Instant observations: Notre Dame's latest flavors of the week at QB carry Irish to win

Eric Hansen
ND Insider

Bottom Line

Brian Kelly vowed to stop the quarterback carousel, at least at the top of the depth chart.

No more flavor of the week, the Notre Dame head football coach said, heading into Saturday night’s matchup at Virginia Tech.

► Scoring summary: No. 14 Notre Dame 32, Virginia Tech 29

Then came the football equivalent of Ketchup-Licorice Swirl. And it never tasted so good.

Grad senior Jack Coan started and finished No. 14 Notre Dame’s 32-29 come-from-behind win Saturday night at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. But freshman Tyler Buchner logged some valuable playing time in between the extremes from Coan toward what ND’s future may look like at QB.

Notre Dame’s Jack Coan (17) looks to throw against Virginia Tech Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Blacksburg, Va. Coan, started the game, was benched, then returned in the final minutes to lead the Irish to a 32-29 win over the Hokies.

Kicker Jonathan Doerer nailed a 48-yard field goal with 17 seconds left as the Irish scored the final 11 points of the game. 

Seemingly inexplicably, Kelly opted for immobile Coan behind a still struggling offensive line against statistically the best sacking team Notre Dame (5-1) has seen or will see this season.

Changing quarterbacks to Buchner on the first Irish drive of the second quarter was a victory in itself for the distant future of the program and perhaps its near future.

The actual victory at Virginia Tech (3-2), which had its own QB drama, was the 36th successive win for the Irish over unranked teams and the 21st straight regular-season win over ACC competition. 

Buchner entered with the Irish down 10-0 and the ND offense producing 27 yards in 13 plays with Coan running the offense. Buchner ran for a TD, threw for one and coaxed the Irish offense to 151 yards on 19 plays over the balance of the half, with ND leading 14-13 at the break.

He showed some growing pains in the second half, throwing two picks, before leaving midway through the fourth quarter with a trip to the injury tent.

Neither QB had the luxury of throwing to sophomore tight end Michael Mayer, ND’s leading receiver, who was held out with an adductor strain. But Coan led the Irish 75 yards in seven plays for the trying touchdown, with a two-point conversion pass to Kevin Austin. He then got the Irish in field goal range to complete the comeback.  

Big Picture

The Irish don’t have the feel of a New Year’s Six Bowl team right now, but kept themselves in contention to grow into one by picking up the road victory.

Notre Dame’s Tyler Buchner (12) at quarterback during the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Blacksburg, Va.

Questions Answered

Could the Irish rise to the occasion with key injuries and other adversity in a difficult environment?

Questions Lingering

How will the quarterback carousel end?

My Game Balls Go To

Offense: Jack Coan and Tyler Buchner. The Irish needed both to pull out the win..

Defense/Special Team: Defensive end Isaiah Foskey: The junior collected six tackles with a sack and a QB hurry. Kicker Jonathan Doerer with his clutch field goal.

The Road Ahead

Notre Dame heads into a bye week before resuming the season Oct. 23 against rival USC (3-3) in a night game at Notre Dame Stadium. It’ll also be the key in-season recruiting event of 2021. Kelly is 13-2 in games following a scheduled bye week at ND.