SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly believes Ian Book needs to be more decisive if the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish are going to find their identity on offense.
The senior quarterback gets his next chance Saturday when first-time opponent Bowling Green (1-3) visits Notre Dame (3-1).
"(Book) just finished his 13th going on his 14th game (as starter)," Kelly said of his quarterback who last year took the Irish to the College Football Playoff but last week completed 17 of 25 passes for just 165 yards and no touchdowns in a 35-20 victory over Virginia.
"There are some plays out there where he knows he sees them after the fact," Kelly said. "We're going to work on that decisiveness. He's got the ability to be explosive."
For the season, the usually accurate Book has completed 63% of his passes for 993 yards and eight touchdowns, a total bloated by the 360 yards and five TDs he put up a 66-14 victory over New Mexico. In as 23-17 loss at Georgia, he completed 29 of 47 passes for 275 yards and two TDs with two interceptions. Last week, Book was sacked twice and took two intentional grounding penalties.
The offense, which has been slowed by injuries, penalties and sloppy play, has a chance to get better against first-year coach Scot Loeffler's Falcons, who are heavy underdogs after a bye week following their 62-20 loss at Kent State.
Loeffler, a former quarterback at Michigan who has made stops at his alma mater, Florida, Auburn, Virginia Tech and Boston College, used the time off to simplify his offense. The Falcons' offense, averaging 352.5 yards (107th nationally) and 18.2 points (120th), need more production from quarterback Darius Wade (664 yards, three TDs) and running backs Andrew Clair and Davon Jones.
"We're going to limit what we do and try to get better at a few things and chip away at this," Loeffler said of preparing for a Notre Dame defense that had eight sacks and forced five turnovers against the Cavaliers.
REUNION OF SORTS
Defensively, the Falcons are directed by Brian VanGorder, who spent 2¼ seasons under Kelly as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator before being fired four games into 2016. His Falcons allow 448.5 yards (111th) and 38 points (120th) but do stand 20th in sacks with 12, a concern for Book and the Irish.
VanGorder and Kelly first worked together at Grand Valley State from 1989-91. The 1-3 start in the 2016 season ended that working relationship.
"It was tough, but hey, let's be real: We weren't getting the job done," VanGorder told The (Toledo) Blade this week. "I understood Brian's decision in it."
Since leaving Notre Dame, VanGorder has been a defensive analyst for Georgia and Oklahoma State and spent last season as defensive coordinator at Louisville for since-fired Bobby Petrino.
"Respect him as a football coach and as a person," Kelly said.
Following the 2016 season that ended 4-8, Kelly hired away defensive coordinator Mike Elko and linebacker coach Clark Lea from Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson. Clawson, Elko and Lea were together at Bowling Green during an 8-5 campaign in 2012. Lea became Kelly's defensive coordinator last season when Elko joined Jimbo Fisher's Texas A&M staff following 2017.
ISN'T THAT JUST SPECIAL?
When asked about special teams "hiccups" against Virginia, Kelly joked: "I would have used another letter to start with that."
Jonathan Doerer, in his first full year as placekicker, missed a 47-yard field goal in the second quarter. Trailing 17-14, the kick return unit then allowed Virginia to recover the second-half kickoff. Leading 21-17 later in the quarter, normally reliable punt returner Chris Finke fumbled the ball away.
"We just weren't as good, and that is flat out want and desire," Kelly said.
Bowling Green, a MAC champion most recently in 2015, enters the game as a 45½-point underdog, its largest margin since the Falcons were 40½-point underdogs in 1997 to Ohio State, which won 44-13.
"Everybody here has a chip on our shoulder, and I feel like we have nothing to lose," middle linebacker Brandon Perce said. "They have a lot to lose."
WR Chase Claypool turned an ankle against Virginia but is expected to play. WR Lawrence Keys III, who started against New Mexico and Georgia, has a heel injury and is doubtful. DE Daelin Hayes had surgery for a torn labrum and is lost for the season; he tweeted he will return for a fifth year in 2020. CB Shaun Crawford, granted a fifth year because of three different season-ending injuries, is out 3-4 weeks with a dislocated elbow.
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