Predictably, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was asked about the starting quarterback position for the Irish following the worst start of Ian Book‘s career. While Kelly acknowledged that Book did not play well in Notre Dame’s beatdown at the hands of the Wolverines, he backed his quarterback and said pretty definitely that Ian Book remains his starting quarterback.
“There is no quarterback controversy,” Kelly said on Monday. “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,” he added.
He did acknowledge that Book needs to play better for Notre Dame, though. “Continue to work ongoing through your progressions, you know, hanging in there,” he said when asked what Book needs to do better.
While he offered areas of improvement for Book, he was quick to note that Saturday was not entirely on his starting quarterback. “You know, we need all 11 guys to play better quite frankly,” Kelly said. “This isn’t we didn’t lose that game because of Ian Book. He has to play better, no doubt. Things that we have been talking about for the last few weeks, he’s got to continue to work on.
Kelly also pointed out that there were some critical drops along the way. Essentially, he did what a head coach should do if he is sticking with his quarterback and it appears as though that’s what Kelly is doing,
Following an 8 for 85 performance in which Book was missing open first reads and determining where he was going with the ball before the snap, questions were bound to be sent Kelly’s way today. Earlier in the day, I posted an entire 1,000+ word article questioning whether Kelly should consider a quarterback change.
Can you blame anyone for suggesting it or thinking it would happen? Brian Kelly has a history of having short leashes with almost every single quarterback he’s ever coached at Notre Dame other than current QB coach Tommy Rees.
Just last year Kelly benching Brandon Wimbush after three weeks and a 3-0 record, and it helped propel the Irish to an undefeated regular season. On Monday, Kelly said the situations were different, although didn’t go into too much detail on how they were different.
“They’re totally different in a sense that you know Ian is a different quarterback than Brandon was,” he said. “It is hard to compare and contrast those two. They are really quite different.”
He did go into a little more detail on what makes Jurkovec different than Book. “You know, Phil obviously sees the field very well. He’s tall. He’s ranging, 6’5″. He has a strong arm,” he said. “We like him as a quarterback.”
Kelly never said what was different about the situation. On the surface, they seem very similar. Opposing defenses have learned the limitations of Notre Dame’s starting quarterback and have schemed around them to limit the Irish offense. The limitations might be different, but mostly, we are right where we were a year ago.
This year though, Kelly and staff are going to be sticking with their starter – at least for now. “We’re coaches. We’re teachers. We’re so much more optimistic than you folks are,” Kelly told the media. “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, you know.”
You know who else won a lot of football games, but still got benched? Brandon Wimbush. Wimbush was 3-0 as a starting quarterback when he lost his job last year and was 8-3 in games he started and finished in 2017. Altogether, he was 12-3, including the Florida State game he started after losing his job when Book got hurt.
This isn’t to say that Wimbush shouldn’t have been benched last year either. It was the right call at the time to move on to Book. Whether or not it’s the right call to stick with Book this year, we don’t know just yet. The one difference that Kelly did bring up later is Jurkovec’s lack of experience.
“He’s not played a lot of real football,” Kelly said of the former 4-star recruit. “It has been a lot of practice football. You know, it’s an incredible game, right, you know, you practice, practice, practice, practice, you know, and then you play only 12 games. He’s practiced a lot, and hasn’t played a lot in college.”
When Kelly turned to Book in 2018, he had already seen Book start and win a game on the road against North Carolina in 2017 and saw Book come off the bench to win a game against LSU in the Citrus Bowl to end the year. Jurkovec’s only played mop-up duty to this point in his career.
“I think that Phil has gotten better and will continue to get better,” Kelly added on Jurkovec. “He’s challenging Ian every single day, even if you guys don’t see it. Just because he’s two doesn’t mean that he’s not challenging Ian and making him better every day in practice.”
One question that Kelly kind of danced around was whether or not they might deploy a package for Jurkovec similar to what they did with Book around the goal line in 2018 before he took over against Wake Forest.
“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 without ever saying definitely he wasn’t going to do it.
“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, two guys. I just want to win football games by playing the best players that will help us win,” he said. “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. This is as honest as I can be with you.”
We’ll know on Saturday if Kelly thinks the sophomore quarterback might be able to help the Irish win games in some capacity. He didn’t 100% rule it out today. We’ll also know on Saturday if Kelly is right in sticking with his starting quarterback. He very well could be, and for once, not making a change at quarterback could be the right move.
How long Kelly sticks with Book if he continues to struggle will tell us a lot. If Book has another poor performance against a bad Virginia Tech pass defense and we don’t see Jurkovec, it could be more of an indictment on where the staff thinks he is in his development more than them being displeased with Book’s performance.
Heading into this season, we all thought it was odd not to have a quarterback controversy for a Brian Kelly coached Notre Dame team. We made it to game seven before one started to brew.