Outside the Pocket: 6/6 (1 TD, 1 throwaway)
Under Pressure: 4/6 (2 TD, 2 throwaways)
Red Zone: 4/8 (3 TD)
3rd/4th Down: 3/4 (2 conversions)
Forced Adjustments: 3
Explosive Plays (25+ yards and/or touchdown): 5
Ian Book being a good college quarterback was never in question. After getting a bit of action as a freshman in 2017, Book stepped into the starting role for the Fighting Irish in 2018 and quickly established himself as a good college passer. He earned 53 passing touchdowns to just 13 interceptions over his first couple seasons as a starter, not to mention the 800-ish yards and eight touchdowns he produced as a runner. Book was more than capable enough of making Notre Dame a legitimate contender.
This season, though, Book has started to round out his game in a way that makes him look like a viable NFL prospect. Though undersized at a generous 6-foot and 206-pounds, Book has taken steps in his accuracy, arm strength, and overall comfort as a commander-in-pocket that suggest he should be drafted in April.
Saturday’s game against Boston College was yet another impressive addition to his strong 2020 resume. Finishing with 20 completions on 27 attempts while earning 283 yards and three passing touchdowns is solid work in its own right, but the charting stats look even better. Take away throwaways and one jet “touch” pass, and Book was accurate on 20-of-24 attempts. Book had precious little issue finding his targets and did well to deliver accurate balls to them.
This is a good, simple clip of Book’s baseline level of processing. Before the snap and as the motion man is coming across, Boston College shows a defensive front that matches the heft Notre Dame has in the box with their 13 personnel (three tight ends) set. Once the ball is snapped, Boston College retreat off the line, getting into a standard spot-drop Cover 3 look with four pass-rushers. With the flat defender getting wide to handle the wing player (24) on the wheel, Book knows the strong hook is now in a conflict with carrying the back up the seam and picking up the tight end cutting across underneath. Book allows the strong hook to drop as deep as possible before flipping it down to the shallow crosser, who breaks a tackle for a nice gain.
This is not advanced quarterback play, but it is nice to see nonetheless. Cover 3, in general, can be susceptible to short YAC-centric routes like this because those coverages are banking on zone coverage defenders to be able to rally down and tackle, but those tackles do not always get made. Quarterbacks can play the patient game by attacking that, which is something Philip Rivers has notoriously done well against Cover 3 defenses for years.
Here is another play with a similar formation and defensive front. Rather than bailing into a spot-drop Cover 3, though, Boston College get into their most common coverage: man-free Cover 1. They send the strong side linebacker while dropping the weak edge defender, but this pretty standard man-free (Cover 1 with five pass-rushers, no rat/robber). As soon as Book sees the blitzing linebacker and the strong safety over the tight end turn his hips inside to man up the tight end, Book knows he has Cover 1. The assignment of those two players also tells Book the only player left for the running back is the weak linebacker, who has a ton of ground to cover. Book makes the quick flip to the back and helps put Notre Dame into the red zone.
That said, where Book can stand to get better as a processor is when defenses start getting a bit more creative. Boston College does not have the most diverse defense around, but they threw a couple of wrinkles at Book, one of which forced a throwaway on what should have been a completion.
Boston College came out with five on the line and a linebacker behind them who is walked up quite close to the formation. A linebacker walked up that close behind a front covering that many gaps should start to ring some alarm bells. Once the ball gets snapped, both edge players on the line of scrimmage bail while the linebacker blitzes, leaving an area right over the middle that is “vacated” while the line of scrimmage players bail to defend it. In theory, this is a tough coverage assignment for the line of scrimmage players, so Book should be comfortable attacking the vacancy. On this play in particular, the defender playing over the tight end Book opens to initially is playing with his back turned to the QB and is flying to his landmark near the hash. The tight end works past him into a clear window, but Book freezes up amidst the chaos, tries to bail, and is forced to toss this away when he could have had a completion if he had acted quicker.
To his credit, Book looked much better than this when forced outside the pocket on most other occasions. Not only is he nimble and balanced enough to maneuver some sticky situations in the pocket, but has just enough mobility once he breaks the pocket to keep plays alive and threaten as a runner.
These back-to-back throws, the first of which was incomplete through no fault of his own, illustrate Book’s mobility and willingness to work off-schedule a bit. In both plays, Book does well to keep his eyes focused down field until the last possible second in which he needs to deal with pass-rushers. Yet, as soon as he somewhat frees himself from the rush, he immediately gets his eyes back up and finds a target. College quarterbacks, even ones who end up getting drafted, struggle with this kind of eye discipline while managing pressure. Book may not be Deshaun Watson or Tony Romo, but he at least has the willingness, discipline, and baseline physical tools to look for plays like this.
It comes as no surprise that Book went a solid four-of-six in the accuracy department with two touchdowns on his throws under pressure. He did also tack on two throwaways, but neither throwaway was the 2018-2019 Aaron Rodgers-esque “eh, I want this play to be over” style. Book did his part to look for options, realize they were not there, then safely chuck the ball out of bounds rather than near a defender. It’s not sexy, but like the rest of Book’s skill set, it helped keep the offense on stable ground.
The final pillar to that stability Book provides for the offense is his legs beyond the line of scrimmage. Both as a designed runner and as a free-willed scrambler, Book has plenty of juice to force defenses to respect him as a dual-threat. Book has only gotten better as a runner each year, too. His yards per carry jumped from 2.9 to 4.9 between 2018 and 2019, while his six touchdowns in 2020 are already more than he has ever scored in a season before.
Perhaps an offense should not aim to run Book 10-15 times a game on designed calls or anything, but it’s clear he can move and do it when need be. His ability to function on QB draw and basic read plays at least adds a wrinkle to the offense, even if it is not something to base an offense out of. It’s also clear he can be a nuisance if he breaks the pocket, showing off more than enough speed to threaten 10-plus yard carries out of nowhere. Book, for the most part, has been good about knowing when and when not to run, too, which is an important distinction for any mobile quarterback.
The ceiling for Book as a prospect is likely not very high. He has shown some improvement this year, which is admirable, but he is a generous 6-foot, has an arm that is fine yet ultimately unspectacular, and still has not quite shown the elite processing “peaks” of a player worth a premium pick.
Seeing as Book was widely believed to be a UDFA headed into the year, though, moving up into a draftable position at all is valuable. There is reason to believe Book can find success along the lines of Case Keenum, if a few things bounce right for him.