On Friday, we learned that Notre Dame’s starting quarterback for the last ten games of the 2022 season, Drew Pyne, would be entering the transfer portal. On Sunday, we learned that Notre Dame would face South Carolina in the Gator Bowl. We have not yet learned who will start at quarterback for the Irish in Jacksonville, but all signs seem to point to sophomore Tyler Buchner, who has been sidelined since the September loss to Marshall. If Bucher does get the start, it’ll offer him a chance at redemption after a rough start to the season.
“He is full go,” Marcus Freeman said on Sunday. “He has practiced the past two days in practice.”
The beginning of Tyler Buchner’s reign as QB1 for Notre Dame did not go how anyone had hoped it would. After a respectable performance against Ohio State, completing 10 of 17 passes for 177 yards without a touchdown or interception; Buchner’s second start was about as disastrous as it could have been.
Buchner completed 18 of 32 passes for 201 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, including the game sealing pick-6 for Marshall as Notre Dame lost as a three-touchdown favorite. Then, to add injury to insult, Buchner suffered a shoulder injury that cost him the rest of the regular season in defeat. Then, another significant injury shut him down less than two games into his tenure as the starting quarterback at Notre Dame. Before the injury, Buchner was running for his life behind an offensive line that hadn’t found its footing yet and wasn’t looking like the future for Notre Dame.
The good news for Buchner is that he should get a second chance in the Gator Bowl. Even before the news of Drew Pyne transferring, Marcus Freeman had let the door open for a Buchner return in the bowl game. Based on Freeman stating that Buchner is full-go and practicing, it’s hard to imagine the staff going to freshman Steve Angeli or sophomore Ronnie Powlus. For a team looking to reshape its quarterback room, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Buchner will get a month of bowl prep to make up for lost time and then get a chance to remind the staff and show Notre Dame fans why he won the job in the first place. While the Marshall game went about as bad as it could have for Buchner, the offensive line was a turnstile that afternoon. Buchner rarely had a chance to get comfortable in the pocket and go through his reads. However, after that game, the offensive line came into its own and played much, much better. Whether or not the entire line is available for the bowl game – we’re still waiting to learn who will or won’t opt out – the line he plays behind at the end of the month should be a lot better than the one he played behind in September.
Everyone knows Buchner can run the ball – we already saw that last year. However, no one knows for sure whether Buchner can sling it in a game well enough to still be the future of the position for Notre Dame. The Irish staff has made it clear that they will be bringing in a transfer. Freeman admitted that on Sunday.
“I always want to be upfront and honest, and I was with Drew and told him that we would possibly look at taking a transfer quarterback,” Freeman said on Sunday.
For Buchner to be the QB1 for Notre Dame again in 2023, he will have to earn it again. The Gator Bowl gives him a huge leg up on whoever that transfer is. Whether or not he takes advantage of that opportunity will be up to him, but the opportunity will be there for the taking. A lot of fans have been quick to write off Buchner completely, but there was a reason he was a top-100 recruit out of high school. There was a reason he won the summer quarterback competition over Pyne. We’ve yet to fully see proof to back up either that recruiting ranking or the staff’s decision to hand him the ball to start the season, but the sample size is also very small.
Buchner’s performance on the road in Columbus also shouldn’t be discounted entirely just because the follow-up a week later was as bad as it was. After Notre Dame’s narrow loss to the Buckeyes, Freeman liked what he saw from Buchner. “I mean, we got ourselves a quarterback,” he said after the loss.
“I was pleased, for a second-year guy in his first collegiate start in that type of environment and in that type of game, I was really pleased,” Freeman said.
The wide receiver situation that Buchner found when he returned to practice was quite a bit different than the one he played with in September as well. Jayden Thomas hadn’t yet made a mark at that point in the season. Deion Colzie was still coming back from injury. Freshman Tobias Merriweather was still adjusting to college football. Since then, Thomas became a steady target, Colzie emerged at the end of the season, and Merriweather flashed before missing the season’s final two games with a concussion.
Will playing behind a better offensive line and having more established receivers to throw to alone make Buchner better than what we saw against Marshall? No, but he will have a chance to show that he’s a lot better than the quarterback that we saw struggle that afternoon.