Notre Dame football readies itself for Pyne time at quarterback in Tyler Buchner's absence

Mike Berardino
South Bend Tribune
Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne (10) during the Notre Dame vs. Marshall NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND — Tyler Buchner’s sophomore season is suddenly over after two games due to injury. Deep down, Tommy Rees had to fear this day was coming.

Back on Aug. 13, as Buchner publicly earned the nod as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback, the Irish’s third-year offensive coordinator made it clear that disappointed backup Drew Pyne had to stay ready.

“This program needs Drew Pyne,” Rees said. “There is zero doubt in my mind. I don’t know when, how, why, where, but this program needs him right now and this program is going to need him moving forward. He needs to be ready to play.”

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Pyne, the redshirt sophomore who finished out Saturday’s 26-21 loss to Marshall, was the obvious choice to replace Buchner in the starting role after Monday’s news made it official. Pyne completed 3 of 6 passes for 20 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown pass to Michael Mayer with 14 seconds left.

Buchner, whose left shoulder was trapped beneath the weight of 228-pound linebacker Eli Neal, was injured on a 4-yard run with 3:30 remaining. Pyne also threw an interception and took a sack on a two-point try.

Head coach Marcus Freeman said Monday that as a result of the a Grade 5 (out of 6) acromioclavicular sprain in his left, non-throwing shoulder, Buchner is done for at least the next four months of recovery time. He confirmed that Pyne would be the starter moving forward.

For Pyne, a product of New Canaan, Conn., this will be his first college start after throwing 33 combined passes in relief outings last season against Wisconsin and Cincinnati.

Notre Dame quarterback Steve Angeli (18) hands off to running back Audric Estime (24) during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

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Freshman Steve Angeli, who enrolled in January and scored the game-winning touchdown in the Blue-Gold Game in April, moves up to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Ron Powlus III, a redshirt freshman, becomes the third-string quarterback.

“There’s not 15 guys in this program that are more important to Notre Dame than Drew Pyne,” Rees said on Aug. 13. I cannot give him enough credit for the way he’s prepared, practiced (and) put himself in a position to be the best version of him. He needs to continue to lead (and) be a guy that everyone counts on.

Notre Dame’s play sheet might look different on Saturday against Cal, but there are other aspects of the offense that might benefit from the change. While Buchner was a weapon on designed runs, Pyne scrambles to give his receivers time to get open downfield.

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Smaller in stature than Buchner, Pyne compensates with superior accuracy at this point in their careers. And while Buchner generally threw a better deep ball, Pyne has shown enough arm strength to stretch the field horizontally while fitting short and intermediate passes into tight windows.

The lion’s share of first-team practice repetitions had gone to Buchner since he won the brief camp battle, but Pyne had already impressed his teammates and the coaching staff with his steady improvement.

“It was a very hard decision,” Rees said a week into camp. “Drew has been the best Drew Pyne he’s been since he’s been at Notre Dame, which is a huge credit to him.”

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Angeli, a three-star recruit from Bergen (N.J.) Catholic High School, ran the scout-team offense in the run-up to the season-opening loss at Ohio State. Wearing a red jersey with the No. 7 of Heisman Trophy-candidate C.J. Stroud, the Buckeyes’ quarterback, gave Angeli a chance to practice his RPO reads and fling the ball around the practice field.

During the last open practice period that included 11-on-11 drills, Angeli closed things out with a lofted 20-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Holden Staes in the right corner of the end zone. The Irish sideline erupted in cheers as Angeli banked another positive memory for down the road.

“I think we’ve all been around this game long enough to know that you better have two (quarterbacks) that can help you win games,” Rees said on Aug. 13.

Rees, who went 23-8 as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback from 2010-13, knows better than anyone on the current staff just how unpredictable the path can be in that spotlight role. The last time Notre Dame opened a season with two straight losses, it was Rees, as the losing quarterback, who seethed on the four-hour bus ride back from Ann Arbor, Mich.

Brian Kelly’s second season quickly turned around with an upset of 15th-ranked Michigan State and current Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Irish would reel off wins in four straight games and eight of their next nine.

The next season they played for the national championship.