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  • Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book, who has excelled in his first two starts this season, faces his toughest test yet when the Irish travel to Blacksburg, Virginia on Saturday. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Thursday, October 04, 2018 1:00 am

Rise of Irish QB has been swift one

After 2nd start, Book earns national award

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame at Virginia Tech

Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Records: Notre Dame (5-0), Virginia Tech (4-1)

TV: ABC

Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM

SOUTH BEND – On Wednesday afternoon, Ian Book was awarded the Davey O'Brien Quarterback of the Week award. For one week at least, the selection committee considered Book the best quarterback in college football.

Such an honor for the junior from California would have seemed unthinkable just three weeks ago when Book was still the backup and threw only three passes in Notre Dame's win over Vanderbilt.

Now, Book has accounted for nine touchdowns in his two games as the starter, has led the Irish to more points in any two-week span than they've had since Weeks 5-6 in 2011 and has settled into his new role as the team's leader on offense. 

“It's a dream come true,” he said of the last two weeks. “I always wanted to play college football and to be able to play (at Notre Dame) has been awesome. Last Saturday (against Stanford) was a night I'll never forget.”

In just those two games, Book seems to have developed significant chemistry with the rest of the offense. It helps that he led the Irish to wins over North Carolina and LSU last season and got more reps with the first team than a typical backup quarterback all season. He didn't have far to go to convince his teammates he could excel as the full-time starter.

“He's just got a swagger about him,” center and captain Sam Mustipher said of Book. “He's a baller, that's all he wants to do. He's undersized, very clearly, and I'm sure people have told him that all his life, so he plays with a chip on his shoulder.”

The 6-foot, 203-pound Book spent Saturday night after the win over Stanford celebrating with his team, but by Sunday morning, his attention had turned to his next task, beating No. 24 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. 

Facing the Hokies at Lane Stadium figures to be one of the most hostile environments the Irish will face this season. With close to 65,000 maroon-and-orange-clad fans pleading for a Virginia Tech upset, every play the Irish run will likely occur within a cacophony unlike any the Irish have heard since they were routed 41-8 in Miami last season.

In that kind of atmosphere, Book's chemistry with the rest of the offense will be tested anew. 

“We work on crowd noise, but really we just try to focus on running our plays,” the quarterback said. “We'll try to eliminate all the noise, but we know it's gonna be loud, it's gonna be fun, it's gonna be energetic. It's gonna be a great college football night.”

Coach Brian Kelly has repeatedly said that he didn't feel his team was prepared to play at Miami last year, an oversight for which he takes responsibility. To avoid a repeat of that performance, the Irish have pumped crowd noise into practice all week and have played Metallica's “Enter Sandman,” a Lane Stadium staple, on repeat. 

Left tackle Liam Eichenberg said communication will be key along the offensive line as it struggles to hear Book's play calls.

“If you've never (been in that environment) before, you don't understand what people are saying,” Eichenberg said of the noise. “When we get a call from the quarterback, we pass it along the offensive line so everybody knows because if you have one guy mess up, the play's done.”

That communication will be more difficult because the Irish are missing arguably their best offensive lineman, left guard Alex Bars. Bars, a fifth-year senior and captain, is out for the season with a knee injury sustained against Stanford. In his place, will likely be Trevor Ruhland, making just his second career start.

“That was really sad to see,” Book said of the injury. “But that's the game of football. We're really bummed for Alex, but it's the next man in. ... I talked to him, wanted to make sure he was doing OK. I know mentally he's a strong person, he'll get over it and he'll bounce back.”

dsinn@jg.net