For all the praise Marcus Freeman has gotten for being a breath of fresh air at Notre Dame this offseason, perhaps the most underrated piece of appreciated change has been his approach to naming the starting Irish quarterback.
One week into preseason practices, Freeman named sophomore Tyler Buchner the starter, beating out junior Drew Pyne for the role. This had been long expected by nearly everyone around the program, but the announcement still lent some definitiveness to the offense. In Freeman’s mind, that was an advantage.
“There’s a little bit of that confidence in the offense in terms of knowing who’s the starting quarterback,” Freeman said Monday. “That’s why we named the starting quarterback when we felt like it was right. The earlier we can name it, the earlier you can build that confidence and that consistency amongst that offensive unit.”
Yet a handful of coaches refuse to do so every preseason. The two at the top of the list this year are at LSU and Cincinnati, but they are not alone. (Note: This should not be construed as a Brian Kelly criticism. He was just as quick last preseason naming Jack Coan as the Irish starter as Freeman was with Buchner this year.)
They insist the ambiguity of their depth chart will make life more difficult for their opponents. If anything, the public questioning may make life more difficult for themselves.
“[Buchner has] done a really good job these past couple of weeks of making good decisions, taking care of the football and making plays,” Freeman said. “He’s done a good job making plays.”
That may not have been the overwhelming case if Buchner was still worried Pyne might leapfrog him in these next few days while the public guessed about Notre Dame’s starting passer.
BUT AT SAFETY, NO STARTER YET
Freeman did not name either fifth-year safety as the starter alongside Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph. Both DJ Brown and Houston Griffith will get some playing time there, but one has to start, simply enough. In depth chart terms, this becomes an “OR” listing, more a punchline than a useful distinction.
“I don’t know if we have it listed as ‘OR,’ but both of them played (last year) probably about the same amount,” Freeman said.
If pressured to guess, this space would give the nod to Brown because he may fit best alongside Joseph. The preseason All-American is known for his ballhawk penchant. The assignment-sound Brown may be a better complement to that risk-taking.
But either way, the Irish will need both Brown and Griffith at No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday (7:30 ET; ABC). The same goes for the three established cornerbacks: senior Cam Hart, fifth-year Tariq Bracy and junior Clarence Lewis. Their exact pecking order probably will not matter against what should be the best offense in the country this season.
“We believe that those three guys and the ability for those guys to rotate and stay fresh is important for us to try to keep up with some of these really good Ohio State receivers,” Freeman said. “… You want five corners, six corners nowadays with tempo offenses and with those guys running go routes. You look at that Ohio State receiver room, the depth of that room is as long as any.
“Those guys can rotate guys in and just take the top off the defense. We have to have the ability to rotate guys.”
Freeman specifically mentioned two freshmen cornerbacks that may rotate in, Jaden Mickey and Benjamin Morrison. He may “expect both of them to play for us on Saturday,” but significant exposure from either would be a bit of a surprise when factoring in the number of safeties with experience at cornerback, a listing that includes Joseph, Griffith and junior Ramon Henderson.
But just in case, let’s give Notre Dame fans a heads-up: Mickey is No. 21, standing just under 6-foot. Morrison is No. 20, a touch taller.
ON Marist Liufau
Some preseason consternation focused on Liufau’s limited snaps in August practices as he returns to game-action after suffering a dislocated ankle 53 weeks ago. In one instance, those limitations continued into a “mock game” this weekend, but in a way that pleased Freeman.
“It was a situation we’re working into games. I said, it’s an offensive drill and I want to put some things on film. Marist Liufau almost lost his mind, ‘Coach, I can’t compete for the ball?’” Freeman said. “That’s what you want. You want a bunch of coaches and a bunch of players that are so competitive that you have to pull them back.”
#NotreDame wins the coin toss, defers.
Irish 5-and-out, running on four plays.
Marvin Harrison Jr. touchdown.
Trailing 14-0, ND gets away from the run, needs the best game of Tyler Buchner's coming career to keep up with Ohio State.https://t.co/RaYVlVgNJj
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) August 30, 2022
INSIDE THE IRISH
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— Tyler James (@TJamesND) August 25, 2022