Joel Allen felt apprehensive about taking the training wheels off his offense and completely letting it loose.
In his 11 seasons as head coach for The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, Calif., Allen had developed a system that worked. Wrinkles were not necessary. No quarterback would be throwing late over the middle. No quarterback would be throwing across their body. No quarterback would be forcing it.
Take the five yards or throw it away.
Then came Tyler Buchner, the off-kilter quarterback now committed to Notre Dame’s 2021 recruiting class. The rare skill set of the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Buchner prompted Allen to tweak his formula. Because of Buchner's athleticism and intentional training, he can deliver throws off-platform, which means off-balance, at an unnatural angle or with a side-arm motion.
Should Buchner eventually win the starting job at Notre Dame, maybe the Irish will revolve their offense around his strengths as well.
“If it’s not there, just throw it away — you’ve heard yourself say that for years,” Allen said. “Then all of the sudden you have a kid like Tyler, and you just have to bite your tongue.”
That hesitation lingered for Allen heading into this football season. Buchner suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on play No. 4 in last year’s season opener. Embracing a looser style puts Buchner at a greater risk for another injury.
So to start the season, The Bishop’s School’s offense did not look like it does now. Buchner consequently had his worst performance in game one. He completed 18-of-32 passes (56.3 percent) for 212 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions in an 18-7 victory over La Jolla High.
Now halfway through the season, Buchner can change any play called by his offensive coordinator. He has the liberty to make more off-platform throws. Almost no decision can be a bad decision for Buchner.
Allen watched how the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs offense operated with quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who specializes in off-platform throws.
“I’m not making the statement that he’s Patrick Mahomes,” Allen said. “But you can see the Kansas City Chiefs playing football that fits their players. We are trying to coach, call plays and be the coaches that our players need.
“We let the roof off a little bit and don't contain them so much. That’s what we are trying to do.”
As a result, the Knights have averaged 59.8 points over the last four games. Buchner has completed 69.9 percent of his passes during that span and is 83-of-125 passing (66.4 percent) for 1,595 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season.
Buchner's 28 total touchdowns are a product of three full games. He took to the bench for extended stretches during blowouts. Like against Rosamond, when Buchner scored six touchdowns in the first half before sitting the rest of the way in the 57-0 win.
In the only other full game Buchner’s played, he finished 24-of-36 for 465 passing yards and five touchdowns with 265 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 20 attempts. The Knights defeated Chula Vista Mater Dei Catholic 71-42.
The total yardage of 760 came one yard short of the California high school football record held by Jorge Amaya of Los Angeles Hawkins.
“We would be doing him and the rest of his players a disservice to coach him like we have other players,” Allen said.
Recruiting sites held polarizing opinions about Buchner prior to this season, and probably still do. Only five games of relevant tape are available of Buchner. He also rarely faces elite competition. In its 10 regular season games, The Bishop’s School will not face a player ranked among the top 247 recruits on 247Sports or top 250 recruits on Rivals in both the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes.
Yet Buchner still landed scholarship offers from USC, Alabama, Oregon and others prior to his 2019 season.
An impressive recruiting camp circuit and the subsequent offers that followed resulted in Buchner emerging as a four-star recruit. 247Sports now pegs Buchner as its No. 9 pro-style quarterback and No. 103 overall player, while Rivals ranks him No. 8 at the position and No. 65 overall.
Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, saw potential in Buchner as an eighth grader. He watched Buchner compete at a UCLA recruiting camp before garnering his first scholarship offer from the Bruins.
But even Biggins was surprised by Buchner’s start to this season.
“I didn’t know he would be able to get his athleticism back so well,” Biggins said. “I thought he would just be more of a pocket passer and take care of his legs and knees. But he’s running like he’s a running back.”
Buchner holds Division I scholarship offers in lacrosse — a sport quarterback Ian Book also excelled at in high school. Buchner’s 40-yard dash of 4.65 seconds compares with Book’s speed at that stage. Both have credited lacrosse for sharpening their quickness in and out of the pocket.
Through five games, Buchner has turned 50 carries into 572 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
“With lacrosse, if you’re a dual-threat quarterback, you watch that sport and it translates to football,” Biggins said. “A guy breaks containment, he’s outside of the pocket, he’s making plays and he’s running around. A lot of similarities.
“He’s running over guys, changing direction, cutting, short area quickness, making guys miss, running physical.”
Notre Dame recruited speed and playmakers in the 2020 recruiting class, landing top recruits in wide receiver Jordan Johnson, tight end Michael Mayer and running back Chris Tyree. Buchner’s unique skill set and upside only adds more possibilities for the Irish offense down the road.
Much can change between now and when Buchner arrives in South Bend to compete with quarterbacks Phil Jurkovec, Brendon Clark and Drew Pyne. His progress will be one to monitor.
“Adversity and when it hits,” said Allen on what’s needed for Buchner’s evolution. “It hasn’t hit yet. I hope it does, because it’s something that I can’t teach him.”