Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 12 Tyler Buchner, sophomore starting QB

Tyler Buchner
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-1, 215 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Buchner has three seasons of eligibility remaining after appearing in 10 games last season.
Depth Chart: Barring injury, Buchner will be Notre Dame’s starter at Ohio State in 39 days. Disabuse any notions of a preseason quarterback competition. If Irish head coach Marcus Freeman claims one exists, recognize it is a competition in name only. Junior Drew Pyne will be Buchner’s backup this season.
Recruiting: Unlike the quarterback recruitments of the last six months, Buchner made life simple and drama-free. He committed to Notre Dame nearly two years before he could sign, and despite the typical list of powerhouses chasing the No. 112 overall player in the class and the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback, he never wavered from that commitment.

CAREER TO DATE
Buchner took the field for the first time in the second game of his freshman season, working in a sub-package role even if former Irish head coach Brian Kelly insisted that was not the case. Buchner’s first career snap featured him taking the snap around the right side of the line for a 26-yard gain from deep inside Notre Dame’s own territory, part of rushing seven times for 68 yards against Toledo to help spur a stagnant Irish offense. He also completed all three of his pass attempts that afternoon, gaining 78 yards largely due to a 55-yard catch-and-run touchdown courtesy of Chris Tyree.

He would not work as more of a passer than a runner until starter Jack Coan utterly struggled at Virginia Tech, leading to Buchner starring for two quarters. While he ran 12 times for 67 yards and a score, he also threw for 113 yards and a touchdown on 6-of-14 passing.

But two of those eight incompletions were interceptions, and then a sprained ankle forced Buchner to the sideline. Coan led a game-winning drive, spawning the largely-successful “Hurry Up Jack” offense. With that momentum, Buchner’s role diminished through the end of the season, to the extent that he did not even play in the Fiesta Bowl.

2021: 10 games; 21-of-35 passing for 298 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. 46 carries for 336 yards with three more touchdowns.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
Buchner did not get a cut of offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ pay raise this winter, but Buchner and the rest of the quarterbacks publicly calling for one in order to retain Rees was one of the more notable moments in the chaotic first week of December for Notre Dame football.

QUOTES
A knee injury and then the pandemic robbed Buchner of what would have been years of starting experience in high school. Instead he started for only one season and threw 439 career passes in high school. Adding in 35 pass attempts last year helped his growth, and he showed both progress and mistakes reading live coverages, but that was all only a start.

He is, in every way, still a very young quarterback. Even Buchner realizes development is ahead of him, including in his throwing motion.

“Throwing-wise, it’s my front shoulder,” he said this spring of needed progress. “Keep my front shoulder tight and keeping a good base. Really using the ground to get as much power as I can into the throw.”

Buchner likely noticed that need in film study, something he takes to eagerly, partly because his brain works in a way one might not expect from a college freshman or sophomore. In November on the ND on NBC Podcast, when Jac Collinsworth asked Buchner what he would do for a career if he could not play football, the then-freshman responded with a very practical yet ideal answer.

“If in a purely hypothetical world I played in the league and had enough money, I would retire, teach high school history and be a high school football coach,” Buchner said. “… I just really love history. It’s one of the things in school I’ve always had a passion for. I’ve always been interested in those classes.

“I think you can learn a lot from history, not make the same mistakes people did. I think it’s fun looking at — it’s kind of like watching film, honestly, in football. You’re [looking over] everything that happened and the strategy and the things people did. You can learn from that, or that worked well, do that again.”

Some of that same logic probably also plays a role in Buchner’s occasional online poker hobby.

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“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. …

“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.’”

2022 OUTLOOK
First, do not sprain an ankle walking down the stairs again. Maybe do not take phone calls while walking down the stairs. Doing so cost Buchner the 2022 Blue-Gold Game. He certainly would have played if the game had been more than an exhibition, but the brief scare still underscores the concerns of leaning on a mobile quarterback.

Buchner will be exposed to hits in 2022. He will seek out some of them.

If Buchner stays healthy, he should be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback throughout the season. A rash of interceptions a la that Virginia Tech showing could force Pyne into action, but the only defenses that should strike genuine fear into Buchner are also the games in which his big-play potential will be most vital. (Ohio State, BYU, Clemson. Something could also be said for Cal’s traditionally stout defense, but that offense should be so woeful, the Irish defense might outscore it.)

Furthermore, Freeman’s primary offensive input this spring was to preach against turnovers, only natural given a former defensive coordinator knows how much a focus they are on the other side of the ball. Presuming that harping got through to Buchner this spring, he should keep Notre Dame largely on task this fall.

There will be mistakes. He has not seen enough live action to think otherwise. If he averages an interception per game, the question will be if he can produce twice that in touchdowns, passing and rushing combined.

That may seem a low bar, but frame Buchner’s success around the Irish offense’s success. If he scores twice per game, and a running back gets into the end zone once each week — let’s add two field goals for modest measure — that is a quick 27 points per game. Last year’s relatively high-scoring offense averaged 35.2 points per game, and this exercise got nearly within a touchdown of that while asking for the bare minimum from Buchner and discounting any defensive scoring.

That is all to say Notre Dame will not need Buchner to be a world-beater. If he succeeds twice as often as he fails, the Irish should be in good position. Anything worse than that, though, and Notre Dame will have reason to fret both in 2022 and moving forward.

DOWN THE ROAD
If Buchner achieves that modest suggestion, then he will start in 2023 with hefty expectations heaped upon him. A modestly successful sophomore season for an Irish starting quarterback would inevitably lead to Heisman conversations next August.

Such is the yoke carried by that specific position.

It would be undue hype, most likely a year early.

Perhaps that is the way to view Buchner: He hardly started at quarterback in high school. He played a specific sparkplug role as a freshman. He should strike a balance between dynamic and serviceable in his first season as a collegiate starter. That gradual progress would lead to a breakout in 2024.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow
No. 24 Jack Kiser, senior linebacker, second-year starter
No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety
No. 22 Logan Diggs, sophomore running back with a shoulder injury
No. 21 Jaden Mickey, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 20 Benjamin Morrison, freshman cornerback
No. 18 Chance Tucker, sophomore cornerback
No. 18 Steve Angeli, freshman QB, Blue-Gold Game star
No. 17 Jaylen Sneed, early-enrolled linebacker, Rover of the future
No. 16 Brandon Joseph, Northwestern transfer, preseason All-American, starting safety
No. 16 Deion Colzie, sophomore receiver
No. 15 Tobias Merriweather, freshman receiver, forever a memorable recruitment
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, sophomore cornerback
No. 14 Bryce McFerson, freshman punter facing a Harvard challenge
No. 13 Gi’Bran Payne, freshman running back, late recruit
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL