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‘Up and down’ Pyne struggles to find rhythm in Blue and Gold game

Fans heading to the Blue and Gold game Saturday afternoon were hoping to get their first look at the anticipated quarterback competition between sophomore Tyler Buchner and redshirt sophomore Drew Pyne. Those hopes were dashed Tuesday when Buchner rolled his ankle. Still, fans in attendance got to see plenty of Pyne, who started under center for both sides of the scrimmage. 

Head coach Marcus Freeman described Pyne‘s performance in the scrimmage as “up and down.” He finished the contest 22-33 with 185 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Pyne had a major opportunity to impress the coaching staff as the sole quarterback for much of the scrimmage. But despite some strong moments, he largely failed to capitalize on the opportunity. 

Turnovers highlight Pyne‘s struggles

Pyne struggled initially while taking nearly every snap in the first half. He threw two interceptions in the second quarter, both of which came in the red zone. Junior Jordan Botelho picked off Pyne first. It came after what appeared to be a miscommunication between Pyne and his intended receiver, sophomore Deion Colzie. Colzie ran into the end zone, while Pyne threw it into the flat. There, Botehlo lurked with no one around him and returned it for 42 yards. 

“It’s so easy to look at the quarterback,” Freeman said of the interceptions. “That’s the position, you’re going to get the praise, you’re going to get the blame.”

Later in the quarter, with the Gold team again threatening to score, Pyne play-faked and, despite having a receiver open in the flat, overthrew junior tight end Michael Mayer in traffic. Senior linebacker Marist Liufau was waiting in coverage for an easy interception. 

“We don’t want to turn the ball over, we know that. We have to take care of the football, but it’s a collective part of it,” Freeman said. “There’s got to be guys that make the quarterback look good.” 

Pyne finds some flow late

Despite making some nice throws, the offense struggled to move the ball with Pyne under center. Botelho‘s interception set up the Blue team with prime field position, but they stalled just inside the red zone. Arkansas State graduate transfer kicker Blake Grupe notched the first score of the half. He booted a 35-yard field goal to give the Blue Team a 3-0 lead. Ultimately, nine of the first ten drives ended in either a punt or an interception. 

However, Pyne seemed to find a groove in the two-minute drill at the end of the half, leading the Blue team on an impressive 10-play, 75-yard drive in 2:35, capped off with a two-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Yanoshak. He immediately returned to the field and led the Gold team offense down the field in under a minute, putting them in position to score as well, but highly-touted kicker Joshua Bryan missed a 48-yard field goal as time expired. 

Pyne found most of his success on short check-downs and screen passes. However, he had difficulty connecting with his targets on downfield throws, which will be important if Notre Dame wants to take advantage of dynamic receiving threats such as Mayer, sophomore Lorenzo Styles and graduate student Braden Lenzy. 

His longest completion of the afternoon was a 24-yard completion to Lenzy. On the play, Pyne delivered an impressive, back-shoulder throw, placed where only Lenzy could catch it. He also connected with graduate student Matt Salerno for 20 yards. In a third-and-one situation, he found Mayer for 17 yards. Besides those passes, seemed content to live off screens and out-routes for most of the game. 

“I’m really proud of him stepping up and playing for both teams,” Freeman said. 

Pyne‘s pocket presence impresses

One of the elements in which Pyne excelled was his presence in the pocket. He took a sack on the first snap of the contest when junior edge rusher Rylie Mills tagged him for a loss of 10 yards. After that, he didn’t take another one despite wearing the red jersey throughout the scrimmage. 

He looked comfortable in the pocket, routinely standing in long enough to find an open receiver despite sustained pressure from the defensive line. He also knew when he should escape the pocket and scramble. In one of his most impressive moments, Pyne connected with freshman receiver Jayden Thomas on the move after evading pressure for a gain of 10 yards. 

True freshman Steve Angeli, a highly-touted prospect in his own right, said after the game that both Pyne and Buchner have been instrumental to his success since he arrived on campus. “I’ve been able to learn a bunch from Tyler and Drew,” Angeli said. “They’ve been some of my great friends on the team and they’ve really helped me learn the ropes. Any questions I have I don’t hesitate to go and ask them and they’re always available to teach me. I really value my relationship with those guys” 

It was Angeli who was the unlikely hero in the contest, completing 11 of 13 passes for an impressive 180 yards and scrambling to the end zone and diving for the pylon as time expired to give the Gold team a 13-10 win. 

Pyne didn’t turn any heads during the spring game. However, he did show flashes of why some think he could be the Irish’s starting quarterback in Columbus. But, the shaky performance made it abundantly clear he‘s not quite ready to take that step yet.

Buchner‘s injury appears to be minor and he showcased his abilities throughout the spring. To win this quarterback battle, Pyne must make significant strides between now and September, notably in his decision-making ability and his rapport with the receivers. But he did show that he has the talent and poise to eventually succeed with the Irish.

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