Last week I wrote a piece detailing the missed opportunities in the Notre Dame passing game. The premise of the piece was the issues with Ian Book were decision making related, and not throwing related. As in, when he lets the ball go, it gets where he wants. But, he was leaving too much on the field, and it was hurting the passing games efficiency. The good news was decision making is coachable and can be improved upon. The hard part is things like accuracy and ball placement, two areas where Book is very good.
You can’t always take a lot away from a game against a weak opponent like Bowling Green; they never had a chance to match the level of play the Irish can bring. But, that was the case against New Mexico as well, and Book did not look as sharp in that contest and made some of the misreads that plagued him in later games. Against Bowling Green, there were no such issues. He got the ball out on time, he hung in the pocket, and he took advantage of mismatches even when his receivers were covered. It’s everything you want to see.
Last week I broke down the mistakes, this week I’ll highlight the excellence.
Pre And Post Snap Recognition
A lot was made about the missed seam route to Cole Kmet on the first possession against Virginia. He had Kmet wide open down the middle of the field, and should have been able to identify the opening both pre and post snap. However, he didn’t make the throw and instead opted to run out of the pocket for an eight yard gain. This week, Notre Dame ran close to the exact same concept and Book nailed tight end Tommy Tremble for the games opening score.
Notre Dame is in a 22 formation (two tight ends, two receivers) with Kmet attached to the line and Tremble split out into the slot on the same side, with receiver Michael Young outside of him and Javon McKinley alone on the boundary. Bowling Green looks to be in a cover 4, with the two safeties and the corners playing quarter coverage. McKinley, Kmet, and Tremble all run seam routes, with Young running an out on the back side. This play puts the play side safety and corner in a bind, with two seam routes and a deep out to contend with. Book is reading who they jump. Last week, they turned Kmet loose and Book missed it. This week, the safety jumps Kmet, and the corner is late to react to Tremble because of Young’s deep out. Book zips the ball perfectly and on time and it’s a touchdown.
Hanging In The Pocket
Another common gripe with Book this season has been how quickly he has bailed the pocket, even when the pressure isn’t coming. Missing Chase Claypool on a crossing route to bail a clean pocket last week had people pulling their hair out, likely the coaches as well. This week, Book hung in the pocket, even while the pressure was bearing down on him and hit Claypool perfectly in stride for a big gain.
Notre Dame is again in the 22 formation, this time with Brock Wright attached and Cole Kmet right next to him in an H-back formation. Wide receiver Chris Finke is out wide to the field and Claypool is the lone receiver to the boundary. Wright runs a deep in route, Kmet runs an out and up, and Finke a deep post. They are essentially clearing out the field side for Claypool who is on a shallow drag across the field. It takes Claypool a few seconds to clear the middle linebacker and into the open field, and while this is happening left tackle Liam Eichenberg is trying to juggle blocking the defensive end and a blitzing linebacker coming right at him. As is common, he tries to block both, ends up blocking neither and the defensive end is turned loose. Book hangs in there, patiently waits for Claypool to clear, and delivers the ball just as he’s about to be hit. No panic, a perfect ball, and Claypool is hit in stride allowing him to run after the catch.
Taking The Deep Shot
This game was really amazing in how it allowed Book to correct the exact things that plagued him the week before. Last week he chose to hit Chris Finke on a deep crossing route and pass up a likely touchdown with Claypool on a deep post route, and chose the same option later except Finke was double covered, the ball went incomplete, and a big play touchdown went untried.
Notre Dame is in 31 personnel, with Kmet in an H back formation to the boundary, Chris Finke in the slot opposite and Braden Lenzy outside to the field with Chase Claypool alone at the boundary. Notre Dame runs play action and the route combination should look familiar. Claypool runs a post, Finke a deep crosser, and Lenzy a deep in route. Basically the safety has to choose whether to get depth and cover Claypool or settle and pick up the crossing route. This play is set up for the post because of the play action, which usually causes some hesitation in the back. Last week Book hit Finke, and of he waits it’ll probably be open again. This week it’s all Claypool, and the pass is less than perfect, but when you give your guy a chance he can make things happen for you.
Throwing Receivers Open
The last stage in quarterback play; taking a covered player and turning him into an uncovered player with the pass. This is something Book did regularly with Miles Boykin last season and has for some reason not gone with this year as much. He did it twice with Javon McKinley yesterday, on both occasions McKinley was objectively not open.
Notre Dame is in a 22 formation with McKinley alone on the boundary, Kmet in a H back formation to the short side, Tommy Tremble in the slot to the field, with Michael Young outside. Notre Dame runs play action with McKinley running a go route, and Book immediately looks to him and throws after completing his play action fake. McKinley is covered, but Book throws it short, McKinley stops and it’s an easy reception.