Book, Rees look to shine on major stage as Notre Dame takes on Iowa State
By Jordan Perez, Florida Citrus Sports
ORLANDO, Fla. — Notre Dame will bring the element of surprise to Saturday’s Camping World Bowl against Iowa State.
It may even surprise itself.
On December 11, the program announced it had parted ways with offensive coordinator Chip Long. That was just three days after the Fighting Irish learned their bowl destination.
In the wake of the news, head coach Brian Kelly reassigned play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach and former Notre Dame signal-caller Tommy Rees for Saturday’s matchup against the Cyclones. Rees will be perched in the coaches’ box, and he’ll feed the calls through Kelly on the sideline. It could serve as an audition for an eventual promotion to offensive coordinator.
“I think he’s got a great background leading up to this, he’s been in this arena before, he grew up in this arena of college football and he’ll be well supported,” Kelly said on Thursday.
The 27-year-old has played a crucial part in quarterback Ian Book’s development in his three seasons with the Fighting Irish. Book has emerged as an efficient deep ball passer with a good pocket awareness, and he has ignited Notre Dame’s scoring for most of its 10-2 season.
But that upside hasn’t been without its down moments.
Notre Dame’s QB1 faced stiff challenges in disappointing losses to Georgia and Michigan in September and October, respectively. The Fighting Irish responded by winning their final five games following the defeat in Ann Arbor, however, and Book finished his regular season with 2,792 passing yards and threw for 33 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
Given the quarterback’s reputation, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell is more than schooled on Book.
“I think great quarterbacks own the offense, and that’s what I see from him,” Campbell said Friday. “Whether it’s the ability to use his feet to make something happen when a play breaks down, he seems to always know where the football is going.”
The Book-Rees combo has an opportunity to shine against a Cyclones defense that ranks 69th in the FBS in passing yards allowed, averaging 228.3 yards per game.
Kelly hasn’t let down his guard, though, and is mindful that the Cyclones defense frequently matched up with Big 12 offensive juggernauts such as Oklahoma and Baylor. Iowa State came within a point of upsetting each on the road earlier this year.
Throughout the week, Cyclones coaches have praised Book’s ability to “make plays last.”
“They force you into conflicts,” said defensive coordinator Jon Heacock. “They force you to be disciplined.”
When asked if Book reminded him of any other quarterback the team has faced, Heacock suggested a combination of players around the league. “A little bit of Jalen Hurts, for sure,” he added.
That makes for a significant challenge for ISU, especially considering Rees will likely offer some twists and turns to put a stamp on his own play-calling.
And in a way it’s an opportunity for Kelly himself, stepping into a slightly new role with an 11-win season on the line.
The Irish have one of the most familiar looks in all of sports, but coming into this bowl game, not even they know for sure what they’ll look like.