Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

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Listed measurements: 5-foot-11 ½, 200 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A junior, Pyne still has all four seasons of eligibility remaining. Obviously, the 2020 season did not count against his eligibility clock, not that it would have anyway since he played in only four games, and then Notre Dame judiciously used him in only two games last season, preserving another season of play down the line.
Depth Chart: Pyne will back up sophomore Tyler Buchner at Ohio State in 37 days. Ignore any talk in preseason practices of a quarterback competition, even if it is used in headlines.
Recruiting: An Under Armour All-American and consensus four-star prospect, Pyne’s offer sheet may be a better indicator of his talent than even those accolades, an indicator that may help explain why Notre Dame catered to his eligibility last season.

As the No. 7 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2020 and No. 118 overall recruit, per rivals.com, Pyne chose the Irish over Alabama, LSU and Michigan.

CAREER TO DATE
With Brendon Clark injured, Pyne rose to No. 2 quarterback as a freshman, backing up Ian Book as Notre Dame found its way to the College Football Playoff. Pyne played in four games, logging stats in only two: a 52-0 blowout of South Florida and the Playoff semifinal loss to Alabama.

He entered 2021 back in the No. 2 spot, thanks to Jack Coan’s graduate transfer from Wisconsin. When Coan suffered an injury against the Badgers, Pyne stepped in to lead a touchdown drive that could have been remembered as absolutely pivotal if not for the fourth-quarter defensive onslaught unleashed by the Irish.

Memorably, Pyne pointed to Coan as a motivating factor when he joined the huddle after Coan’s injury, underscoring both their strong relationship and the personal nature of the game for Coan.

Pyne then played in the second half of Notre Dame’s loss to Cincinnati, replacing Coan as the Irish offense stagnated. Alas, that spark was too little, too late.

2020: 4 games; 2-of-3 passing for 12 yards. One rush for four yards.
2021: 2 games; 15-of-30 passing for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Six rushes for a loss of six yards.

QUOTES
Both Pyne and Buchner excelled in not saying much when they were meeting with the media this spring. That is meant as a compliment, as this space subscribes to Crash Davis’ feelings about young players and the important usage of clichés early in their careers, even if it comes at the expense of juicy narratives and excess clicks.

But two notes tied to offensive assistant coaches can illustrate the spring put forth by Pyne.

First of all, he focused on every detail of his game, repeatedly insisting he tries to work on everything, not just his weaknesses. Improving his strengths adds value, too. It is unclear if his exact understanding of the design of an inside-outside zone run play was a weakness or a strength, but that is how far into the nitty-gritty Pyne delves.

“I was in here with [offensive line coach Harry] Hiestand yesterday for an hour and a half going through just simple inside-outside zone just with the line,” Pyne said in mid-March.

The one area of his game that is a weakness for all quarterbacks is turnovers. Pyne did not throw an interception last season, but he then threw two interceptions in the Blue-Gold Game, with a third invalidated by penalty. Fortunately for Pyne and Buchner, their offensive coordinator is well aware of how vital it is to avoid turnovers.

“I know how critical it is through my own mistakes,” Tommy Rees said this spring in a moment of self-deprecation.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Coan will start in Tallahassee, but Pyne presents a viable option should Coan struggle at any point this season. Presenting failure as the necessity to spur a quarterback controversy is not the vibe anyone is looking for heading into a season, but that may be what it takes for Pyne to usurp Coan this season.

“That is not a knock on Pyne. It is the obvious reality of the Irish seeking out a graduate transfer even before the NCAA approved the one-time transfer rule this spring. They wanted someone proven to raise the floor on the 2021 season, and Coan represents that.

“But even with those odds stacked against Pyne, he will once again be one play away from taking over at all times, and that duty is needed more years than not. …

“The odds will be stacked against Pyne again in 2022, with broad expectations of current freshman Tyler Buchner taking over after Coan. Buchner is the more heralded recruit, but he also hasn’t played since 2019 and by no means was Pyne a meager prospect, as outlined above.

“They will both have their chance in the spring of 2022, and that should be an enjoyable quarterback competition, unlike the current nominal one.”

2022 OUTLOOK
As badly as Pyne played in the spring finale — 22-of-33 for 185 yards, a 5.61 yards per pass attempt average — the deck was somewhat stacked against him. With Buchner sidelined by a sprained ankle, Pyne played for both the Blue team and the Gold team, all while wearing a red jersey.

The red jersey is obviously intended to protect a quarterback, but it can also cut into the options available to him. Early-enrolled freshman Steve Angeli was able to dive for the pylon to win the game only because he was not wearing red. If he had been, there would have been an expectation he remain in the pocket or at least close to it, and the defense would have certainly tagged him down before that full extension to the goal line.

Pyne is not as much a running quarterback as Buchner, but his ability to get outside the pocket aids his passing. Without that, he was forced into some passes he may not have otherwise thrown. Now his interceptions were more simply terrible throws, but the general struggles were not entirely as bad as they seemed on the surface.

Nonetheless, they all but sealed that this quarterback competition is not genuinely an ongoing one. If Pyne had starred in that moment, Rees would have had to ponder his options all summer. Instead, Pyne put on tape the reasons he likely will not be called upon for game-in, game-out showings.

As a backup, Pyne’s mobility and figuratively-grounded approach bode well. They provide a change of pace that forces a defense to recalibrate, and that alone gives the offense a moment to breathe while the starter recovers or the gameplan adjusts.

Those same tricks do not apply as a starter.

Pyne will be needed to spell Buchner at some point. After all, the sophomore sprained his ankle walking down the stairs while on the phone this spring. That moment may be needed to win a game, a la Wisconsin last year.

DOWN THE ROAD
Notre Dame not playing Pyne in more games last season suggests a broad understanding of what his future likely holds. With Buchner presumed the Irish starter for the next two or three seasons, Pyne will need to find somewhere else to get a thorough shot at playing time.

By preserving a year of eligibility last season, the Notre Dame coaching staff saved one for Pyne’s next stop, theoretically making him a more desirable prospect to other coaching staffs. Do not scoff at that thought process; it was a generous one by the Irish coaches, although not a completely altruistic one as appeasing the best interests of the player engenders goodwill in the locker room and cuts down on the chances of an early transfer by the player in question.

Pyne will graduate at some point either this December, this May or next December. (This space is not going to speculate on his class load without explicit knowledge of it.) With a diploma in hand, he could conceivably transfer to a program needing a quarterback with two or three seasons left to play.

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. 12 Tyler Buchner, sophomore starting QB
No. 12 Jordan Botelho, a defensive end-turned-linebacker
No. 11 Ron Powlus III, sophomore QB providing steadiness to a chaotic room
No. 11 Ramon Henderson, junior cornerback-turned-safety
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL