Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly Doing The Right Thing Sticking By His Quarterback

Brian Kelly announced yesterday he is sticking by his starting quarterback, Ian Book. It’s unfortunate that it seems this is a yearly thing with the quarterbacks at Notre Dame. It’d be cool if we could just find one and be done with it till they decided to leave or their eligibility ran out. That is not our fate though, at least not this season, and we’ve got another struggling quarterback and questions as to whether a move is warranted.

If you’ve read any of my stuff lately, my latest stock report for example, you know I’ve been critical of Book’s play for a good bit. He’s had trouble staying in the pocket, his pre-snap reads have been inconsistent, and he isn’t finding the open player. It was a quaint time in the offseason when we were worried about whether he’d be willing to push the ball down the field, turns out we’ve got much bigger problems.

That all being said, Brian Kelly is sticking by his quarterback, and is making the right call in doing so, for a couple of different reasons.

The Coaches Need To Take Ownership For The On Field Product

Ian Book did not earn this job through a natural progression where a player moved on and he stepped up. He replaced Brandon Wimbush midseason last year. Wimbush was a quarterback with a 12-3 record as a starter, and while he was winning, the coaches wanted more. They were proven correct in that move, Notre Dame went on to go 12-0 in the regular season and earn a playoff bid.

The point though, is they felt there was a higher level at quarterback on the bench, and they chose Book. They need to own that choice. They need to coach their quarterback. This isn’t some situation where you pick your guy and ride him till he doesn’t play to your desires and then you change him out for someone else. That’s scapegoating the player. That’s abdicating their responsibilities to get their players prepared and ready to go. Because the thing is, Book isn’t the only one. They’ve got six other captains who aren’t playing up to snuff. Are they supposed to replace all of them? Is that how you lead a football team? No, you coach them. You’ve got your veterans playing poorly, then coach them better, don’t scape goat them to the bench. The door can only revolve so many times before there’s no one else on the other side.

Book Isn’t Playing That Bad

We’ve been over his Power Five stats a number of times already, they aren’t good, relative to what he did last season. He has regressed, the stats bear it out. But, the only question that matters is who gives the team the best chance to win. And objectively speaking, he’s been good enough to win against the non-ranked teams and probably most importantly, he doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s got the two interceptions and a lost fumble against Louisville, he’s not chucking the ball all over the field to defenders, and he’s not putting the ball on the ground. What was ultimately Everett Golson’s downfall was his giving the ball to the other team too often. Book isn’t doing that and it’s a big deal.

We Have No Idea If Jurkovec Can Do The Job

This is a pretty important point, but is there any evidence that Jurkovec is ready to have the season on his shoulders? I mean, I understand he led the touchdown drive against Michigan, and that was cool and all, but the possession before that he lost a fumble on a terrible play where he tried to pull back an intended pass and basically just dropped it. On his first play he scrambled and fell to the ground. I know people want to say “yeah, but he looked great on that one drive”, but that’s not how this works. That leads to a bunch of stellar drives in a loss because there were four baffling turnovers.

I realize there is a tendency to feel like the season is over because the playoffs are gone and maybe so is a New Years Six bowl game, but we aren’t on the team and I highly doubt the players are ready to throw in the towel. We should try to remember that this isn’t our season and we don’t go to practice and if the players know Ian is clearly better and Kelly makes this move because that’s what the message boards want, well that’s a recipe for a complete disaster and a situation that wouldn’t suit anyone well, including Jurkovec.

Book Gives Them The Best Chance To Win

This is pretty much the crux of it, Book is the best option. There is an argument that Jurkovec gives them a chance to play at a higher level, but similar to Brandon last year, he’s a high variance player. Brandon beat Michigan, which is very good. Then he needed an onside kick to save the game against Ball State (think about that for a second), and Jalen Elliott heroics to save the game against Vanderbilt. Kelly is doing a disservice to his team if he lowers the chance to win because he wants to “see what he’s got” in Jurkovec. He’s seen it, he sees it every day.

Sometimes the answer is to try to improve with what you’ve got. They picked Book, they named him captain, they need to coach him better. He’s done it before, get him to do it again.

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  1. Kelly said he did not want the Michigan game to define his team. Well coach, the Michigan,Alabama, Miami, Georgia and Clemson games have defined you. It is who you are.

  2. The track record of Kelly being able to develop his QB’s just isn’t there. This after a 10 yr record of player development.
    We are once again hoping Kelly can “coach up” his players and get them to play better. I’m a die hard fan and after so many years
    gone by its hard to imagine a change in this scenario..Don’t 4-5 star players expect to get some playing time ? The game is moving faster now
    and the Kelly offense isn’t producing. Kelly says Jukovec is “not ready”. Its up to Kelly to get his top recruits
    ready. The consensus says Book is not the answer. Yet stubborn Kelly states he’s the older guy and the younger guys have to wait
    there place in line. This is “old school” philosophy. We will see if Book and the team respond to this week’s coaching during practice.

  3. Agree with Jack that once Kelly’s QBs “master” the offense, they become paralyzed by the intellectual burden. The only times we’ve seen Book effective were the first few games last year when he freely distributing the ball in rhythm.
    The issue with this whole situation is that it appears Phil is not a good practice player. BK and Long want to “see it in practice” first before they pull the trigger. This will never happen with Phil. Therefore the only way he gets on the field as a starter is a Book injury. It is almost certain that Phil is better in a live game situation than in practice. Kelly might not realize this fact until it’s too late and Phil transfers.

    1. ….once Kelly’s QBs “master” the offense, they become paralyzed by the intellectual burden….

      So these “smart”, skill position kids at ND can’t deal with the overwhelming information overload of one the most predictable, uncreative, slow moving offenses in FBS football.

      1. Did you think that it might be predictable, uncreative and slow moving precisely because there might be too much going on the head of the signal caller? Why do we see first year QBs under this regime excel and veterans regress? I put “master” in quotes because apparently it seems impossible to do this very thing. Only Reese seemed to have an effective grasp of whatever they’re trying to do

    2. David,

      The QB is responsible for pre-snap read of the defense, line call, and also maybe a run pass option. If ND is in a run personnel and the other team is in the nickel defense he may be responsible for making a read into a run.

      He is also responsible for motioning the players into position when he makes a pre-snap audible. ND is trying to run an offense that would mirror the offense run in New England. When Book was a first time starter the center made the line calls because he was fifth year senior. There are many things that Kelly and Long are asking him to do.

      I love hearing everyone talk about how predictable the offense is. You do realize that most teams in todays NFL and major FBS football have about 20 plays they just run them out of different formations and disguise them. The stretch run play is run out of about 20 different formations that the QB may have the ability to audible to a pass play. A lot of the criticism on Book is he isn’t making the correct pre-snap read and not going through his progressions the way he should. He hates sitting in the pocket to long and waiting for a route to come open. You can see it against teams that bring pressure up the middle. Teams know he wants to bust outside of the pocket so he can see better and not feel the pressure. Teams are not rushing their d-ends up the field on him, but are containing him and bringing a lot of pressure up the middle. He struggles with this and he also struggles with reading the defensive personnel on read options and also on RPO’s.

  4. The biggest problem I see with BK’s second year QB’s is that they start over thinking and are scared to make a mistake. Book looks tight and is scared to let it go. He is trying to make the perfect play instead of just trusting his reads and what he sees. I think he also has a problem seeing over the line and the RPO game is crucial on seeing the field and the player you are trying to read.

    He is thinking to much and when you think you stink. He needs to react and trust what he sees. The coaches can only teach you so much, if you become paralyzed by over analyzing everything you are doing the team no service.

    Make it simpler and allow him to play faster. Go back to the Oline calling protections put more on your center, have the coaches helping with reads, but it seems to me that he has to much on his plate right now the the offense may need to be simplified for him to play at a faster rate.

    Kelly asks a lot of his QB’s after the first year and I think they become paralyzed with fear of screwing up and have to much on their plate. The KISS principle would work here.

    Also, one last thing on the Michigan game and I am done, Michigan was out for blood. The olineman that took the d-end out of bounds showed what Michigan was about that game. Allowing them to go home for fall break might not have been a good idea.

    1. Remember, David doesn’t watch the games Jack so you are just wasting your time.
      His Saturday’s are very precious and he doesn’t want to waste them on Kelly the fraud you see.

      1. What;s the difference between Regina George and Ron Burgundy?

        There’s at least a chance Regina George will post something about ND football.

      2. Jack and Ron: Also don’t forget that he doesn’t read our posts either, as he revealed to NDCrazyMike recently.

        BGC ’77 ’82

  5. All analysis of Book aside….

    If Jurkovec were to disappoint or implode this season, Kelly’s summer is ruined.
    Waiting ’til next year to ruin him is the smart move.
    For Brian Kelly.

  6. Agree. Continue to start Ian Book. But also understand this: Getting into and winning a New Year’s Six Bowl is a step forward. That has not happened since 1994. And it will not happen this year at 9-3, because at 9-3 there is no hope at all of getting into a NY 6 Bowl. At 10-2, we almost certainly get in.
    So the bottom line is this guys: Start Ian Book. Why? Because he gives us the best chance to win. But what if the offense stalls again for a quarter or two? Is he then STILL giving us the best chance to win? Does ANYONE really believe that? I can remember the first guy I was an assistant coach for, early in my teaching career, looking an underperforming, but very talented boy right in the eyes and saying “I’m sorry, but I just can’t continue to be your personal psychiatrist and go out there with you and hold your hand. Now get out there and do your job, as we all know you can, or sit down.” I learned a lot that day that I used occasionally for my entire coaching career.

    BGC ’77 ’82

  7. This is a reason why it’d be nice if CFB had one pre-season game–even something like the basketball team does and plays 2 pre-season easy teams to get the rust off and play your “back-ups”.

    You could play guys like Jurkovec against another team with nothing on the line. Unlike the NFL, in CFB a lot of times your ‘back-ups’ are your future players, and QB is that one position where you generally don’t rotate guys in and out. You can put your 2nd, 3rd, even 4th string RB’s, WR’s, Linebackers, etc. in a game for a series, or even just a play and they get experience. Not so with QB’s. They mostly sit on the bench until A-the starter gets hurt; B-the starter is just plain bad and needs to be replaced; or C-garbage time.

    I do like this year that when they do put Jurkovec they give him real plays to run. He gets few chances to see real game action and its good to get him in when they can and run some real plays.

    And I’m not ready to start Jurkovec. But there’s something to be said for preparing for next year as well. He’s the next man up and I’d like to be able to start next year with a full playbook if possible–and not have to limit it because he’s basically a rookie QB that needs time to prep. Then we’re talking about 2021 and yet again ‘maybe next year.”

    I agree with Greg that the coaches need to own their choices. But Book also needs to show improvement as well. Stop panicking. Usually when you get more experienced they say the game slows down for you and you see the field more. In Books case it’s almost like it’s the reverse. The games speeding up and he’s making mistakes you’d expect a first year QB to make. Trust your fellow players. A number of times we’ve seen Book run out of the pocket in almost a panic and a WR or TE has broken free downfield and is just waiting for Book to get them the ball. He doesn’t need to try to force a play every time. Use your teammates. That’s what they are there for.

    1. Damian, a twelve game season is already bordering on too much, especially for guys who take a demanding academic schedule. And its got to be brutal on the body! I usually agree with you Damian, but not on this one.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Well it doesn’t even really need to be ‘pre-season’ per se. Maybe instead of a spring game have a scrimmage against some local college team or something like that.

        I mean, you’d still have the practices, but end it with a scrimmage of some sort just so your players get to play against another team.

  8. Kelly went to Book last year because Book must have been proving himself in practice. If Jurkovec doesn’t get to play, that means he’s not playing well. When Jurkovec came in against UM, he looked terrible. Extremely slow off the snap. This is not his fault. Instead of preparing him for this moment, he’s been on the scout team running other teams offenses.

    1. Ping: And Book proved himself in the Citrus Bowl, leading us to a score on almost every possession he played.

      BGC ’77 ’82

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