The first time Irish fans saw Drew Pyne take the field for the blue and gold, it was at the tail end of a 52-0 blowout win over South Florida. Not exactly the most memorable moment. However, the second time Pyne saw the field with the Irish tells you everything you need to know about Notre Dame’s new starting quarterback.
On Jan. 1, 2021, Notre Dame was facing Alabama in the College Football Playoff. When Ian Book briefly left the field for injury, Pyne was thrust into the action. A true freshman at the time, Pyne entered for two plays, completing his only pass attempt for seven yards. It was hardly a groundbreaking play, nor was it an extended performance. But with no warning, playing in the Rose Bowl against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, Pyne came in cold off the bench to quarterback the Irish offense.
“My mindset has never changed since the moment I got here,” Pyne said on Tuesday. “I will always be prepared and as ready as possible for any point that I need to help the team.”
That mindset has been evident throughout Pyne’s career at Notre Dame. Last year, he appeared in two games. First, he replaced an injured Jack Coan against Wisconsin, with the Irish trailing 13-10. He completed six of eight passes, including his first career touchdown toss. That score pushed the Irish lead to 24-13. A week later, Pyne performed admirably in attempting to rally Notre Dame from a 17-0 deficit against Cincinnati. He got the Irish within four points despite being forced into a one-dimensional offense that threw the ball 22 times in the second half.
Last weekend, Pyne entered in relief of an injured quarterback once more, replacing sophomore Tyler Buchner. This time, Pyne did struggle, tossing an interception that sealed an already likely Notre Dame loss. Although he led a touchdown drive to give the Irish a last-gasp onside kick attempt, it ultimately proved to be too little, too late.
But now, with Buchner announced out for the season, it’s truly Pyne time in South Bend. But according to the redshirt sophomore, that hardly affects his mindset. “ I’m going to keep preparing and treating practice like a game every day,” Pyne commented. “It’s easy to fall in a trap, to think that it’s different. I’ve prepared as hard as I can no matter what situation I’ve been in. I’ve got to lead the guys on the practice field, push them as hard as I can every day and that’s what I’m focused on right now.”
Pyne’s biggest challenge is sparking a lethargic Notre Dame offense. Notre Dame has scored 31 total points this season. They matched or exceeded that output in 10 of their 13 games last season. The ground game has been nonexistent outside of Buchner. And the passing game has been inconsistent at best and awful at worst. Now, without their biggest running threat, and the offensive line continuing to struggle, what can Pyne improve upon in his first career start?
The Connecticut product was quick to point out that it’s hardly just one guy or one position that was failing the offense.
“I think it’s easy to point fingers on the offense, but it takes eleven guys to succeed on offense to run the ball,” Pyne said. “It takes receivers, it takes a quarterback, it takes a running back. It takes 11 guys to succeed.”
Every player can certainly share some of the blame for this 0-2 start. There were dropped passes that could have been touchdowns. Missed blocking assignments from the offensive line and tight ends that caused negative plays in big situations. In the passing game, only junior tight end Michael Mayer and sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles have more than three receptions. Pyne knows he must find a way to get them the ball. But he also needs to spread the offense out.
“I think Coach Rees does a great job of that. He knows how to get guys open and create space. He knows how to put us and me in a great position to succeed,” Pyne said. “I have full faith in him and everything he does.”
Additionally, there was a lack of disruptive play defensively, punctuated by the zero turnovers the Irish have caused. Pyne can’t fix everything, but he needs to provide a spark. And Pyne is ready to do just that. Not for his own benefit, but for the teammates that have helped him throughout his career, which has included a bevy of quarterback battles.
“I’m not here for personal accolades or for stats. I’m here to do whatever I can to help my team win. I think the guys know that. Right now, I play for [Jarret Patterson], for Bo Bauer, for AD [Avery Davis], for guys like that,” Pyne said, name-dropping a few Irish veterans in their final year on the team. “I’m playing for all those guys on the team that have taken me in since I got here.”
That preparation starts in practice, as it has for three years for Pyne. And he’s not letting anything get to his head, and he’s taking it day by day.
“I’m not thinking long-term. The opportunity I see is after this I’m going to go watch film. It’s easy to fall into that trap of letting this get to my head, but the opportunity I have, from where I’m standing, is being able to… come back tomorrow and have a great practice… taking it practice by practice, rep by rep, as hard as I can and with as much focus as I can.”
Pyne’s in a relatively unique position. Frequently, a four-star recruit who lost consecutive quarterback battles (last year to Coan, this year to Buchner) would hardly hesitate before entering the transfer portal. By 247 sports, Pyne was the eighth-ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2020. He received interest from the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and other premier programs.
But Pyne has first and foremost always been all in on Notre Dame. Last year, after the Cincinnati game, he discussed his frequent trips to the Basilica, or his walks around campus that he used to calm himself and reflect after practices and games. Pyne has always bled blue and gold. Now he gets a chance to do so on the field.
“It’s an honor to be able to help this team win,” he said “I’m focused on one thing and that’s preparing as hard as I can for Cal and practicing to be able to have success this week.”
Contact Aidan Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org