Quarterback Ian Book lifts Notre Dame's offense in Senior Day victory over Boston College

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly doesn’t want Saturday’s 40-7 win over Boston College to be Ian Book’s last game in Notre Dame Stadium.

But the Irish head coach also doesn’t want his senior quarterback thinking yet about the decision he has to make after the season either.

So when Book responded to reporters asking about next season with a “We’ll see” following a Senior Day victory, he did exactly what his coach wanted.

“We haven’t sat down and talked about it,” Kelly said. “What he should do is get all the information first. We’ll get the NFL evaluation in, get all that. We’re still kind of in the passing lane right now. We’re trying to go through some traffic and so it’s really too hard to kind of sit back and make those decisions at this time.

“There will be a time and place after the game that we play at Stanford to kind of make that decision. But we’re so focused on winning another football game and then we’ll sit back and make that decision. I’ll help him.”

The fact that questions about Book’s future would hijack CFP No. 16 Notre Dame’s postgame interviews didn’t seem likely while the Irish were failing to score a touchdown in the first 27 minutes of an ugly first half. But Book and the Irish offense kicked it into gear with a six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chase Claypool with 2:48 remaining in the second half.

A 45-yard field goal by Jonathan Doerer with one second remaining in the second quarter gave Notre Dame a 16-7 halftime lead.

The second half went even better with Doerer’s fourth field goal and a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Cole Kmet and wide receiver Chris Finke sandwiching a 61-yard touchdown run by wide receiver Braden Lenzy. The Irish (9-2) scored the final 34 points to comfortably beat the Eagles (5-6).

Book finished 26-of-40 passing for 239 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked once but also led Notre Dame with 66 rushing yards. Then he successfully dodged being nailed down to his plans for next season.

Did Book, who has one year of eligibility remaining because of a redshirt season as a freshman, treat Saturday’s game like it could be his last in Notre Dame Stadium?

“No doubt,” Book said. “I try to do that every game though. Having my family down there soaking it all in, you never know what can happen. I just wanted to take it all in and enjoy it with my family while I could.”

What will be Book’s process in making a decision to stay or go?

“Beating Stanford,” Book said to end the questioning about his future. “That’s what we have to do. That’s next. Have to go do that then see what bowl game we get in.”

Kelly made his preference clear.

“You know I’m going to recruit him,” Kelly said. “I want him back. But that’s not my decision.”

Book helped make that preference clearer starting with the game-winning drive to beat Virginia Tech. He’s led the Irish to victories of more than 30 points over Duke, Navy and Boston College.

Other than Lenzy’s 61-yard touchdown run, Book didn’t have much support in the running game. Running back Tony Jones Jr. rushed 15 times for 65 yards. The Irish padded their rushing total to 252 yards with Lenzy’s run — Notre Dame’s longest of the season — and more yardage in garbage time with backups in the game.

But Book received plenty of help from the Irish defense in recent weeks. Notre Dame limited Boston College running back AJ Dillon to just 56 yards on 14 carries. He entered the game third in the country averaging 145.1 yards per game.

Fellow BC running back David Bailey, averaging 76.5 yards per game himself, reached only 26 rushing yards on 10 carries. Quarterback Dennis Grosel, who finished 9-of-20 passing for 63 yards with one interception thrown to safety Kyle Hamilton, proved to be the most elusive when he chose to run. He gained 66 rushing yards, but his total dropped down to 45 net yards in part due to four Notre Dame sacks.

Three Irish seniors accounted for those sacks with defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji recording two and defensive end Khalid Kareem and safety Alohi Gilman each adding one. Kareem forced his third fumble in two weeks when he knocked the ball away from Grosel, which junior linebacker Drew White recovered, in the third quarter.

Grosel set up Boston College’s lone touchdown, a one-yard run by Grosel, with a 39-yard pass to wide receiver Kobay White in the second quarter. It gave the Eagles a 7-6 lead, but it turned out to be false hope. Notre Dame crushed those hopes in the third quarter.

“Statistically they have a hell of a defense,” said Boston College head coach Steve Addazio. “That’s really the tale of the game right there.”

For the third consecutive game and the sixth time this season, Notre Dame’s defense didn’t allow a point in the first quarter. The Irish have successfully recovered from allowing 45 points in the blowout loss to Michigan on Oct. 26.

“November’s hard,” said linebacker Drew White, who finished with seven tackles. “Any college football player will tell you that.

“It’s the end of the season. It’s the end of the semester. You have school work. Your body’s hurting. Mentally you’re worn down.

“What has really kept us through this is the captains. The captains have taken charge, brought energy to practice and telling us that we have to keep fighting. This is what we want. Great teams are winning in November.”

Notre Dame’s defense has four captains. All of them — Gilman, Kareem, defensive end Julian Okwara and safety Jalen Elliott — are seniors. Most likely all of them have played their last games in Notre Dame Stadium.

But the Irish still have a road trip to Stanford — where they haven’t won since 2007 — next week and a bowl game left to finish the story of the 2019 season.

This team already has become the first to win all of its games at home in back-to-back seasons since 1988-99. A 31-6 record in its last 37 games is Notre Dame’s best record over a 37-game span since 31-5-1 in 1991-93.

And next year can wait till next year.

“We’re feeling dangerous,” Book said. “The guys are doing great. We talk about winning in November, protecting our house. We’re doing that right now.

“We have one more week to keep doing that and keep achieving our goals. This team’s really confident right now. We’re rolling. We’re hitting on all cylinders. That’s what it’s about.”

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Notre Dame’s Aaron Banks (69) picks up Chase Claypool (83) after Claypool scored against Boston College Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.ndfb_11232019_mc_12.jpg
Notre Dame’s Ian Book (12) reaches for extra yards as Elijah Jones (20) tackles him during Saturday’s game in Notre Dame Stadium.ndfb_11232019_mc_25.jpg