Marcus Freeman: 'It was time' to name Tyler Buchner as Notre Dame's starting quarterback
SOUTH BEND – Long considered the prohibitive favorite to open the season as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, Tyler Buchner learned in a Friday night position meeting he had indeed won the two-man battle with Drew Pyne.
Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman made the public announcement Saturday, three weeks before the fifth-ranked Irish open the season at No. 2 Ohio State. It will be the first career start for Buchner, who appeared in 10 games as a freshman last season, mostly as a change-of-pace option to Jack Coan.
“We just felt like it was time,” Freeman said. “It was time to give the offense clarity on who’s going to be the starting quarterback.”
Calling it an “extremely difficult decision” and one he and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees “spent an enormous amount of time” discussing, Freeman cited the “entire body of work” from both quarterbacks.
Buchner, the top returning rusher on the team after a 336-yard, three-touchdown debut season with his legs, has just 35 career pass attempts. That’s the fewest for a Notre Dame season-opening starter since Brandon Wimbush had five pass attempts heading into 2017.
Buchner, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season, passed for 298 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in 2021. He did not appear in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State and missed the Blue-Gold Game with a sprained ankle after impressing the coaching staff through the first 13 practices.
“It’s not really a seven-practice decision,” Freeman said. “Those guys both can give us a chance to win – both of them. But we just think Tyler brings a dynamic element with his feet, the ability to extend plays. To have a quarterback running game, that really added into this decision.”
Buchner, a highly touted recruit from the San Diego area, missed his senior season at Helix High School due to Covid-19 restrictions. He last started in 2019 while at The Bishops School in La Jolla, Calif.
“I don’t know if it’s completely hit me yet,” Buchner said. “t’s a blessing, and I’m really thankful and blessed to be in this position. My teammates have been awesome in supporting me (and) the coaching staff for believing in me. It’s a pretty surreal feeling.”
Pyne, a redshirt sophomore, showed promise in mop-up appearances last season against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. His leadership skills are advanced, but the Irish are counting on Buchner to grow into that part of the role as his physical gifts take hold.
Rees noted Buchner played three quarters at Virginia Tech in a hostile environment last October, although Coan was brought back in to lead a late comeback victory. Buchner also performed well under pressure against Toledo, USC and North Carolina as a freshman, Rees said.
“I’ve been in games in some pretty big spots,” Buchner said. “I feel confident in myself in those situations. Who knows what it will be like at Ohio State? I’m sure it will be extremely loud. Continue to execute and focus on football and everything else, the fans and the stadium and all that, we’ll try to not think about that.”
Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for NDInsider.com and the South Bend Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.