Late in the 2014 season, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson began to sputter. But head coach Brian Kelly stuck with him as the Irish stumbled to an 0-4 regular-season finish. To start the 2016 season, Kelly rotated quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire when it was clear that Kizer was the better option and the season went off the rails very quickly.
Perhaps Kelly gleaned something from those situations because after a couple of uneven performances by Brandon Wimbush, the Irish leader made a swift, decisive decision, inserting Ian Book as the starting quarterback and letting him run the team until the game was out of reach. The results were fabulous, as Book completed 25 of 34 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns while running for three scores in Notre Dame's 56-27 victory over Wake Forest.
The most interesting part of the switch was that no one was really clamoring for a change. The consensus was that for Notre Dame to reach its full potential, Wimbush would have to improve his accuracy and pocket presence. It was just one game, but it now looks like the best Irish team is one with Book taking snaps.
It wasn’t just Book's actual performance that was impressive. The offensive line had its best game of the year on Saturday and the receivers seemed to be crisper and more engaged. The blockers allowed just one sack and opened alleys for 241 rushing yards. Meanwhile, 10 different receivers caught passes from Book. There was a confidence apparent in everyone on the offensive side of the ball and it could be felt even on the first three drives when Notre Dame was held scoreless.
Book brought immediate life to the offense. Though Kelly probably needs to tamp down the Trace McSorley and Baker Mayfield comparisons that ABC’s Todd Blackledge mentioned during the broadcast, the sophomore from El Dorado Hills, California, was a catalyst with both his play and his presence. In a matter of hours, Notre Dame went from not having a quarterback controversy, to having a QB debate without any games being played, to having a different clear starter, one that gives the position more stability.
How things turned out, with No. 7 Stanford coming to South Bend next week, Kelly’s timing couldn’t have been better. Some posited before the game that he was playing Book to give the Cardinal something else to think about. What Kelly did was give his new starter real game action against a Power 5 opponent before the bright lights on Sept. 29. Did he know the Wake Forest game would work out that well? Of course not. But by not rotating Wimbush in, he was sending the message that Book was his guy and was going to get the meaningful reps he needed before facing David Shaw’s team.
The Stanford game will feature a much different vibe, a feel that will not be totally uncommon for Book. He had his problems — as did everyone else in gold helmets — against Miami down at Hard Rock Stadium last November. But he was also a key component in the Irish comeback win over LSU in the most recent Citrus Bowl. So he knows what to expect
Can the Book magic continue? Notre Dame fans hope that a more seasoned Book is the answer to their quarterback prayers. We’ll all find out a lot more next Saturday night.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.