Noie: Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book just does what he does - wins
One of the main jobs of Notre Dame left guard Aaron Banks is to keep anyone from getting to quarterback Ian Book.
Yet early in the third quarter of Saturday’s game against Syracuse, all Banks wanted to do was get to Book.
It happened as the second-ranked Irish were busy blowing open what had been a sometimes sluggish, sometimes sloppy offensive effort. They didn’t have the same rhythm and flow and go that they had in previous weeks. At least, not early. It eventually would get to that point Saturday, a game the Irish won 45-21 with a season high 568 yards of offense.
Much of it was because of Book. He found his play-making happy place. When he did, everything fell into place.
Notre Dame (10-0; 9-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) busted it open with three quick scores — boom, boom, boom — in a little over three minutes late in the second quarter. That offensive momentum carried into the second half as Book scrambled from 17 yards out and into the south end zone. There, he was swarmed by teammates.
That’s when Banks barreled through the bunch and boosted Book into the air.
Really, he was only slightly off the ground.
On the team's Senior Day, this was Book’s day. It was a culmination of five years of work and three years of staggering success. The fifth-year captain from El Dorado Hills, Calif., walked into Notre Dame Stadium a relative recruiting unknown from the West Coast. Saturday night, the one-time Washington State commit walked out of Notre Dame Stadium the winningest quarterback in program history.
“It really just means a lot,” Book said in a university statement about his place in school history. “It's a dream come true just to be able to attend Notre Dame and have a good career.”
Good? Now at 30-3 and counting, including the past 16 in a row overall and 15 straight at home, Book has won more than anyone who’s played the position at Notre Dame. He’s won more than Heisman Trophy winners. He’s won more than first-round NFL draft picks. He’s won more than future NFL Hall-of-Famers. He's won.
“He,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly, ”continues to get better.”
Book didn’t do the standard Zoom call with the media after this one. If he did, he’d have downplayed being the center of any attention, let alone a record holder. The spotlight's not his style. Never has been. For him, it’s about having the privilege to play the position. It’s about being a piece to the puzzle that’s been properly put together to push the Irish to undefeated seasons two of the past three years.
It's about being part of a program that has won at least 10 games now four years running, a first in program history.
It’s about going out and doing his job at a consistently high level. About ignoring the noise and the added attention and anything to do with social media. About being locked into only what those inside the football facility think.
This Irish team is different because this Irish quarterback is different.
“Ian Book, he’s just a ball-player man,” said sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble. “He does stuff that nobody could imagine really doing.”
In this sport, at this school, it often begins and ends with the quarterback. Little would be possible the past three seasons had it not been Book at the controls.
Someone needs to make it all go. Book’s that someone.
“We put in the work that was necessary and here we are undefeated,” Book said in the statement issued by the university. “It just shows this team has grit, never gave up, never flinched. To have two undefeated (regular) seasons is just doing what Coach Kelly has asked.
“This team just never shies away so it's a special team. You don't always say that, but this team is just special.”
Same goes for the quarterback. Yeah, he doesn’t let rip the deep ball all that great (he tossed a pick Saturday for the first time since the opening game). His stats (24-for-37 for 285 yards and three touchdowns) aren’t video-game silly. But he continues to do something he’s done since he stepped into the spot three years ago as an emergency starter in Chapel Hill, N.C.
That anyone wouldn’t consider Book among the game’s top 10 quarterbacks is ridiculous. So is ignoring him as a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Is he a future first-round NFL draft pick? No. Does he have a decade-long career waiting in the NFL? Who cares? He’s a heck of a college quarterback who’s enjoyed a heck of a career at arguably the game’s most scrutinized position. Quarterback at Notre Dame? There’s no hiding from that. Book’s never hidden.
Not a game goes by that sophomore running back Kyren Williams doesn’t watch Book and all he does and think, wait, did he just do that?
“It leaves you out there on the field thinking,” Williams said. “I see Ian running down the field 15 yards. I’m like, I don’t know how he just did that but I’m going to go block. It’s just things like that.
“It’s just crazy seeing what Ian is doing.”
Even with the score having long gone lopsided and the game deep in the fourth quarter, Book stayed in the game. He didn't want to leave. He didn't want this one to end. He likely wanted to soak it all in with his parents and brother watching as they always do in the stadium stands. Finally, with five minutes and change remaining, Notre Dame took a timeout to get Book out of the game. The move didn’t receive much fanfare, in part because the place didn't have many fans.
That's in line with the way Book has played. It’s never been about him. It’s been about the guys. His guys.
“Bittersweet,” Book said in the university-issued statement of leaving that field for that final time. “Definitely a little emotional, but I just took it all in. I definitely took a step back and just embraced everything. It's been an unbelievable journey.
“I remember my first day on campus and now I'll never forget my last game in the stadium.”
Those memories and moments and those wins, Book likely took time Saturday to reflect on. Then he likely snapped back to reality. There's more football to be played. More games to go and win. More goals to chase. Knowing Book, Williams figured he’d quickly focus on what he could do better more than focus on 30-3. It wouldn’t be long before Book started thinking about how to be better in Charlotte at the ACC championship game in a couple weeks.
“I know he’s got a lot more left in him,” Williams said. “He hasn’t even shown his best, yet.”
Watch out if he does. And watch him. How he plays. He handles everything he has to handle. Before you know it, he’ll be gone.