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.
This was/is such an encouraging play. 3rd and long, Book hangs in the pocket and delivers intentionally behind Finke as to protect him from the coming safety. Finke makes a tough catch in traffic. This highlights the strengths of both players. pic.twitter.com/986rBoQTHG
— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) November 10, 2019
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.
So much to like on this one. Good play design to get Finke free, Book knows exactly where to go, the run after catch by Finke, and look at McKinley blocking 50 then 70 yards down the field. pic.twitter.com/W43SgBkRw6
— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) November 10, 2019
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.