Tyler Buchner's performance builds trust with Freeman: 'We got ourselves a quarterback'
SOUTH BEND — Tyler Buchner took a physical beating in losing his first career start at quarterback for Notre Dame, but he won even more respect from his teammates and coaches with the way he responded.
“He got beat up,” Irish coach Marcus Freeman said Monday. “He got hit and he continued to get up and keep going. We got ourselves a quarterback.”
Buchner’s right ankle was heavily taped as he left the field at Ohio Stadium Saturday night. Sacked three times and knocked down on several pass attempts in a 21-10 loss to second-ranked Ohio State, Buchner said the right things publicly and away from the TV cameras, according to Freeman.
“They said on the sidelines that he was the leader, and he was getting guys going and positive,” Freeman said. “There’s a strong belief in what he can do for this football program.”
Buchner, who missed the spring game with a sprained right ankle and also twisted his ankle at Virginia Tech last season, brushed aside any questions about his health in the postgame and again Monday, according to Freeman.
The fifth-ranked Irish face Marshall on Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium.
“I just saw Buchner before I came over here,” Freeman said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ “
The sophomore’s reply: “I’m good. I’m good, coach. I’m ready to go.”
Jaden Mickey, Ben Morrison have special 'Sauce'
“To play and perform at the level they did in that game as true freshmen, wow, they are going to be special,” Freeman said. “Those two players are going to be special football players for our program for years to come.”
While Mickey (12 snaps, according to PFF-College.com) was burned for a 24-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Johnson late in the third quarter, that came on his only play at slot corner after TaRiq Bracy briefly left the game. Left in single coverage on an all-out blitz that failed on third-and-11, Mickey wasn’t able to maintain inside leverage on a post route.
“It’s not just on him,” Freeman said.
Morrison, who played 29 snaps on defense, had a pass breakup and three tackles while briefly jawing with star running back TreVeyon Henderson after a jarring sideline collision.
Freeman credited cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens for his strong belief in both young talents, evoking the name of Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner from their time at Cincinnati. Gardner, a three-star recruit from Detroit, blossomed in his one season with Mickens and went fourth overall to the New York Jets in the latest NFL Draft.
“Coach Mick is the same guy that evaluated Sauce Gardner," Freeman said. "For me, as a defensive coordinator (at Cincinnati): 'Ahhh, I don't know.' He said, 'No, Sauce Gardner is the guy.' Same thing with (Mickey and Morrison). He stood on the table: 'This is the guy.' He does a great job of evaluating talent and then developing their skill.”
Plan for injured offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson
Preseason All-American Jarrett Patterson (sprained right foot) remains questionable for the home opener.
Patterson, who had started 34 of Notre Dame’s past 38 games at center, was unable to make his first career start at left guard on Saturday in Columbus. Sophomore Andrew Kristofic, making his eighth straight start at left guard, replaced Patterson.
“Sometimes just the excitement and what that environment will do for you will numb the pain, but (Patterson) wasn’t able to go after warmups,” Freeman said. “If he’s ready to go, we’re going to play him this week.”
'How does the punter cramp?'
Senior linebacker and team captain Bo Bauer received intravenous fluids Saturday after being carted off early in the third quarter with cramping issues in his legs, Freeman said.
Bauer, who finished with four tackles, returned after a few minutes.
Jon Sot, the graduate transfer from Harvard, also dealt with cramping issues on a steamy night when he punted eight times, including a 75-yard blast, and had three punts downed inside the 20.
“I was like, ‘How does the punter cramp?’ Holy Cow,” Freeman said with a laugh. “I don’t know if he had to get fluids, but I did hear he was cramping, which just shocked the heck out of me. That environment and the atmosphere adds to the pressure already on you. It adds a little bit of anxiety to you.”
Backup punter Bryce McFerson was dealing with a groin injury. Zac Yoakam, a freshman walk-on from Upper Arlington, Ohio; replaced him for kickoff duties and forced touchbacks on two of his three kicks.
Linebacker Junior Tuihalamaka, who was part of multiple special-teams units on Saturday, was the fourth and final freshman to appear in the opener. Tuihalamaka was on the field for nine out of 12 possible snaps in combined kick and punt coverage and punt return.
Learning curve for freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather
With Notre Dame opening as a 20-point favorite against the Thundering Herd, fans are hoping for their first look at freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather and young tight ends Eli Raridon and Holden Staes.
Merriweather had a minor knee or hamstring injury that slowed him during training camp, Freeman said, and must continue to gain the coaching staff’s faith. The same holds for the young tight ends who flashed often during camp but still need to bring their precision up to the level of their talent.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” Freeman said of Merriweather, the four-star recruit from Vancouver, Wash. “He’s continued to progress. He’s going to help us. How fast that happens will be determined on the execution in practice.”
Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for NDInsider.com and the South Bend Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino and on TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.