Let Tyler Buchner take some hits before Gator Bowl return? Too risky, Marcus Freeman says

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner (12) throws as he is hit by Marshall defensive lineman Isaiah Gibson, Sr. (99) in the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium.

SOUTH BEND — Saturday marked exactly three months since Tyler Buchner last absorbed live contact on a football field — Marshall linebacker Eli Neal driving Buchner’s left shoulder into the turf at Notre Dame Stadium way back on Sept. 10.

That isn’t likely to change before the Dec. 30 Gator Bowl against No. 19 South Carolina.

“It probably won’t happen,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said Saturday. “You can’t take a chance of your quarterbacks getting hurt in practice, not at this point in the season.”

QB Plans:Tyler Buchner a 'full go' for Notre Dame, headed for TaxSlayer Gator Bowl opposite South Carolina

Ahead of schedule in his return from surgery on his nonthrowing shoulder, Buchner has been splitting first-team practice repetitions with freshman Steve Angeli in a bid to reclaim the starting quarterback job Drew Pyne vacated with his decision to enter the transfer portal.

Running back Logan Diggs had a chance to shed his red jersey late in training camp as he worked back from surgery to repair a torn labrum, but Buchner wasn’t afforded the same opportunity to test a sprained ankle that kept him out of the Blue-Gold Game.

That thinking won’t change for the bowl game, even as Buchner tries to scrape off significant rust.

“Tyler hasn’t played football for a long time,” Freeman said. “We’re just getting him in there with a bunch of different groups and letting him get acclimated. He’s looked good. He’s done a good job in practice. Steve has done a pretty good job, too.”

Notre Dame’s Tyler Buchner (12) hands off to Logan Diggs (22) during the Notre Dame vs. North Carolina NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Closing the book on pre-bowl departures

With the All-America combination of tight end Michael Mayer and defensive end Isaiah Foskey opting out of the Gator Bowl, Freeman doesn’t expect any more short-term defections for NFL Draft or transfer portal reasons.

“That was what last week was for,” Freeman said. “After the USC game, we had those conversations. I can’t predict the future, but I don’t anticipate anybody else not playing in the bowl game or going into the portal right now.”

More:Notre Dame record-holder Isaiah Foskey to skip the Gator Bowl, enter NFL Draft

Safety Brandon Joseph, who missed two November games with a high-ankle sprain, and senior defensive end Justin Ademilola have yet to clarify their plans for 2023. Joseph’s decision might depend on the recommendation of the College Advisory Committee, which has yet to return its draft projections for underclassmen to director of player personnel Dave Peloquin.

“They all have a good sense of how the NFL sees them,” Freeman said. “It isn’t hard to be able to have those conversations and communication (about) where a large group of NFL personnel sees our players.”

More:Notre Dame football star Michael Mayer declares for NFL Draft, will opt out of Gator Bowl

Meanwhile, freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather (concussion) and senior cornerback TaRiq Bracy (hamstring) returned to practice Saturday. Merriweather missed the final three regular-season games while in concussion protocol, and Bracy missed the USC game with a flareup of a hamstring issue that also kept him out of the previous Irish loss on Oct. 15 against Stanford.

Working the transfer portal

Freeman shed some light on the complex process of securing roster help via the transfer portal, which surged to more than 1,000 available players after the 45-day winter window for underclassmen opened on Dec. 5.

“It’s really trying to make those calls and research,” he said. “These guys getting into the portal, it’s a quick turnaround in terms of, ‘Are they the right fit for this program or not?’ We can’t just take anybody. We have to get the right fit for our program and for our roster.”

Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman, left, talks to quarterback Drew Pyne after they scored a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

It helps when Notre Dame has at least some recruiting history with a prospective transfer. That’s the case with Iowa wide receiver Keagan Johnson, who confirmed via social media a Notre Dame offer.

The Irish also have extended transfer offers to defensive lineman Braden Fiske (Western Michigan), wide receiver Dante Cephas (Kent State) and kicker Spencer Shrader (South Florida).

“That takes time to really investigate,” Freeman said. “That’s to identify if that’s the guy. Then you’ve got to recruit them and try to get them to believe that this is the best place for them. It’s not a quick process, but the reality is decisions have to be made pretty quickly.”

More:Culture wars: Notre Dame-USC rivalry offers modern referendum on the proper approach to the transfer portal

The early signing period for high school recruits opens Dec. 21, which only adds to the urgency of juggling projected roster numbers and roles for 2023.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.

78th Annual TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

  • Who: No. 21 Notre Dame (8-4) vs. No. 19 South Carolina (8-4) 
  • When: Friday, Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. EST 
  • Where: TIAA Bank Field (67,164), Jacksonville, Fla. 
  • TV/Radio: ABC, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM) 
  • Line: Notre Dame opens as a 4.5 -point favorite  
  • Series: Notre Dame leads 3-1 
  • Last meeting: South Carolina won 36-32 in South Bend in 1984