Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Notre Dame QB battle: Tyler Buchner named Fighting Irish starter for Week 1 game vs. Ohio State

When the Notre Dame offense takes the field against Ohio State on Sept. 3, it will be led by quarterback Tyler Buchner. The sophomore was announced as “QB1” by the school on Saturday, putting an end to high-profile and hard-fought offseason quarterback battle at a potential College Football Playoff contender. 

Buchner and Drew Pyne were seen as the primary contenders in an intense offseason competition. Neither possesses a lot of in-game experience to this point, as Ian Book played in 45 games for the Fighting Irish from 2017 to 2020 and was replaced by grad transfer Jack Coan last year.

While he wasn’t the 2021 starter, Buchner did appear in 10 games. As a change-of-pace player from Coan, Buchner threw only 35 passes, completing 21 for 298 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Most of his work came in the run game, as he rushed for 336 yards and three touchdowns on 46 carries. It’s possible that his mobility was a deciding factor in the competition with Pyne, who appeared in games against Wisconsin and Cincinnati last season but didn’t play in any of Notre Dame’s final eight games.

Buchner was a four-star recruit in Notre Dame’s 2021 recruiting class. He ranked as the No. 91 player, according to 247Sports, and the No. 10 QB. He chose Notre Dame, but had offers from Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and USC, just to name a few.

The decision isn’t a major surprise

While there was certainly a competition between Buchner and Pyne, Buchner was largely expected to win the job. Looking back at how each player was used last season, the tea leaves were clear with how they were used. Pyne relieved an injured Jack Coan against Wisconsin and played 34 snaps the following week against Cincinnati, but never saw the field again after that.

Meanwhile, Buchner only saw seven snaps against Cincinnati, but in seven games — from Week 6 against Virginia Tech through the regular-season finale against Stanford — Buchner averaged 11.8 snaps per game. That included a season-high 43 against the Hokies. The playing time established him as the No. 2 QB on the depth chart and gave him a head start heading into 2022.

Buchner’s mobility should prove essential

Buchner gave the offense a different dimension with his legs last season, and they should be valuable again in 2022. On the same day Notre Dame announced Buchner as its starter, it also announced that starting slot receiver Avery Davis would miss the season with a torn ACL. The Irish already had question marks at receiver before Davis’ injury, and without an established No. 1 at the position, the offense may rely on Buchner’s legs to help keep drives going and put points on the board.

Buchner also showed an ability to drive the ball downfield with his arm. While neither had a large sample size of attempts to make solid conclusions, Buchner attempted 15 passes of at least seven air yards last season, completing 53.3% for an average of 13.73 yards per attempt. Pyne attempted 16 such throws and completed only 43.8% for 7.56 per attempt.

Pyne isn’t out of the picture

While Buchner will start the year at QB1, it’s not as if the job is his for life. Pyne could still be called upon regardless of injury if Buchner doesn’t take care of the football or move the chains. It’s something to keep an eye on because while Buchner is the more explosive option, sometimes the fireworks go off in your hand.

Buchner threw three interceptions in a small sample size last season, and all three came on third down. It’s not an unexpected result for a young quarterback adjusting to life at a more difficult level than in high school. While a year of experience should help Buchner’s decision process, starting the season on the road against Ohio State will provide a tough test from the onset.

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