SOUTH BEND — If there’s one thing Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book isn’t lacking, it’s confidence. But even the week leading up to Saturday’s win against Virginia Tech affected the redshirt junior.
“How would he be loose last week? He had to endure a pretty difficult week, so the whole team was tight, especially the offensive side of the ball,” Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly said.
Book’s confidence never wavered, though, as he led the game-winning touchdown drive to beat the Hokies.
It was redemption after a career-worst performance for Book the week prior against Michigan.
“I’m just an extremely confident person, but I also truly just believe in everyone on the offense and on our whole entire team. I knew we could do it,” Book said Saturday following the Virginia Tech game. “Last week was last week. We had forgotten about that and moved on. I’m just confident in all the guys. We work so hard every day. We’re playing for each other, and that’s going to make some pretty awesome things happen.”
The confidence Book has in himself was one of the leading reasons Kelly recruited the quarterback to Notre Dame in the first place.
“If you lose your confidence here, as the quarterback, you can’t play quarterback at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “There’s just so much noise, so in the recruiting process it’s like question No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in making sure you vet that out in the process. What type of personality does he have, what are his traits, his makeup, can he handle the noise? Those are absolutely crucial. Watching a guy throw the ball around in 7-on-7 is one thing, but can they handle all that is encompassing with this position here at Notre Dame is much more important.
“So, in the recruiting process, we felt like he could handle all those things. Although it’s difficult for everybody when you don’t play particularly well, we felt like he had what it took to stand up to that. He did, and he’s come out on the other end of it. And he should be better for it.”
Book went 29-of-53 for 341 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against Virginia Tech. Although he was inconsistent through the first three quarters, Book stepped up when his team needed him most, capping off the 87-yard game-winning scoring drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Now, as the team prepares to face Duke on Saturday night in Durham, N.C., Kelly said Book should go back to having fun on the football field.
“He should be loose and excited and should have fun,” Kelly said. “He’s gone through the worst of it. This should be the best of it for him. This should be a great launching pad for him to go out and really be excited about playing and play with great confidence.”
Redshirt sophomore Josh Lugg has been called Notre Dame’s “Swiss army knife” by Kelly. The offensive lineman has trained to play all three positions on the line: tackle, guard and center. Lugg will get a chance to start for the first time Saturday against the Blue Devils.
The Irish have lost two starting offensive lineman in back-to-back weeks, as Tommy Kraemer (sprained MCL) and Robert Hainsey (fractured ankle) have both gone down. Kraemer could come back by the end of the season, while Hainsey is having surgery Thursday and will be out until the spring.
This allows Lugg to step into a starting role, one he’s been on the cusp of since he arrived in South Bend three seasons ago.
“He’s been, clearly, our sixth, seventh lineman for a couple of years,” Kelly said. “He’s just been one click away from being a starter. He’s been in a competitive situation now for a couple of years for a starting position. … He’s a guy that’s been in the program, knows what it takes, is strong and physical and can handle himself in the game. He’ll do fine.”
With two offensive lineman more than likely done for the season, flexibility along the offensive line will be key. Kelly is confident his personnel up front will be able to handle the challenge should any other injuries arise.
“We can move some guys around,” Kelly said. “Obviously, (left guard Aaron) Banks can go out and play tackle. (center Jarrett) Patterson can go out and play tackle. (Backup center Colin) Grunhard can go play center. Those are veteran guys that can go do that. There are other options for us other than trying to play a freshman in (Andrew) Kristofic. If we have to, we will. We still have some other options where we can shuffle guys around to make it work.”