LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Notre Dame expected to have plenty of question marks on its roster this year as it tries to replace stars from its 2018 College Football Playoff team. What the Irish did not expect was that one of those question marks after Week 1 might be at quarterback.
Senior signal-caller Ian Book, by his own admission, did not play well in the first half of the Irish's 35-17 win over Louisville on Monday. He settled down in the second half and finished with 274 total yards, a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown, but he struggled against relentless blitzes and often did not resemble the quarterback who was one of the most efficient passers in college football last season.
“Didn't like the way I played in the first half,” Book said. “I had to put that behind me and move on, focusing on the smaller details, just playing within the system and playing the way I've always played. I put that (first half) behind me when I came in at halftime. No point in (dwelling) on what happened, some fumbles, so I put it behind me and wanted to come out and have a really good second half.”
Book fumbled deep in Louisville territory near the end of the first half, though he was bailed out when the Cardinals fumbled it back on the next play. Earlier in the game, he made some nice plays with his feet, including a 37-yard run on the game's first play from scrimmage, but also looked a little skittish in the pocket against Louisville's pressure.
More than a few times, Book left the pocket earlier than he probably should have, scrambling or throwing the ball away before he had time to go through his full progression. Even when he did have time to throw, he was inaccurate on some throws he made with regularity in 2018.
Coach Brian Kelly admitted that Book has to be better, but joked “we're not going to beat him with a shoe.” He expects improvement to come after Book studies film with quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees and suggested that Louisville had come out in some packages, particularly cover 2, that the Irish didn't expect. The coach reiterated his full confidence in his quarterback.
“There was some uncharacteristic flushing from the pocket that we hadn't seen from him,” Kelly said of Book. “A lot of it had to do with seeing a defense for the first time.
“I'm not trying to sit here and make excuses for him, but it wasn't a first game where it was cookie-cutter for him. There was a little rust there, he'll be better for it in Game 2.”
For his part, Book dismissed the idea that the Cardinals' defense gave him looks he hadn't seen on film. He made adjustments and was much better in the second half, especially on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive in which he converted two third downs through the air and another on a scramble.
“First game, there may be some jitters,” Book said. “It's a great environment here and Louisville played great. A great opponent, but we've just got to put this behind us. At the end of the day we're happy that we're 1-0 and we're going to learn from this and now we know what it's like. The season is started and here we go.”
Notes: Notre Dame running back Jafar Armstrong suffered a “soft tissue injury” in the “groin area” and he got an MRI on Tuesday, according to Kelly. The redshirt sophomore did not play after the first quarter against Louisville, but Kelly said the team remains optimistic the injury is not serious. ... Tight end Cole Kmet, who broke his collarbone in fall camp, is scheduled for a CAT scan Thursday that will decide whether he can begin practicing in full again. “We're close there,” Kelly said of Kmet's progress. ... The Irish moved up one spot to No. 8 in the AP Poll after their Week 1 win.