BLACKSBURG — Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book didn’t enjoy last week’s trip to Ann Arbor.
Book had the worst start of his career in a 45-14 loss to Michigan. He threw for career-low 73 yards (8 of 25) with a touchdown and ended up watching the fourth quarter from the sidelines amidst a continued downpour with the game well out of hand.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly started off the week by brushing aside questions about a quarterback controversy, but acknowledged his Book’s struggles.
While Book has thrown 15 touchdowns to only two interceptions, his completion percentage is down almost 10% from last year (68.2 to 59.2) and his yards per attempt is down as well (8.4 to 7.6).
The Fighting Irish’s overall numbers aren’t that bad, but take a major hit when discounting lopsided wins over New Mexico and Bowling Green. They are averaging 26.2 points per game against power five opponents and only 174 passing yards.
But Kelly isn’t overlooking Notre Dame’s 14-3 record with Book at the helm that includes a trip to the College Football Playoff last season, and Virginia Tech has seen Book at his best. The quarterback was 25 of 35 for 271 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-23 win over the Hokies last season.
“I’m expecting him to play really, really well this weekend, or give us his best shot,” Virginia Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “He has something to prove. He’s a really good quarterback and he played really good last year and the beginning of this year. I expect him to come out and give us his best game.”
Hollifield attributed Book’s struggles last week’s to Michigan’s game plan, a game plan that resulted in two sacks and five quarterback hurries.
“I don’t think Notre Dame was really expecting what Michigan threw at them,” Hollifield said. “Michigan ran a lot of stuff on defense that they hadn’t shown all year. Not change the whole defense, but showed a lot of different looks. I feel like that could be part of the reason that he didn’t play as well.”
Virginia had similar success against Book when the teams played at the end of September by sacking Book four times and finishing the game with three quarterback hurries.
“I think the one thing, just my observation, is I think he’s been really quick to tuck it, ya know, instead of just sitting in the pocket and letting things happen and develop a little,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “I think that’s been the biggest thing that I’ve seen the last couple of weeks.”
With a “really dynamic player” like Book, Foster said the Hokies have to make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
Virginia Tech has done a good job of that this season. They harassed North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell down the stretch with four sacks and three quarterback hurries after halftime. For the season, the Hokies’ 25 sacks in seven games is one more than they had all last season (24).
“I think any quarterback if you can get a chance to hit him a few times or make him move his feet a few times, then they have a tendency sometimes to look at the rush,” Foster said.