Q&A with Notre Dame Insider: Will Ian Book Progress, Bowl Prediction, & More

We were lucky enough to score a Q&A session with Tyler James from the South Bend Tribune’s Notre Dame Insider as we are on the verge of training camp starting for the Irish in 2019.  Tyler was kind enough to share his insights on new Running Backs Coach Lance Taylor, Notre Dame’s biggest weakness in 2019, and a whole lot more.

For even more insight into the topics we cover below, be sure to order a copy of ND Insider’s Season Preview magazine.  It makes outstanding vacation reading this time of year and goes much more in-depth on these topics.  If print magazine aren’t your thing, ND Insider also produces one of the best Notre Dame content subscription offerings around.

1. Who will lead Notre Dame in sacks in 2019 – Khalid Kareem or Julian Okwara? And will either (or both) seriously challenge Justin Tuck’s single season record.

Okwara is my pick. Kareem may be a more balanced pass rusher, but Okwara has special traits that allow him to beat offensive tackles on the edge with speed and power. He’s going to turn the 21 quarterback hurries he was credited with last season into more sacks. Despite all those missed opportunities, he finished tied for the team high with eight sacks alongside Jerry Tillery last season.

Okwara told me his goal for the season is 18.5 sacks, which would obviously be an extraordinary season. A more reasonable expectation would be in the low teens, but even that puts him in the neighborhood of breaking Tuck’s record of 13.5 sacks.

I think he can break the record. Kareem will play a role in that too. Pressure on both sides will give both defensive ends more opportunities for sacks. I could see both Okwara and Kareem hitting double digits in sacks.

2. Many Notre Dame QBs under Brian Kelly haven’t been able to build on strong first seasons as QB1. Do you think Ian Book will be different and what are your expectations for him in 2019?

I do think it will be different. Some of that has to do with offensive coordinator Chip Long putting Book in a position to succeed. I also think having Tommy Rees as his quarterbacks coach will be a big factor too. Rees knows what Book’s going through and can help guide him through that. Rees told me that he’s not worried about Book becoming complacent as the starting quarterback. He’s continuing to get better, and they’re working together to find ways for him to have a greater understanding of opposing defenses and what the offense can do to counter them.

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Though a lot of the skill players around Book will be taking on bigger roles, he’s still surrounded with a lot of talent. I think this offense has a good chance of being the highest-scoring of the Brian Kelly Era and average 35-plus points per game.

On the few occasions Book struggled last season, he didn’t look comfortable. Certainly defenses are going to try to replicate that uneasiness in Book, but I think he’s going to be more confident because of his experiences last season and his dedication to improve his weaknesses.

3. Notre Dame needed more recruiting prowess from its RB coach and new RB Coach Lance Taylor has already helped deliver Chris Tyree. What is it about Taylor that’s allowed him to have an immediate impact?

It’s a pretty simple recipe to be a successful recruiter. You have to put in the time, develop relationships, make sure you’re developing those relationships with the right people, and be smart about how you manage your resources. Clearly, Notre Dame felt that Chris Tyree would be a fit with the Irish. It was then on Taylor to show him why that is, and he didn’t waste any time.

Recruiting running backs to Notre Dame shouldn’t be that difficult right now. You get to play in an offense that values running the football. You get to play behind a high-caliber offensive line. There’s a clear line of recent success with C.J. Prosise, Josh Adams and Dexter Williams. Of course Taylor can’t stake claim to those guys, but having Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love on his résumé should certainly help convince recruits he’s capable of coaching the position.

Taylor clearly wanted to prove he could recruit as soon as he arrived at Notre Dame. Now it’s important to make sure he continues to emphasize it.

4. How much longer do you think Brian Kelly will be the head coach of the University of Notre Dame?

I think we’re all just guessing at this point. It’s just hard for me to see Kelly walking away in the next year or two unless he wins a national championship and wants to ride off into the sunset.

Certainly the job isn’t easy and wears on anyone. But Kelly seems to have finally figured out how to get the program in the best position to compete for the College Football Playoff on an annual basis. I think his focus on being closer to his players and the decision to give his offensive coordinator more power has reenergized him. He doesn’t seem like a guy that’s getting worn out.

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Obviously that all changes with one bad season. But I can see Kelly still coaching at Notre Dame for three or more years. Will he be sipping Mai Tais on a beach by the time the ND-Texas A&M series starts in 2024 as he once joked? We’ll see.

Reminder: if you are digging the info Tyler has been kind enough to share with us in this article, check out their Season Preview Magazine and their monthly Notre Dame subscription that features Tyler and all of the wrtiers from the South Bend Tribune. 

5. What is Notre Dame’s biggest weakness in 2019 and how do you see the Irish overcoming it?

There are two obvious questions marks on this team: the linebacker position and the kicking game. But the bigger weakness of the two is the kicking game.

At linebacker, we don’t know how things are going to shake out. There is a lot of inexperienced personnel, but there are a lot of different options. I trust that defensive coordinator Clark Lea will be able to piece things together on a weekly basis throughout the season. The group may be inconsistent and won’t be as good as last year, but they will be surrounded by talent on the defensive line and in the secondary.

There’s nowhere for the kicking game to hide, and the options are limited. Can Jonathan Doerer be accurate as a kicker? He hasn’t exactly been consistent with kickoffs. Can the Irish trust that he will be better on field goals and extra points? Will Harrison Leonard push him as a walk-on freshman? Is Jay Bramblett ready to be the man at punter as a freshman?

The kicking game will miss Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome. The best way to overcome the current situation? Punt as little as possible. Take chances on fourth downs instead of settling for longer field goal attempts. Score so many touchdowns that it doesn’t matter. Otherwise, hold on to your butts.

6. On the record: what is your prediction for Notre Dame’s regular season record and what bowl game/playoff (and outcome) do you see the Irish in.

In our magazine, I’m the one who did all our opponent previews. So in addition to a regular season record prediction, I have score predictions for each game. You have permission to mock me when they’re wrong.

I’m forecasting the Irish finish the regular season 10-2 and end up back at the Cotton Bowl, where they will beat Florida. Predicting a bowl opponent is tough. I’ve seen a lot of UCF picks, which I don’t really want to see. The Irish could also end up in the Orange Bowl, but I don’t want to see another ACC opponent like Syracuse either. So maybe my bowl opponent is just wishful thinking.

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