SOUTH BEND, Ind. (BVM) – Coming off an 11-2 season in which Notre Dame finished No. 8 in the AP poll, the program is set to officially usher in a new era this fall with first-year head coach Marcus Freeman at the helm. Freeman was promoted by the Fighting Irish after spending last season as the team’s defensive coordinator following Brian Kelly’s surprising jump to LSU.
Not only will Notre Dame have a new coach manning the sidelines, but they will also have a fresh face under center. Last year, senior transfer Jack Coan led the way for the Fighting Irish, throwing for 3,150 yards and 25 touchdowns. In the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Coan threw for an impressive 509 yards in his final collegiate game.
However, this season, Notre Dame will hand the keys to sophomore Tyler Buchner. The young quarterback saw sparing action in 2021, but holds plenty of potential. With a lot of talent surrounding him on offense and on the defensive side as well, can Buchner be the quarterback to get Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff?
Buchner is a San Diego native who played his high school football at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California. He finished high school in La Mesa, California at Helix High School, but never played football there because of the postponements and cancellations during the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, as a junior at The Bishop’s School, Buchner showed he was one of the most promising prospects in the country, throwing for 4,474 yards and 53 passing touchdowns with just five interceptions. The dual-threat quarterback also ran for an impressive 1,610 yards and 28 touchdowns. Coming off an ACL tear suffered the year prior, Buchner – also a talented lacrosse player through middle school – proved he had Power 5 talent.
2021 Notre Dame commit @tylerbuchner is a straight baller.
4,474 yards passing & 53 TDs
1,610 yards rushing & 28 TDs
Dude really had 6,071 total yards and 81 TDs in 13 games. Unreal talent!
— Zack Poff (@Zack_Poff_MP) December 3, 2019
The No. 91 player and No. 10 quarterback in the 2021 class according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, Buchner held offers from heavyweights like Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Oregon and USC. However, he made his commitment to Notre Dame in 2019 and enrolled early in South Bend just two years later.
God, Country, Notre Dame …
— Tyler Buchner (@tylerbuchner) March 8, 2019
With Coan at the helm during Buchner’s freshman season, the 6-foot-1 quarterback did not play much. Yet, Notre Dame did get his feet wet by letting him see the field in 10 games, often in read-option packages. On Buchner’s first collegiate snap against Toledo, he had a 26-yard rush. The San Diego native would also throw a key 55-yard touchdown pass in the early-season contest that Notre Dame won by just three points, finishing the day with 78 passing yards and 68 rushing yards.
HE GONE! 👋
— Notre Dame on NBC (@NDonNBC) September 11, 2021
One of Buchner’s most notable games of the season came nearly a month later against Virginia Tech. Seeing increased snaps in place of a struggling Jack Coan, the quarterback ran 12 times for 67 yards and a touchdown, also adding another score through the air while passing for 113 yards.
Buchner did not see many more opportunities through the air the rest of the season, throwing for one more touchdown pass against North Carolina late in the year while finishing with 298 yards total on the campaign. He did remain a rushing threat out of the backfield, however, ending his season with 336 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, with his final score of the year coming on a 33-yard scamper versus Stanford.
TOUCHDOWN NOTRE DAME
— Sideline CFB (@SidelineCFB) November 28, 2021
Meanwhile, Drew Pyne, another sophomore for Notre Dame, also got his chance in relief of Coan a couple of times last season, throwing for 81 yards and a touchdown in a win over Wisconsin at Soldier Field, and 143 yards and a score in a home loss to Cincinnati.
The Connecticut native is another four-star who held plenty of high-level Power 5 offers, but ultimately landed at Notre Dame. Freshman Steve Angeli and Ron Powlus III join the quarterback room in 2022, but with Coan gone, the position was bound to come down to a camp battle between Buchner and Pyne.
“Really, it’s a two-quarterback battle right now between Tyler and Drew,” Freeman said after Notre Dame’s first fall camp practice on Aug. 5. “I think they all had major strides in the spring. You know, Tyler missed the last two practices. One being the spring game and the practice before that. But he got 13 really good practices in and I thought both of those guys had extremely good springs.”
However, Buchner was seen by many as the favorite to win the competition. Earlier this month, Freeman officially named Buchner as his starting quarterback for the 2022 season.
“An extremely difficult decision, one that me and [offensive coordinator Tommy Rees] spent an enormous amount of time talking about,” Freeman said during a press conference on Aug. 13. “It’s not really a seven-practice decision. This is something we looked at last year, we looked at spring, we looked at the summer and the start of fall camp, an entire body of work.
“We just felt like it was time. It was time to give the offense clarity on who is going to be the starting quarterback.”
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 13, 2022
While Pyne is likely to see playing time as well at some point, Notre Dame’s success this year could very well rest on Buchner’s shoulders.
There is no doubt the 6-foot-1, 215-pound quarterback has plenty of talent. Even in his limited action last season, he completed 60% of his passes and averaged 7.3 yards per rush. On the ground, Buchner has a unique ability to make defenders miss. Through the air, the sophomore displays a solid deep ball and strong ability to throw on the run.
Ultimately, more experience than Pyne and the added threat that Buchner’s special mobility gives the Notre Dame offense factored into the decision to name the San Diego native the starter.
“Those guys can both give us a chance to win,” Freeman told reporters after naming Buchner the starter on Aug. 13. “We just think Tyler brings an element, a dynamic element with his feet, the ability to extend plays, to have a QB-running game, that really added into this decision.”
The run game could be leaned on heavily throughout the season for the Fighting Irish. While they do return a high-upside receiving threat in junior tight end Michael Mayer, Notre Dame is very thin at wide receiver.
The same day Buchner was announced as the team’s starter, it was also announced that sixth-year wide receiver Avery Davis would miss the 2022 season after tearing his ACL in practice the day prior. Davis also tore his ACL during a game last November.
thank you for everybody who reached out, I truly appreciate it 🖤
I will still be with the team this season to help however I can 🤞🏽 pic.twitter.com/It1NsvxNUr
— ad (@realaverydavis) August 19, 2022
That leaves just two returning receivers who have caught more than 20 passes in a season: graduate Branden Lenzy and sophomore Lorenzo Styles. The latter is coming off of an impressive eight-catch, 136-yard performance in the Fiesta Bowl, and will likely be tasked with filling the No. 1 role. The Irish will need young receivers like sophomores Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie to step up as well.
Still, Freeman is anticipating a strong passing offense, and would like to see his starter continue to improve in that area.
“We all know he can run,” Freeman said about Buchner after practice on Aug. 5. “So, it’s really good for him to progress in terms of being a passer, staying in the pocket, making good decisions, you know, because it’s always easy to take off and run.”
On Sept. 3, Buchner will make his first official start since 2019, and it couldn’t come in a much tougher environment as Notre Dame heads to Columbus to take on Ohio State at 6:30 p.m. CT on ABC. Buchner will get another tough September road test at North Carolina, and will face No. 25 BYU the following week. Notre Dame will also face off against No. 4 Clemson on Saturday, Nov. 5, and travel to take on No. 14 USC on Nov. 26.
There is no doubt this season will be a strong test for Buchner. But in a new era under Coach Freeman, Notre Dame’s future looks bright. Buchner has displayed his talent at every stop, and now as the starter in South Bend, he has the chance to show he has what it takes to get Notre Dame back to the College Football Playoff.