Position Breakdown: Quarterback controversy
Observer Sports Staff | Monday, May 3, 2021
Quarterback has been the most heavily discussed position among Notre Dame fans this offseason. The Irish need to find a replacement for the winningest quarterback in program history, and for the first time in two years, they have a full-blown quarterback competition on their hands. The team has some intriguing options, including graduate transfer Jack Coan, sophomore Drew Pyne and highly-touted freshman Tyler Buchner, and Irish fans will be watching closely to see which signal caller will be under center this fall.
Book departs as one of the most successful passers in Notre Dame’s storied history. Not only did he lead the Irish to the College Football Playoff in two of his three years as a starter, he also is the winningest quarterback in program history with a 30-5 career record. Book also ranks second with 8,948 career passing yards and 72 passing touchdowns. A two-year captain, his leadership, poise and locker-room presence will also be difficult to replace. He was selected in the fourth round of this weekend’s NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints.
Coan, the former Wisconsin signal caller, arrives in South Bend as a graduate transfer. Coan started 18 games during his time with the Badgers, although he did not play in 2020 due to a foot injury. He has completed 68% of his passes for 3,278 yards and 23 touchdowns, against 8 interceptions during his career. He brings much-needed experience to a quarterback room that has attempted just eight pass attempts combined. Interestingly, Coan had been committed to Notre Dame for lacrosse before deciding to pursue football.
Buchner, a consensus four-star recruit from La Jolla, California, arrives in South Bend with a great deal of fanfare. While Buchner’s senior season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he enrolled early and has impressed the coaching staff this spring. In 2019, Buchner passed for nearly 4,500 yards and 53 touchdowns, adding 28 more on the ground. He looked comfortable in the Blue-Gold game, playing without the red jersey for most of the second half, passing for a touchdown and adding another on the ground. While Buchner is unlikely to be the starter this season, many consider him to be the quarterback of the future.
Ron Powlus III
Powlus, the son of legendary former Irish quarterback and current associate athletic director Ron Powlus Jr., was rated as a three-star recruit by 247 Sports. Powlus played his high school football at nearby Penn, where he passed for 1,484 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2020. He earned Class 6A all-state honors during the campaign. Powlus has good size for the position at 6’3 and 215 pounds. With so many quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, Powlus will likely spend the 2021 season developing on the scout team.
As a freshman last year, Pyne quickly began challenging Brendon Clark for second-team snaps, although there weren’t very many to go around. He has had a strong spring thus far and appears poised to challenge Coan for the starting job. Although he has less experience — three career pass attempts — he has the advantage of spending a year with Book to learn offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ playbook. Pyne also saw action late in Notre Dame’s CFP semifinal loss to Alabama.
Listed as Book’s primary backup for the 2020 season, Clark, a rising junior, did not see the field as much as expected, due to health protocols and Notre Dame failing to blow out many opponents. Thus far in his career, he has thrown for 29 yards and a touchdown. After Phil Jurkovec transferred, many viewed Clark as Book’s eventual successor, but due to a knee injury that has kept him out all spring, Clark is certainly an underdog to earn the starting job.
Liam Coolican, Sports Writer
Replacing Ian Book will be much harder than it seems. He may not have been the most physically gifted or flashiest player on the field, but he was a proven winner. None of his potential replacements inspire a great deal of confidence in the short term. Coan, who is likely to be named the starter, is best classified as a game-manager, especially in Wisconsin’s run-heavy offense. Pyne and Buchner both have the tools to succeed, and I have no doubt they will in the future, but if either was to be named the starter, it would be a steep learning curve given how little experience they have. Whoever is named the starter won’t lose any games for the Irish, but they certainly won’t be the reason for success. If I were to give a grade for the future potential of this group, it would be much higher, but alas, we have to focus on the upcoming season.