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Debut for two: Freeman and Buchner set to join exclusive company in Columbus

Among the many storylines for Saturday’s showdown between Notre Dame and Ohio State, a rarity in Fighting Irish history will present itself at Ohio Stadium. Head coach Marcus Freeman and sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner will become just the 7th head coach-quarterback duo in the last 100 years to make their Notre Dame regular season debuts in the same game. Freeman, an Ohio native and Buckeye alumnus, will be at the helm for the second time overall; he led the Irish in their Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State last season. Meanwhile, Buchner is set to make his maiden voyage as a starter after throwing for 298 yards and rushing for another 336 in 10 games off the bench in 2021. Both men seek to write the next chapter in Notre Dame’s long-standing tradition of excellence in these scenarios.

1931: Heartley “Hunk” Anderson and Chuck Jaskwhich

All eyes were on Anderson and the Irish as the 1931 season commenced. Knute Rockne had passed away in a plane crash that March, leaving one of his former players to follow up his three national championships and Division I record .881 winning percentage. Moreover, Anderson had a fresh starting quarterback to groom in Chuck Jaskwhich. In the opener at Indiana, Anderson’s bunch resoundingly answered any questions about post-Rockne Notre Dame with a 25-0 victory. While Jaskwhich did not factor in any touchdowns, he later helped the Irish offense put up 28.3 points per game in 1932 — good for 3rd-best in the nation. 

1941: Frank Leahy and Angelo Bertelli

Before becoming one of the most dominant head coach-quarterback pairs in program history, Leahy and Bertelli debuted together against Arizona. Leahy had already experienced a championship culture in South Bend, capturing the 1929 and 1930 national titles under Rockne. The soon-to-be Hall of Famer recognized Bertelli’s passing prowess and quickly converted him from tailback to starting quarterback ahead of the 1941 season. Bertelli found midseason form in game one, completing 6 of 7 passes with a touchdown in the first quarter en route to a 38-7 throttling of the Wildcats. Notre Dame ended that season ranked third nationally with a record of 8-0-1, and Bertelli became the first sophomore in college football history to receive votes for the Heisman Trophy (2nd place). He eventually took home the award along with a national championship in 1943, as Leahy’s switch to a T-formation offense allowed the young signal-caller to flourish.

1944: Ed McKeever and Frank “Boley” Dancewicz

Following the glorious 1943 season, Leahy entered the United States Navy with World War II ongoing. His departure opened the door for McKeever to take the reins on an interim basis. The enlistment of quarterbacks Bertelli (Marine Corps) and Johnny Lujack (Navy) also positioned Dancewicz as the new commander of the offense. Pittsburgh was no match for Notre Dame’s new look in week one, as the Irish flattened college football’s second-worst defense in a 58-0 outburst. Dancewicz and fellow gunslinger Joe Gasparella smoothly filled the void left by Bertelli, throwing a combined five touchdown passes. Notre Dame started that season 5-0 with a number one ranking, but the defense crumbled at the hands of Navy (32 points allowed) and Army (59 points allowed) on the way to an 8-2 record.

1959: Joe Kuharich and Don White

After 15 years and three more Leahy championships, Kuharich and White became the next rookie tandem. Kuharich was returning to his roots; he grew up in South Bend, played football at Notre Dame from 1935-37 and landed his first coaching job as an assistant freshman coach for the Irish in 1938. White had just 92 passing yards to his name through 1957 and 1958, but he led the offense in a rain-soaked clash with North Carolina. Although he completed only 7 passes for 86 yards, the Irish outgained the Tar Heels 140-18 in first-half rushing yards to take control early and set up a 28-8 triumph. The remainder of the season was a different story, however, as the Irish struggled to a 5-5 record, and White split starts with the more experienced George Izo. Kuharich ended his time in South Bend with a 17-23 mark in three seasons.

1975: Dan Devine and Rick Slager

Just two years removed from the second of Ara Parseghian’s two national championships, Devine and his 20 years of head coaching experience took to the sideline at Notre Dame. Slager, the top singles tennis player at the school, was instantly served up a piece of Fighting Irish history; his first career start coincided with the initiation of the Holy War, as Notre Dame and Boston College were set to meet for the first time. Though Slager threw for only 72 yards amidst an inexperienced offense, his defense led the charge under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, leading to a 17-3 Irish victory. Then, for the first time in a half-century, Devine’s group prepared to play a second game in five days. The Irish comfortably took care of Purdue, as the defense yet again paced a 17-0 victory. Fittingly, the week ended with Sports Illustrated’s cover featuring a photo of Rick Slager and a headline reading, “Devine Week for Notre Dame.”

2010: Brian Kelly and Dayne Crist

Kelly took the head coaching job at Notre Dame after leading a 12-0 campaign at Cincinnati, and Crist was the first of nine starting quarterbacks he worked with in his 11 Irish seasons. Approaching 2010, the California product had a strong collection of weapons at his disposal; Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, T.J. Jones and Theo Riddick all became NFL draft picks post-Notre Dame. Crist was efficient in the opening 23-12 win over the Boilermakers of Purdue, going 19-for-26 with 205 yards and a touchdown as the Irish jumped out to a 20-3 lead. He dazzled two weeks later in an overtime loss at Michigan State, delivering 369 passing yards and 4 touchdowns. However, his season was cut short in late October when he suffered a ruptured patella tendon and Tommy Rees seized control of the job. The Irish wrapped up 2010 at 8-5, and Crist transferred to Kansas after the following season.

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