Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 12 Tyler Buchner, early-enrolled freshman quarterback, former four-star recruit

Tyler Buchner
Notre Dame Athletics
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1, 207 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: An early enrollee this past spring, Buchner has four seasons of eligibility ahead of him.
Depth Chart: Irish head coach Brian Kelly may claim a position competition is active at quarterback this preseason, but Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan will start for Notre Dame on Labor Day Eve (40 days), and sophomore Drew Pyne will back him up. Beyond them, though, Buchner will be competing with junior Brendon Clark and his balky knee for third-string reps, valuable opportunities for any young quarterback.
Recruiting: The No. 112 overall player in the class of 2021, per rivals.com, and the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback, Buchner was sought by the typical list of powerhouses, but he never wavered from his Irish commitment despite making it in March of 2019, 21 full months before he could sign on the dotted line.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Perform on the field and the money will follow. That day may not come in 2021, but Buchner’s spring suggests it will come in due time.

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN BUCHNER SIGNED
“Expectations for Buchner should be measured because 1) they always should be, exhibit A: Phil Jurkovec; and 2) he has not played in more than a year, and will not see competitive action for at least another nine months. Losing his senior season in California cost Buchner valuable game reps, and only time will help compensate for that.”

CAREER TO DATE
No, this is not a usual category for a freshman, even an early-enrollee who completed 6 of 9 passes for 140 yards in the Blue-Gold Game, adding three rushes for six yards and a touchdown. But Buchner impressed in that spring finale, prompting this space to look ahead, beyond 2021.

“Buchner handled the moment just fine in front of a few thousand fans. Both his first two drives ended in touchdowns, something neither Coan nor Pyne achieved even once. If Buchner’s performance is a harbinger for things to come in 2022 or 2023, Notre Dame should be encouraged.

“That is the proper reaction, though. Buchner’s showing proved he has a solid foundation that should reap rewards in years to come, but not this year.”

But the part of Buchner’s career that most warrants notice is the lack thereof. Not only is he a freshman, but he missed his senior season in high school due to the pandemic — California played in the spring, when Buchner was already in South Bend. Per Irish Sports Daily’s Jamie Uyeyama, Buchner threw 439 passes in high school, across 13 games as a starter and 23 games total. That is, to put it bluntly, a pittance.

Pyne had 1,111 pass attempts in his prep career across 49 games; Clark fell behind that pace but still doubled Buchner’s work with 888 attempts in 45 games.

Game reps matter, at any level. Buchner lacks them more than any other quarterback on the Notre Dame roster, even the ones that have hardly played at the college level.

QUOTES
That lack of experience showed when spring practices began, but within a week, Buchner began looking more like the recruit the Irish sought.

“We started to see some of the rust come off of Tyler Buchner,” Kelly said. “Today was a really good day for him. He was much more comfortable out there, threw the ball with a lot more confidence, and I say this in that he hadn’t played football for a year, so it was nice to see him out there. He had a smile on his face, he had some confidence.”

A week later, Kelly was spinning Buchner’s time on the shelf as a positive, at least in terms of how it made his spring growth appear.

“If you want to say who’s made the most progress, it’s probably Tyler Buchner, just because he hasn’t played or hadn’t played a lot when he got here,” Kelly said. “His motion is really fluid. He’s throwing the ball very well.

“He’s learning a lot, right? He’s got a lot to learn about our offensive structure and just the nuances now. He knows football. He’s very smart, tremendously smart. You tell him something in a meeting and his recall is quite amazing, but just because you know it, it doesn’t happen naturally. He needs reps, but he’s made a lot of progress.”

It may come across like a scratched record (a problem in this literal office at the moment), but even offensive coordinator Tommy Rees spent his springtime comments on Buchner discussing rust and his layoff.

“He had not played football in over a year,” Rees said in mid-April. “That rust is starting to wear off pretty nicely here. His raw talent and ability has shown up. His ability to make quick decisions has shown up. The ball comes out of his hand as quickly as anybody we have.

“He’s able to drive the ball to different areas of the field, which allows us to stretch it not only vertically, but also the width. The added bonus there is he’s an elite athlete. There have been some opportunities to get him out in space, and that’s been really exciting to watch.”

2021 OUTLOOK
After Buchner’s effective Blue-Gold showing, Kelly would not rule out finding a way to get the freshman on the field this fall, but that should be viewed more as vernal coachspeak than reality.

Five quarterbacks previously enrolled early during Kelly’s 12 springs at Notre Dame, and only Rees ever found genuine playing time in his freshman season, a necessity created by a late-season injury to Dayne Crist. (The others: Everett Golson, Gunner Kiel, Malik Zaire, Drew Pyne.)

The Irish have two quarterbacks to consider in Coan and Pyne, both with more and more recent playing time than Buchner at any level. Well, perhaps not more recent for Coan, but leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl counts by magnitudes.

Buchner will have plenty to work on this fall, simply in reestablishing muscle memory and learning the entire offensive playbook. Whatever helps get that done, he should focus on, and then Notre Dame fans can also look forward to him impressing in a few blowouts throughout the season, spurring unnecessary but inevitable debate about why he isn’t already playing more.

DOWN THE ROAD
Irish fans may be scarred by Phil Jurkovec’s great recruiting hype followed by absolutely no production at Notre Dame, scars now brought back to the sunlight by hype surrounding Jurkovec and Boston College this summer, but Buchner is not Jurkovec. The comparisons should not continue, simply because one-to-one comparisons hold little merit in any such conversation given the obvious nature of the sample size.

Buchner’s time will come in South Bend; as of 2022 his primary competition will be Pyne, who aside from a year’s head start under Rees, has little advantage over Buchner. Until Clark can make it through 12 months without a knee concern, that will be his dominating storyline.

In 2022, Buchner and Pyne will be a quarterback competition worth fretting over, unlike this summer. If Pyne is the better quarterback, that will be a good thing for the Irish, because it will mean he has continued to develop at a rapid rate. If it is Buchner, however, well then all things are going according to plan.

“We are trying to build something toward the future,” Rees said in April. “That’s where our focus has been with Tyler.”

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 91 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, freshman receiver, four-star prospect out of Georgia
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 55 Kahanu Kia, freshman linebacker, Hawaiian, LDS member
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 47 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 32 Prince Kollie, freshman linebacker, Butkus Award winner
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on
No. 29 Khari Gee, freshman safety, former LSU commit
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, senior cornerback, possible nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, junior linebacker
No. 26 Clarence Lewis, sophomore cornerback, second-year starter
No. 25 Philip Riley, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, speedy sophomore running back
No. 24 Jack Kiser, junior linebacker, onetime pandemic hero
No. 24 Audric Estime, freshman running back, former Michigan State commit, four-star
No. 23 Litchfield Ajavon, junior safety
No. 23 Kyren Williams, junior running back
No. 22 Logan Diggs, incoming freshman running back
No. 21 Lorenzo Styles, early-enrolled freshman receiver
No. 21 Caleb Offord, sophomore cornerback
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, senior running back, coming off an offseason with a smirch
No. 20 Justin Walters, early-enrolled freshman safety and likely early special teams contributor
No. 20 JoJo Johnson, freshman cornerback, former Cincinnati commit
No. 19 Jay Bramblett, junior punter
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, senior defensive end
No. 18 Joe Wilkins Jr., senior receiver, team favorite
No. 18 Nana Osafo-Mensah, junior defensive end, coming back from a knee injury
No. 18 Chance Tucker, freshman cornerback
No. 17 Jack Coan, graduate quarterback, Wisconsin transfer
No. 17 Jordan Botelho, sophomore defensive end, full-speed at all times
No. 16 Deion Colzie, incoming freshman receiver with both speed and leaping height
No. 16 KJ Wallace, junior safety, possible starting nickel back
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 14 Kyle Hamilton, junior safety, preseason All-American, top 2022 draft prospect
No. 13 Paul Moala, senior linebacker coming off an Achilles injury
No. 13 Lawrence Keys, senior receiver