All eyes were on Brandon Wimbush this weekend during the annual Blue and Gold Game, but sophomore quarterback Ian Book stole the show. No, there isn’t a quarterback controversy brewing and no, there won’t be an open competition this summer; but we what is important is that Book did everything he could to put to rest any concerns about a lack of depth and experience behind Wimbush.
Even with a limited body of work under his belt, there has been very little concern about Brandon Wimbush as the starting quarterback. That wasn’t the case for the backup position heading into spring.
“We all came into the spring talking about Brandon Wimbush and rightly so. The starting quarterback at Notre Dame is a big topic. It’s a big story,” said Brian Kelly on Saturday. “But the story beneath the story for me was: Who the heck is going to be the No. 2 quarterback. So having that No. 2, and seeing him perform the way he has this spring, for me, has been, you know, one of the big stories. And Ian has done this all spring.”
Book completed 17 of 22 passes on Saturday afternoon for 277 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown was a perfectly placed toss to CJ Sanders for a 37 yard score. Book also flashed his arm strength with a 58 yard bomb to Kevin Stepherson that was almost entirely air yards.
The performance was surprising for many who haven’t seen every minute of the 14 previous spring practices, but not to Brian Kelly.
“I think you could point to his performance today and say it was a surprise; it wasn’t a surprise to me. He’s shown that. I thought he would go out and play really well. I’m glad he did,” Kelly stated after Book’s “breakout” performance.
A lot was made of Book’s height by the NBC commentators throughout the game, but it didn’t slow down Book on Saturday afternoon. Notre Dame did a good job of getting Book outside the pocket and moving the pocket when he was in the game. To Book’s credit, he looked poised and prepared. He displayed accuracy on his short throws and his bomb to Stepherson showed that he has got aqueduct arm strength at the very least.
While the spring game can be deceiving, Book’s performance should put to rest any of the doubts about Notre Dame’s backup quarterback position. Even if Avery Davis arrives on campus needing a year before he’s ready to seriously contend for the role, Notre Dame should be in good shape with Book as their backup quarterback.
What was most encouraging from Book’s performance though wasn’t the pretty stat line – it was his command of the offense that should have Notre Dame fans encouraged. Despite being just a rising sophomore and learning Chip Long’s terminology and nuances to the “new” offense, Book looked like a savvy veteran behind center. He looked very much like a quarterback who won’t blink if called upon this fall.
In many ways, Book actually resembled a more athletic, stronger armed version of Tommy Rees – the former persona of current Notre Dame QB coach “Tom” Rees. Unlike Rees, Book doesn’t have the physical limitations that constrained the Irish offense under Rees’s guidance. Opposing defenses stacked the box with Rees behind center knowing he didn’t have the arm strength to beat them deep. Book’s 58 yarder to Stepherson showed he has the arm strength to burn defenses if they employ a similar strategy should he see the field.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, everyone needs to remember that backup quarterbacks have had a tendency to steal the show in the Blue Gold Game. Chris Olsen, Nate Montana, and Andrew Hendrix have all had standout performance in Blue Gold Games past. Things didn’t work out too well for any of them.
Hopefully for Notre Dame, things work out better with Book. As Brian Kelly pointed out to the media on Saturday, Notre Dame has a history of needing their backup quarterback to play. “If you guys have followed us long enough, we’ve used our No. 2 here, quite a bit,” said Kelly.
That may be an understatement though.
In 2010, Tom “Don’t Call Me Tommy” Rees started four games after Dayne Crist’s injury. In 2011, Notre Dame flipped back and forth between Crist and Rees a couple of times due to ineffectiveness. In 2012, Notre Dame had to call Rees in from the bullpen to finish out a few games and to start one. In 2013 Rees started every game, but Andrew Hendrix was still called on twice in relief – once for injury, once for ineffectiveness. Everett Golson started every regular season game, but lost the gig to Malik Zaire for the Music City Bowl. A year later Zaire’s week two injury ushered in the Deshone Kizer Era. Finally, last year Notre Dame played musical QBs in week one and then again against Stanford.
In every season under Brian Kelly, a backup quarterback played meaningful minutes and in almost every season there was at least one instance of that playing time coming with a healthy stater standing on the sidelines.
Ian Book is far from a finished product, but so is starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush. We saw enough out of Book on Saturday, however, to believe that he’s capable of running this offense if called upon. Hopefully we won’t have to find that out the hard way this fall though.