance at Michigan.

WHO: No. 16 Notre Dame (5-2) vs. Virginia Tech (5-2)

WHEN: Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT

WHERE: Notre Dame Stadium

TV: NBC

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM), WNSN (101.5 FM)

LINE: Notre Dame by 17 1/2