Brian Kelly Stands by Ian Book as Notre Dame’s Starting QB

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.

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  1. I like Ian Book but what was he doing in the off season. He is not so much better as we all expected. He has happy feet and always want to throw to Claypool or his tight end. He pulls the ball down too soon and doesn’t find the open receiver like he should He needss to study the other team and recognize the defense pre- snap. Kelly should not call Book out for Michigan the whole team stunk in every phase. The starters were embarrassed and maybe should all have been benched. The coaches are responsible to get the kids ready to play and that is on Kelly. Why is our road record so bad? it’s coaching. But the reason Phil doesn’t have any game experience is on Kelly too. We never have a big lead, and Book is in there to the end, Phil has the skill to throw the long ball and stretch the field which Book can’t do. I would have thought he improved his arm strenght if he wants too play after college he mostly dinks and dunks which isn;t going to be enough against the good teams.c.

  2. As an aside I’m surprised we haven’t seen the 5 things Frank didn’t like about this game.

    Though perhaps he’s having trouble distilling it down to 5 things when there were probably about 50 things you could cite in this one. What do you pick out of that mess of a game?

    Probably almost as hard as finding 5 things he liked about the game just in reverse. Instead of a dearth of things to like there’s an overabundance of things not to like.

  3. Unfortunately, this year is a loss (as far as the playoff goes). Might as well give the ball to Jurkovec and see what he can do. Book has shown that he has lost it at this point.

    If Notre Dame manages to lay another egg this weekend, it will spell the end of Brian Kelly’s tenure. There is something to be said for a coach “losing the room”. Perhaps Brian Kelly has lost his motivation of this group.

  4. Forgive me if I don’t have much faith in BK on QB’s at this point.

    But that being said, I’m not for starting Jurkovec at this point. However I would gradually start inserting him into games more and more. I have to think Jurkovec will likely be the starter next year. If BK were to stick with Book again next year I think we’re going to lose Jurkovec. Assuming Jurkovec is favored to start next year I think it’d be a good idea to get him some significant game experience the rest of this year. That way he can get his feet wet so he’s not making rookie mistakes next year and he’s a full go.

    It’d be nice to start a new QB without having to ‘limit’ the playbook until he gets more experienced. It’d be nice for him to have that experience already so he’s a full go next year.

    As for Book, well, I’d keep him on a short leash. Usually it’s not a good idea to have your QB worried about being replaced every game. But it’s up to him to change the narrative. He’s been given plenty of chances without having to worry about his job. He has to know his job is on the line at this point and if he wants that to change he’s going to have to play better.

    And some of that is on the coaches yes, but some is on Book as well. Him panicking and bailing on plays by running over and over again is on him. He needs to stick with the plays and only run when there are truly no receivers open. Usually that’s an advantage, an ability to run for a QB—but somehow Book has turned that to a disadvantage. Is he afraid of getting hurt again? Could be, and I could understand that—but then, sorry to say, he can’t be a QB. You run that risk every time you hit the field. If you’re always worried about getting hurt you’re not going to be a very good player. It’s up to him.

    1. Damian,

      Book bailing from the pocket started late last year and has moved into this year. This was actually a strength of his early last year with remaining cool and collected under pressure and working through progressions but man does he have happy feet this year. You may be onto something in saying he doesn’t want to get hurt again which would explain the bailing out and not stepping up into the clean pockets. Doing this would also allow your receivers to get more open as it is harder to cover the longer the play lasts. Whatever it is, it’s not worked out too well for him this season. I’m ready for Jurkovec!

  5. Agree totally with you Doc. Today (Monday October 28th) is the Feast Day of St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes.
    I think that today is a perfect day to comment on the state of the Notre Dame football program under Brian Kelly.
    Kelly is a good coach but not a great coach. He cannot win a big game. Notre Dame will never be more than a top 15 team most years under his leadership.
    Kelly lacks charisma and this hurts his ability to recruit. He is not a tactical game coach and cannot make adjustments during a game.
    I believe there are other coaches out there who might do better as Head Coach at Notre Dame. A great Athletic Director can find those coaches.
    But, like others, I believe that Jenkins and Swarbrick will not get rid of Kelly because of the uncertainty of starting over with another unknown.
    The dire consequence of this attitude is that Kelly will be around for another 4 or 5 years and have 4 or 5 middling seasons and eventually
    Kelly will become the number one winning-est coach at Notre Dame.

    Kelly has about 65 official wins and maybe another 20 that were taken away by the NCAA so the day Kelly reigns supreme is not that far off.
    If he ever reaches that games won milestone and surpasses the 105 games won by Knute Rockne, Kelly will have achieved his dream and Notre Dame
    will become a laughingstock for allowing a middling coach to stay around so long that he took over the top spot on the Notre Dame win list only because
    the administration was afraid of the alternatives. And you think all the ND haters are laughing at us now.

    Let Kelly leave. It can’t get much worse than it is now. As long as Kelly is here, I have given up hope of a football national championship for Notre Dame in my lifetime.
    I still have hope of beating a top ranked team in a meaningful bowl game but even that dream is fading.
    Running the football team as a marketing arm of the university is a recipe for disaster on the football field.
    We have muddled around for almost 30 years. The time for change is now.

  6. Typical Brian Kelly, stubborn as hell and definitely not a QB coach of any sorts. All of the QB’s he’s coached have all regressed in their second year which doesn’t say a lot for his coaching up style. If Notre Dame would get rid of Father Jenkins, Jack Swarbucks and Brian Kelly their football team would probably have a re-birth back into the elite status! I know that this will never happen so we must all be content with a good mediocre football team never to see a win in a big game and forever never to see a national championship ever again as long as those three remain in charge!

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