Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book

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Shepkowski: What Can Notre Dame Learn This Week?

Ian Book needs to prove he can throw downfield more consistently.

Nick Shepkowski
October 04, 2019 - 12:28 pm

(670 The Score) Notre Dame earned a satisfying 35-20 win against then-No. 18 Virginia last Saturday, improving to 3-1 as it enters the middle part of its schedule.

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This week, No. 9 Notre Dame welcomes Bowling Green to South Bend for the first time ever in what doesn't appear to be much of a game on paper. The Irish are roughly a 45-point favorite, depending on which sports book you check.

That's because Bowling Green is 1-3, with its lone win coming at home against Morgan State. The Falcons bring with them defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who seems to be having the same problems in his current role as he had as the Irish's defensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016. Bowling Green has allowed 62, 35 and 52 points in its past three games.

Saturday shouldn’t be competitive in South Bend, but it doesn’t mean there won’t be anything to take away from the game.

Before we break down storylines to watch, be sure to take some time to listen to the Radio.com Notre Dame Pregame Podcast. We had two great guests this week. Jeff Feyerer -- who has appeared on Inside the Pylon, Pro Football Weekly and CollegeFootballNews.com -- broke down the Irish's play through four games and what lies ahead. Then I was joined by Lisa Kelly, Notre Dame class of 1993. She has started a project catching up with some of your favorite Fighting Irish athletes from years gone by and looking into the role the school continues to play in their lives today away from the athletic fields.

Here's what I'm looking for this week:

Ian Book downfield?

In his second year starting, can quarterback Ian Book finally start to take a step forward in terms of development? One of the best compliments you can give an athlete is that he competes, and Book undoubtedly does that on a weekly basis. But he needs to make a couple throws down the field, so that the foes that await on Notre Dame's schedule -- like USC and Michigan -- at least have to worry about his ability to do so. If the Irish are going to go 11-1, Book will have to improve in the vertical passing game.

Running game dominance

In its season opener at Louisville, Notre Dame seemingly gained yards on the ground at will on first down. But too often when facing second-and-short or third-and-short, the Irish didn't pick up first downs. 

That's a trend that has continued too often. Notre Dame was just 1-of-10 on third-down conversions in a blowout 66-14 win against New Mexico on Sept. 14. A week later, the team's running backs totaled just 28 rushing yards on 11 attempts. 

The Irish finally broke through again last week. Notre Dame rushed for 157 yards against Virginia. If Notre Dame struggles to run the ball against Bowling Green, I have real trouble seeing how it will have a chance against USC or Michigan.

Cornerbacks, make a play

Early on in its loss at Georgia on Sept. 21, it felt like Notre Dame’s cornerbacks were a half-step too slow in making plays, with would-be deflections instead turning into third-down conversions for the Bulldogs. The first half felt the same exact way against Virginia last week before the Notre Dame defense had a dominant showing in the second half. It would be nice to see that for 60 minutes instead of just 30, especially considering an inferior opponent awaits.

Get out healthy

The Notre Dame sideline looked more like an emergency room than anything else last Saturday. Defensive end Daelin Hayes tore his labrum, while tough-lucked cornerback Shaun Crawford dislocated his elbow and may miss up to a month.  

Hayes is done for the year and has already committed to returning to school next year, as he’ll now redshirt this season. Crawford has battled through injuries for seemingly as long as he’s been on campus and again has been hit with a tough break.

Add that to running back Jafar Armstrong’s injury that has kept him out since the first drive of the season and receiver Michael Young and tight end Cole Kmet suffering collarbone injuries before returning, and you can see why getting through a week entirely healthy would be a major accomplishment.

Nick Shepkowski is the executive producer of the McNeil & Parkins Show on 670 the Score in afternoon drive. Follow him on Twitter @Shep670.​ He also hosts the Notre Dame Pregame Show on Radio.com Sports, which you can listen to here.