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The Journal Gazette

Friday, April 12, 2019 1:00 am

Irish going with Book at QB

Coaches say Jurkovec still learning offense

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

If you go

What: Notre Dame Blue-Gold Game

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday

Ticket prices: $12 ($15 on Saturday) for adults and $8 ($10 on Saturday) for children under 18. Children under 3 are free

SOUTH BEND – There is no quarterback competition at Notre Dame this season. After two years of Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush battling for every rep in offseason work, there is certainty at the position. Book is the starter, and redshirt freshman Phil Jurkovec will be his backup.

That lack of competition does not mean that Notre Dame coaches aren't watching both quarterbacks closely for signs of improvement. There are different benchmarks that each is trying to hit, as there should be. Book is entering his fourth year in the program, while Jurkovec is only at the start of his second. 

“One's on advanced calculus, the other one is still getting past algebra right now,” offensive coordinator Chip Long said.

Book is coming off a season in which he stepped in for Wimbush in Week 4 and never really looked back, throwing for more than 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns while completing a stellar 68.2% of his passes on his way to being featured on the cover of a regional issue of Sports Illustrated prior to the College Football Playoff.

The Irish's loss in the Cotton Bowl was Book's first as a starter at Notre Dame and it exposed some of the flaws in his game, ones he's working to improve on this spring. Coach Brian Kelly said Book has checked most of the boxes the coaching staff set out for him at the beginning of offseason workouts.

“Vertically throwing the football with confidence, movement in the pocket, all the things (we've) seen in (practice),” Kelly said of Book's improvements. “Ball placement on back-shoulder throws and a little bit more air. ... We felt like his balls were flat last year when he pushed the ball vertically. Little bit more air for our guys to adjust to the football.”

The next step for Book is mastering some misdirection the Irish are putting in the playbook to freeze linebackers and open up throws over the middle, according to Kelly.

Jurkovec, meanwhile, is still learning the offense at a fundamental level. He is Book's heir apparent, and he will be the presumptive starter heading into the 2020 season. If Book gets hurt, however, Jurkovec could be thrust into the spotlight much earlier. The Irish are trying to get him ready for that possibility this spring, though doesn't seem to be quite there yet.

“Phil wants to be a great player, and that's the No. 1 thing you have to have in a player,” Long said. “He has great confidence, but just like anything he has to learn the day-to-day with the installation, the confidence and be able to run the show. Ian's been doing it for three years.

“I think they've both done a good job, but obviously there's a long way to go.

Book and Jurkovec have a little less than five months before Week 1 to get to where they need to be.