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Leftovers & Links: A QB lesson Notre Dame will not need to learn in the Blue-Gold Game

Notre Dame v Wake Forest

WINSTON SALEM, NC - SEPTEMBER 22: Ian Book #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at BB&T Field on September 22, 2018 in Winston Salem, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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Later this week this space will focus on “Things To Learn” from Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game on Saturday (12:30 ET; NBCSN). That will not in any way include anything remotely akin to, “Who will enter the summer as the frontrunner to be the Irish starting quarterback?”

That is known. There is no need to learn it.

Senior-to-be Ian Book will start for Notre Dame on Labor Day at Louisville, barring injury. Debating the merits of that decision is such a waste of time it would be an insult to dead horses to liken it to kicking one.

Nonetheless, such debate has already knocked around this spring and will only increase in its quantity, though not its quality, this week. Let’s beat it to the punch.

One quarterback completed 68.2 percent of his passes last season. The other has reportedly continued to struggle with short-game accuracy issues this spring. Sure, rising sophomore Phil Jurkovec may have a better deep ball than Book at the moment, but the returning starter’s timing on those attempts should only improve.

“Throw the football down the field with accuracy (and confidence),” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Saturday when asked about what he wanted to see from Book throughout this spring. “... Ball placement off the back-shoulder throws, and a little bit more air. We want more of a level-three type ball. We felt like his balls were flat last year when we pushed the ball vertically. A little bit more air for our guys to adjust to the ball vertically. All things he’s been improving on in what we can see has been a nice step up for him.”

One quarterback showed a comprehensive grasp of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s playbook in 2018. The other has only just been introduced to Long’s scheme this spring after serving as the scout team quarterback all of 2018. Book’s experience can only further explore Long’s designs, while Jurkovec continues to learn the initial reads.

“We’re adding some misdirection within the offense,” Kelly said. “We want to move some ‘backers with some misdirection and open up some windows that haven’t really gotten down to a science yet. There’s definitely some things there for [Book] to improve on.”

One quarterback is coming up on the tail end of his career, fresh off the bitter taste of a Playoff blowout, though a Playoff appearance all the same. The other is just beginning his career, throwing to starter-caliber receivers for the first time at the collegiate level, focusing on those basics before expanding to greater possibilities.

“We’re seeing incremental improvement to the level that we’re much more comfortable where we can give [Jurkovec] more,” Kelly said. “We weren’t giving him much until we saw — I don’t want to say mastery, but at least a competency level at certain things before we were adding. We’re beginning to add a little bit more with him.

“We’re feeling pretty good that he’s making the progress.”

Why had this progress not occurred sooner? Consider some facts:— Jurkovec finished his high school basketball career before arriving at Notre Dame, meaning he enrolled in the summer of 2018, less than a calendar year ago, rather than after winter break.— The Irish entered 2018 with two quarterbacks the coaching staff believed in, with such belief in one’s individual talents to stake a season-opening win against Michigan on them and such belief in the other to lead the offense through the majority of the season.— Both those quarterbacks had won in big moments earlier in their careers, be it against USC or LSU.

Those facts, nothing but facts, led to Jurkovec working with Notre Dame’s scout team in 2018 and his career not truly kicking into gear until this spring. Such is a normal timeline.

“Everybody wants a finished product at that position so you can say, ‘Hey, our 2 is ready to lead us to a championship,’” Kelly said. “He’s not there yet, but he’s making progress where we feel comfortable.”

Jurkovec does not need to be there yet. That is what Book is around for, and presuming any improvement on his record-setting 2018, the Irish offense should make up for much of the defense’s likely step back in 2019.

Come 2020, then worry about Jurkovec. Anything learned about him this Saturday should be filed away to remember in 16 months, not in four. And anything learned about Book this Saturday should be taken with the grain of salt that it is a spring exhibition; 50-yard touchdowns to receivers do not count the same now as they do in mid-September in Georgia.

It is too-easily forgotten how few active coaches have won national championships thanks to the dynasty driven by Nick Saban. Of course, there is the Alabama coach and his Clemson counterpart, Dabo Swinney. Six years and a job change might make you forget about Jimbo Fisher’s ring-winning season at Florida State, but add him to the list.

Only two others qualify, and a year ago, neither had a job. Les Miles at Kansas and Mack Brown at North Carolina.

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