SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Ian Book had thrown for 278 yards and four touchdowns in his second start at quarterback for Notre Dame on Saturday night, so the follow-up question for Coach Brian Kelly after the game was, naturally, “Are you ready to name him the starter?”
“I haven’t named him yet?” he asked.
Book entered Saturday’s matchup with Stanford listed second on the depth chart, beneath Brandon Wimbush and with a curious “or” next to his name. Just two days before, in response to a question about who was starting, Kelly had assured reporters that Notre Dame was going to have both quarterbacks ready to play.
Book not only shut down any lingering quarterback drama Saturday night against the Cardinal, he has the Fighting Irish offense singing as No. 6 Notre Dame (5-0) looks ahead to a daunting trip to No. 24 Virginia Tech (3-1) this weekend.
“We just want to be an elite offense,” Book said.
In the 38-17 manhandling of Stanford, Book teamed with running back Dexter Williams, back from a four-game absence, and wide receiver Miles Boykin to lead the most dynamic offense the Irish have displayed all season.
Book spread the wealth, hitting 10 receivers for the second straight game and distributing his four touchdowns among four players, and he saved some for himself, too. The California native proved his ability to adjust on the fly and showed off his running ability. Book was Notre Dame’s second-best rusher Saturday, finding 47 yards on 15 snaps under pressure.
“What I liked the most about Book tonight was if it didn’t look right to him, he didn’t enter into that picture,” Kelly said after the game. “He got out of it, and he got out of it with his feet."
Boykin said that quick decision-making is Book’s best attribute. The senior caught 11 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown in the Irish’s first win over Stanford in four years.
Book’s first start at Notre Dame Stadium was no light affair, but he has experience under pressure: Entering as a reserve in last season’s Citrus Bowl against LSU, he threw a 55-yard, game-winning touchdown with 1:28 left. On Saturday, he stayed cool under the lights, in front of a crowd of 77,622 and in the face of Stanford’s defense to complete 24 of 33 passes. He was sacked just once.
“He’s incredibly calm; I don’t think I’ve ever heard him yell,” Boykin said. “Even when he makes a check, it’s kind of quiet; he just does a lot of hand stuff. He’s just extremely poised behind the pocket, and he always tries to make the right decision. He usually does.”
Book’s comfort with the running game has given Notre Dame’s offense an identity, Kelly said. For a unit that was hard to characterize after wins against Michigan, Ball State, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest, Book helped Kelly find a definition — and a mantra to build off: balance.
Book’s mission was to bring tempo to an offense that had topped out at 24 points this season under Wimbush. Against the Demon Deacons, Book led the offense to eight touchdowns, 566 yards and a 56-27 win.
“He's creating an energy with the group because they know they're going to get the ball,” Kelly said. “They know they're going to have a chance to run after the catch. They know they're going to be able to do these things. So there is a heightened excitement and responsibility now that each of the playmakers feel because they know they're going to get a chance to touch the ball and make plays.”
“I’m trying to bring the tempo,” Book said, “to get these guys to rally behind me, work faster as an offense and just bring some juice and be a leader.”
For all his success last weekend, Book now faces another high-pressure atmosphere Saturday in Blacksburg, where coordinator Bud Foster’s defense surely will want to make a statement at home after an embarrassing loss at Old Dominion last month.
It probably will be Book and the Notre Dame offense’s toughest test yet or, alternately, another chance to prove themselves to the College Football Playoff committee, which is sure to be watching the Irish closely.
After the Hokies, Notre Dame has a manageable schedule (Pittsburgh, Navy, at Northwestern, Florida State) before sticky games against Syracuse and at Southern California to close the regular season. Now that he has earned his way to the top of the depth chart, Book has the Irish headed in the right direction.
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