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Blue-Gold game roundtable discussion

| Monday, May 3, 2021

After the spring, give me your ideal Notre Dame quarterback depth chart.

Mannion: Tentatively Tyler Buchner, Jack Coan, Drew Pyne. I cannot handle another year of Notre Dame football making plays and not scoring. The only person who broke that pattern today was Buchner, who, in his few snaps, marched down the field leading two successful touchdown drives. Now, does that mean he steps up first this season? Probably not. He has a lot of cleaning up to do in order to get himself back in perfect form (see: strip-sack). But I genuinely don’t believe that his starting against Florida State is 100% off the table. 

If they do decide against it though, it will be a tight decision between Coan and Pyne. They both had highlights this weekend that were almost complimentary. Coan had a couple of big plays which can be honed this summer to translate into the endzone but Pyne was able to make it down the field more swiftly. He just couldn’t connect on a couple of the longer throws. Ultimately, Coan’s gap is easier to transition and he has the most experience on the field. 

Jimmy: Also tentatively: Tyler Buchner, Jack Coan, Drew Pyne. Sure, Coan might be the obvious starter given his experience over his teammates but he was outclassed on Saturday. Buchner put on a show and Coan was, well, underwhelming to say the least. It was to be expected that the offense would be slower to get warmed than the already well-established defense but dealing with whispers of QB controversy before the spring game obviously changed the dynamic of things. Buchner was the only player on the field that really accomplished or produced points or anything on the offensive end all game. Stats will be skewed in his favor thanks to his limited playing time without a red jersey but Buchner was the most dynamic quarterback on Saturday. When Irish fans were debating whether to start Ian Book over Brandon Wimbush the argument brought up almost every time was production. I will be shocked if these three players aren’t splitting minutes early on in the season, with Buchner and Coan getting a significant chunk of those minutes. As it stands now though, I think you go with the guy who has the most to offer to you and that is Tyler Buchner. 

Aidan: I’m going to stick with Jack Coan at #1, but I do believe that Buchner leapfrogged Pyne in my eyes. I’ve never been sold on Pyne, and I think his skill set is similar to Coan’s but less developed, whereas Buchner brings an electric touch to the offense that simply wasn’t present when Pyne was directing Blue on Saturday. Coan is the more seasoned quarterback, and he showed a great connection with Avery Davis, which will be important come fall. So give me Coan as the starter, with Buchner an option if things aren’t going well, as well as for the freshman to find some niche role, be it as a wildcat quarterback, or some other niche role that he can carve out for himself. I don’t foresee Pyne playing relevant minutes in the fall after an 11-23 performance in the spring game that cemented him, in my mind, as the third-best QB on the roster. 

Emily: Jack Coan, Drew Pyne, Tyler Buchner. Especially after facilitating the only two touchdowns of the day, I think Buchner had a great game. However, though I was impressed, I think he still needs some time to adjust, not only to playing football in general again, but football at the level that he is expected to play in college before he takes the QB1 spot. I was most excited to see Pyne on the field Saturday; he is the only one with any experience with the Irish offense in regular games, his work ethic alone made him a strong contender in my mind. I think he made some solid plays, but the experience of Coan puts him at the front of the pack. Coan by no means had a perfect game, and was definitely not where I expected him to be progression-wise, but I think his experience will come in handy in leading a team with quite a bit of turnover.

Nate: Jack Coan, Tyler Buchner, Drew Pyne. I was high on Coan ahead of the Blue-Gold game, and while he did make some big passes in the Spring game, it is clear that Coan will need to improve some aspects of his game going forward. Coan is a proven winner and should get the chance to be the starting quarterback game one for the Irish, but Buchner looked great in the Spring game too and showed that he can live up to the high bar set for him. Pyne also showed plenty of potential and could find himself as the starter if he continues to progress. 

Which player or position group impressed you the most in the spring game? Who underwhelmed?

Mannion: As the tight end I didn’t expect much playing time from, much less a couple great plays, Mitchell Evans really stood out to me. He had 3 receptions for 59 years including one where he had two guys go to tackle him and charged forward for a couple more yards before falling forward and adding a few more. That was impressive.

On the flip side, the Gold secondary left something to be desired. Lenzy and Keys were more than capable of getting open all day … almost too open. That can strengthen though with a sured-up safety but I didn’t expect them to feel that messy.

Jimmy: I’ll go with the defensive line. Watching any football was fun but seeing a defensive line swarming the ball the way both units did over the weekend is really exciting. Seeing a pretty solid run game be held in check all day was also inspiring from a defensive perspective. Jack Coan was pretty underwhelming, overthrows, hospital passes, ugly scrambles; we saw it all from Coan and almost none of it besides his first pass was positive. Assuming this is going to be Notre Dame’s starting quarterback come spring, there is a long way to go still for this group. 

Aidan: I have to go with the linebacker room. They were simply dynamic throughout the game for both teams, as Shayne Simon recorded an interception, Marist Liufau had a sack and two tackles for loss, Jack Kiser had eight tackles and Bo Bauer chipped in with three tackles and a TFL. Without the leader of their unit, Drew White, playing, I thought the linebackers showcased their depth and why they may have one of the best units in the country this fall, even having lost Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to the NFL Draft. 

As for disappointing, I’m going to specify the cornerbacks. I could have gone offensive line, as they looked shaky, but that was also a result of the unit being split up into two teams, and a noticeable lack of chemistry. But while the safeties played pretty well, led by Houston Griffiths, the cornerbacks seemed to led Lenzy, Keys and Davis get open a fair amount. Strong safety play can only help you so much, and particularly concerning was the amount of deep completions in this game. Cornerback was a position I was greatly worried about already, and the Irish did little to lessen my doubts in their Saturday performance. 

Emily: Chris Tyree was a stand out for me. “The Jet” was certainly flying around the field, and I simply enjoyed watching him play. I thought he had a strong game all around. The offensive line was a bit of a let down. While I know there is a lot of uncertainty with those positions, I thought the players would be adjusted enough to be comfortable in whatever position they were placed. However, both Blue and Gold were able to get to the quarterbacks too easily at times.

Nate: It has to be Tyler Buchner who impressed me the most. Despite not playing high school football last year because of the pandemic, Buchner stepped up and was able to perform at a high level. Buchner’s drive to start the second half displayed his play making ability and showed that he has to be considered for starting quarterback this year. I was underwhelmed by the play of the offensive line. Both teams were able to get pressure on the quarterback throughout the game and running the football was difficult for both teams as well. 

Lawrence Keys, Avery Davis, and Braden Lenzy all had 80+ receiving yards in the spring game — what did you like from them, and what’s another receiver you want in the rotation in the fall? 

Mannion: I’ll be honest, after a couple of missteps between him and Book towards the end of last year, I was nervous about Davis but he, Keys and Lenzy stepped up for the spring game. The exceptional show they put on was only compounded by the tight end core. The first two behind the trio in yardage on both teams were Takacs and Evans so I’m excited to see what those 5 can do especially with Michael Mayer back on the field and Joe Wilkins Jr. in the rotation.

Jimmy: Watching Braden Lenzy work the football downfield is always exciting. Avery Davis also poses a threat whenever he is on the field. As for another receiver that I’d like to see a little more out of: Matt Salerno will be my pick. The guy is reminiscent of Chris Finke and will hopefully be just as dangerous. 

Aidan: Davis, Keys and Lenzy were fantastic all day, and I particularly liked Davis’s connection with Jack Coan. Keys looked far more dependable than he has, and Lenzy flashed his ability to both burn corners deep and get open on intermediate routes, developing into an all-around receiver that could make him absolutely deadly with his speed after the catch. As for a fourth receiver, Wilkins didn’t impress me on Saturday, and the coaching staff hasn’t necessarily sounded wowed by the veteran during spring. I’d love to say Jordan Johnson or Xavier Watts, but again, the young top recruits were barely featured in the spring game, with just one target for each of them. So instead, I’ll ride with Matt Salerno, who will likely be returning punts this fall and notched a pair of catches for 25 yards for the Gold Team. Salerno is shifty in the slot and looked like a dependable target in the red zone. We’ve seen his speed on special teams, and I’d love to see him develop into a solid receiver behind that top trio. 

Emily: Seeing Braden Lenzy back on the field looking healthy was encouraging. I think he proved himself to be a go-to receiver and diminished any doubt of his inability to play at the level he used to. Lawrence Keys also had a great game, leading all of the receivers in yardage. I was not expecting him to have as prominent of a showing that he did, and it was a welcome surprise. Joe Wilkins was another receiver I thought should be considered. While Davis and Lenzy will take up most of the playing time, it would be nice to see Wilkins get some action.

Nate: Going into the Spring game, I expected that Lenzy and Davis would be two of the primary receivers, and Saturday’s game showed me that Keys will likely be a top three receiver as well. It was reassuring for me to see Lenzy look healthy and fast as ever on Saturday as well, as his injury proved very costly to the Irish last year. I hope to see Joe Wilkins in the picture going forward as well. He had a pair of catches on Saturday and nearly had a touchdown reception too, so I expect him to be involved in the offense next season.

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