Ian Book And Chris Finke Finding Their Games For Notre Dame

Is it a case of better late than never?

The last couple of games for Notre Dame have offered glimpses into what Irish fans thought they’d see from the two skill position captains all season. The connection between Ian Book and Chris Finke was considered one of the sure things heading into the 2019 season, with Book’s accuracy short and Finke’s ability to find holes in the secondary. Finke’s game took off once Book entered the lineup last season, and with a full offseason together, the assumption was the whole operation would move to the next level. It was a nice thought, but it wasn’t the reality.

Through the first five games, Finke had just ten receptions, never reaching more than 57 yards and a single touchdown against New Mexico. Whatever was there last season, it wasn’t there early, and it was hurting the offense. Things needed to get better, for both Book and Finke. Fortunately for both of them, it appears they have turned the corner.

Ian Book Making Strides

So much has been discussed and written about the struggles of Book from last season to this season, it doesn’t need to be gotten into in-depth. There has been a drop in play, as everyone knows. But, the last couple of weeks have featured the type of game we thought we thought we’d see all along, with Book looking more comfortable in the pocket and zipping the types of passes we saw so often last season. This is obviously the best type of news for the team this season and beyond. When Book is patient in the pocket, picking out receivers, and delivering accurate passes, it’s what makes this offense formidable.

Book showed it on a couple of occasions on the first drive, including one on third and 10. Duke sends four, Book patiently climbs the pocket and waits for Finke to clear a defender across the middle, and delivers a bullet behind him so he doesn’t run into the defender coming to make the play. Excellent stuff.

Earlier in the season, this might have been a dump off to Kmet or an attempted scramble by Book. He makes the correct read and then makes an accurate throw, on third and long. A couple plays later he hit Finke on a similar play across the middle for a touchdown, giving Notre Dame the fast start they needed and setting the tone for the rest of the game.

Given the way Notre Dame’s defense has been playing, if this is the level of play we are going to see from Book for the remainder of the year, the Irish will be a tough beat.

Chris Finke Back to Doing Chris Finke Stuff

The drop in Finke’s game to start the season was as baffling as Book’s, although it’s probably no coincidence that as Book has gotten better, so has Finke. The strength of Finke is not only his ability to find creases in the defense, but as a punt returner when he’s given space he can also maneuver around the defense for huge plays as we saw on the play that got wiped out by a (shaky) holding penalty that likely would have paved the way for Notre Dame to go up 28-0.

In the last two games, Finke has ten catches for 100 yards and two scores, as well as this 78-yard catch and run that obviously isn’t accounted for stats wise. He also had an excellent punt return late in the game that nearly went to the house where he bobbed and weaved through the defense.

Opening Up The Offense

Ian Book finding his groove with Finke again is good for the obvious reason that it gives him another receiving option that he trusts and who is comfortable working over the middle, an area of the field where Book felt comfort last season. The more effective weapons you have, the better.

It also has the benefit of taking some of the attention away from Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet. We’ve seen opposing defenses bracket Claypool to the short side while giving extra attention to Kmet. If Finke can exploit these openings consistently, it puts the defense in a bind. Do they continue to send help to Claypool and Kmet while Finke kills them short and intermediate? Or do they take their chances with single coverage? This was the conundrum teams found themselves in last season with Miles Boykin as the third receiving threat instead of Kmet. That obviously went much better for the offense last season.

It feels a bit bittersweet that this could all be happening so late in the season and the “big” games off in the distance, having already been played. But, as stated before, this development by Book has implications for next season as well. The fear had been that teams have figured out Book, having gotten enough film on him to disrupt his game. If he has found a way to overcome that, perhaps this signals he’s finally ready to take his game forward. The next three games will go a long way to answering that question, but we finally have some concrete positive signs that it could be on the way.

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  1. It was a nice win. It was nice to see Finke –in his final year–have a nice game. It was nice to see Book play better. It was nice to see O-line have a nice day. Everything was just fine and dandy. Except one thing — this Duke team was God Awful ! Upcoming are 3 opponents who won’t push overs — Navy , Boston College and Stanford. These teams are long time nemisis/spoilers in the past on Irish schedule. To salvage this season and hopefully put the Michigan beat down in rear view mirror ( if it can ever be)–Irish need sweep of remaining schedule and a bowl win (any bowl win). 11-2 is it. Nothing less will do. The bar as been set after going 12-0 and playoffs in 2018. Lacking is the wins over elite teams. Irish failed in 2019. I’m rooting for Irish to finish 11-2–and for Book too –if he does enough to get job done. Is he an elite QB , can he beat elite teams. So far , he’s still in the category of improving/developing according to BK. I see no change –even if Irish finish 11-2 heading into 2020. This past season with Book struggling — Jurkovec should have been inserted into games —nothing wrong with sitting down a starter–to get refocused and return. A sit down also let’s him know — a back -up is pushing him to perform better. This has been going on in all sports , at all levels , young ages to high school to college. The notion that a starter being pulled is detrimental , loss of morale and a mutiny by team members is total bullshit. Whoever says that never played sports or coached sports. I agree with posters — if Kelly names Book starter for 2020—there is going to be transfers–not just Jurkovec (his third year on the bench)–but Clark , Pine having second thoughts about QB future— worst is 2021 QB recruit de-committing with all the crap going on.

  2. I see the QB situation stuck in a cycle right now. 3 star qbs who are good enough to win against lower ranked opponents (15+) but can’t get it done against top 15 teams. All while a highly rated recruit is “learning” the system or not being developed enough. It’s happening with Book and PJ right now. When Books named the starter next year PJ transfers and we are going 10-3. Then Clark is the backup while Pyne redshirts. Pyne doesn’t grasp the offense soon enough so Clark starts the season 2021. He wins enough to keep the starting job over Pyne into 2022. I seriously hope I’m wrong on this but at some point you either throw that highly rated recruit in the game and let him sink or swim OR hire someone that can develop him.
    As for Finke It’s been a love/hate relationship for me. Head scratching plays since he’s been the punt returner. I would hold my breath when he would run up to catch the ball early in his career on contested punts or I’d yell at the tv when he would let the ball land at the 30 just to watch it roll to the 10. I breath a little easier these days but still yell when he lets the ball roll. He did make some mistakes early in the season receiving but has come on lately. I will miss him next year but I’m ready for some of the youngsters to take his spot.

  3. I’m taking 6-1 that Jurkovec enters the transfer portal. He only has spring practice to win the starting
    job and that is a very unlikely scenario. 2020 will be a repeat of this year with Book playing just good enough to win games against most opponents, but not good enough to beat top 10 teams. So if JP stays he sits for another and has two left. My thought is he sees a number of QB transfers having great years with a new program and coaching, and uses his remaining two years elsewhere. He may also be looking over his shoulder and seeing two very promising recruits coming on board.

  4. I wonder what this means for Jurkovec though. Book is not an elite, NC level QB. BUT, with him playing better and not being NFL material, it’s probable he’ll be back under center next year.

    Jurkovec, we’ve been told, can take ND to that next level (well maybe, under BK one can never know). I believe if he’s 2nd string yet again next year we’re going to lose him as a transfer. He’s probably going to start thinking he’s never going to play at ND.

    It’s a tough call. How does BK replace Book at QB if he continues to win games the rest of the year? Yet at the same time I don’t see Book leading ND to the playoffs next year either. With Book we are best a 10-2 team.

    And there’s no guarantee we finish out 10-2 even this year.

    But my prediction is BK sticks with Book next year and we’ll probably lose Jurkovec to another school in the process.

    1. The next 3 games are huge. I think we just have to let them compete in the spring and fall and see if either one of them can really show improvement . One of the things that might help both of them next year is if all these skill guys can live up to their lofty recruiting rankings and have it transfer from the practice field to Saturday in the fall. Lenzy ,Keys Tremble hopefully Austin Tyree Jordan Johnson Xavier Watts hopefully Kmet comes back.Also I would like to see Kelly move Armstrong back to his natural position of receiver. He seems explosive to me as a receiver. Doesn’t appear to have the instincts as a runner.

      1. I would like to see Armstrong moved as well. No reason Kelly couldn’t have ran Smith on the goalline against VT. Natural RB with a lower center of gravity. Armstrong still runs high with the ball but does have the speed to bust loose.

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