Practice notes: Tyler Buchner set to reclaim starting QB role for Notre Dame in Gator Bowl

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame Football team practice at Fernandina Beach High School in Amelia Island on Monday, Dec.26th, 2022.

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner remains on track to start Friday’s Gator Bowl against 19th-ranked South Carolina.

“Right now that would probably be the plan to go with Tyler with the 1s,” Irish coach Marcus Freeman said before Monday’s practice under the lights at Fernandina Beach High School.

Through 10 bowl practices back in South Bend, Buchner and freshman Steve Angeli had split repetitions with the first-team offense. That will change this week, Freeman said, with Angeli slated to take second-team practice reps.

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Buchner’s surgically repaired left (nonthrowing) shoulder won’t be tested with any live contact this week, but he’s shown enough to make his first start since Marshall’s Eli Neal drove him into the turf on Sept. 10.

“He’s done great,” Freeman said. “He’s progressing from not playing football for so many weeks. Every day he gets better and better in his decision-making and just getting back there and having live reps. To have him out there getting live reps has been really good.”

Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner throws a pass during practice as Steve Angeli waits his turn at Fernandina Beach High School in Amelia Island, Fla. on Monday, Dec. 26, 2022

Through 12 college games, Buchner has rushed for 439 yards on 57 carries (7.7-yard average) with five touchdowns, 25 first downs and a long gain of 68 yards. He has forced 13 missed tackles and piled up 220 yards after contact – more than half his total – but it remains to be seen how much he’ll be asked to run as he returns from surgery.  

Last dance for Jayson Ademilola

Western Michigan grad transfer Braden Fiske, a fast-rising defensive tackle who visited Notre Dame at the start of the month, announced Monday he would enroll at Florida State instead.

Notre Dame defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola hugs defensive line coach Al Washington during practice at Fernandina Beach High School in Amelia Island, Fla. on Monday, Dec. 26, 2022.

The former three-star recruit from Michigan City, who also had USC in his final three transfer options, terrorized MAC competition with 100 quarterback pressures and 13.5 sacks in his 45-game Broncos career. Now 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, Fiske played 737 defensive snaps this season, fourth-most among FBS interior linemen, and his 86.2 overall grade ranked 13th at his position, per Pro Football Focus.

Notre Dame must replace Harvard grad transfer Chris Smith (240 defensive snaps) and fifth-year senior Jayson Ademilola (418 snaps) after this season. Among defensive tackles, only Howard Cross III (430) had more defensive snaps for the Irish, who lost Jacob Lacey as a grad transfer to Oklahoma.

Jayson Ademilola was not dressed out for Monday’s practice but did give position coach Al Washington a bear hug upon arrival. According to a person with direct knowledge, Ademilola is still taking treatment in hopes he’ll be able to suit up one last time for the Irish in this Gator Bowl.

Notre Dame defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola (57) rushes Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) during the Notre Dame vs. Clemson NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

Ademilola, who missed his final home game against Boston College while in concussion protocol, rebounded to play 45 snaps in the season-closing loss at USC. He also was limited by a rib contusion in mid-October games against Stanford and UNLV.

With 25 career starts, Ademilola is tied for the lead among active players on the Irish defense, but All-America defensive end Isaiah Foskey has already declared for the NFL Draft. Ademilola (55 games) and twin brother Justin Ademilola (49 games) have combined for 240 tackles (33 tackles for loss) and 16.5 sacks in this five-year run.

Two Kalebs

Freeman also spoke publicly for the first time about the three grad transfers Notre Dame has been able to add thus far in December.

Kaleb Smith, the former Virginia Tech wide receiver, is “going to be a huge addition to our offense” and not just in the literal sense. Smith, at 6-foot-2 and 222 pounds, boasts a 41-inch vertical jump and large hands (9 ¾ inches).

Slowed early on by shoulder injuries that date back to high school, Smith logged 57 receptions for 934 yards and five touchdowns in his final two seasons with the Hokies. He dropped just four catchable balls in that span and had 12 contested catches out of 24 opportunities.

“He’s a guy that comes with game experience but also brings the length, the size that will be an addition to that room,” Freeman said. “(He has) a sense of maturity. I’m excited for him to get here and what he can do.”

Receivers coach Chansi Stuckey will have two Kaleb Smiths under his direction in 2023 after the Irish flipped former Texas Tech commit Kaleb “KK” Smith.

“I’m still learning that,” Freeman said jokingly. “I don’t know which one’s KK yet and which one’s Big K and Little K.”

Virginia Tech wide receiver Kaleb Smith tries to evade Pittsburgh defensive back Marquis Williams (14) after masking a catch during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

As for former Penn punter Ben Krimm and former South Florida kicker Spencer Shrader, Freeman credited special-teams coordinator Brian Mason with finding portal specialists for a second straight year. Last winter it was Harvard punter Jon Sot and Arkansas State kicker Blake Grupe who transferred in.

“Brian does a great job in really identifying those guys and being able to connect with them and get them here,” Freeman said. “Those are positions of need. Those are valuable positions. To bring in a punter that has game experience is going to be valuable to have a competition in that room.”

Shrader, meanwhile, has displayed “one of the strongest legs in college football,” Freeman said.

Added Freeman: “He really will bring a huge dynamic to our special teams units that we need to win championships.”

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Holiday travelers

Monday’s late arrivals due to confirmed travel delays included the following: linebacker Junior Tuihalamaka, safety Ramon Henderson, cornerbacks TaRiq Bracy and Chance Tucker; defensive tackles Gabriel Rubio and Tyson Ford; wide receiver Matt Salerno and kickers Josh Bryan and Chris Salerno.

California- and St. Louis-based players comprised the above list, but the entire travel party was due to arrive in Jacksonville by early Monday evening.

Follow Notre Dame 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.