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Irish quarterback room looking sharp entering 2023

Featuring major transfer portal addition Sam Hartman and a handful of highly-rated prospects to learn from him, Notre Dame’s quarterback group is set up for success. Here’s a look at the signal-caller situation moving into next season.

2022 summary

Position leaders: Drew Pyne (10 starts), Tyler Buchner (3 starts)

The sentiment around Notre Dame’s quarterback position undulated throughout this past season. Sophomore Tyler Buchner received the season-opening nod but underwent shoulder surgery after two losses to Ohio State and Marshall. From there, the job fell into the hands of junior Drew Pyne. He started shaky but performed well in wins over North Carolina and BYU, establishing a firm connection with draft-bound tight end Michael Mayer. Pyne then regressed again and acted as a game manager in Notre Dame’s poundings of Syracuse and Clemson. He saved his two best performances for November, posting a combined 85.1 completion percentage and seven total touchdowns against Navy and Southern Cal. Buchner returned for the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, scoring five total touchdowns but throwing three interceptions. Ultimately, he led the Irish to a 45-38 defeat of South Carolina and took home game MVP.

With next year in mind, Notre Dame’s greatest strength at the quarterback position was Tyler Buchner’s rushing ability. He ran for 61 yards in the Gator Bowl and rushed for two touchdowns against both Marshall and South Carolina. Buchner attacks downhill with power and is a serious threat in the red zone. Sam Hartman will almost certainly assume the starting job, but don’t be surprised if Buchner sees some work near the goal line throughout the season.

On the other hand, the overall quarterback-to-wide receiver rapport is still very raw in the Irish offense. Notre Dame’s top three wideouts barely combined for 1,000 receiving yards in 2022. Moments of trust popped up between passer and target here and there, but never lasted more than a game. The Irish will look to Sam Hartman’s experience, leadership and pure talent to elevate an unproven receiving corps.

Key departures

Drew Pyne (departing to Arizona State)

Pyne moves on to Tempe after throwing for 2,021 yards, 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 2022. He also ran for 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns, playing to an 8-2 record as a starter. All in all, the Connecticut native got the job done and helped the Irish surpass mid-season expectations after being thrust into action unexpectedly. Even so, Notre Dame should have no issue replicating and exceeding Pyne’s performance given Sam Hartman’s track record.  

Transfer portal additions

Sam Hartman (graduate student, arriving from Wake Forest)

Notre Dame brings in the ACC’s all-time passing touchdowns leader in Sam Hartman. The former Demon Deacon threw for 110 scores along with 12,967 yards in his 48 career games at Wake Forest. No quarterback in Notre Dame history has ever recorded a 3,700-plus passing yard, 38-plus passing touchdown season. Hartman has accomplished that feat in each of the past two seasons. He led Wake to an 8-5 record in 2022, throwing three interceptions in a pair of games, but delivering at least three touchdowns in eight.

Freshman additions

Kenny Minchey (four-star, Pope John Paul II High School – Hendersonville, TN)

Minchey will compete for the starting job when Hartman runs out of eligibility in 2024. For now, expect him to use this year to learn behind two signal-callers with 61 combined games of experience.

Projected 2-deep

QB1: Sam Hartman

QB2: Tyler Buchner

Contact Tyler Reidy at treidy3@nd.edu

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Irish O-line looks to build on in-season improvements

There were a lot of things that didn’t go right in the first half of Notre Dame’s 2022 season. Few position groups performed further below expectations than Notre Dame’s offensive line. It was one thing to see the Irish struggle to run the ball against an Ohio State team that would eventually reach the College Football Playoff. But to see the Irish held to 3.5 yards per carry by Marshall the next week raised immediate red flags about the state of Notre Dame’s offensive line.

Eventually, the Irish answered those questions. By season’s end, an Irish program known for its O-line prowess was back to handling opposing front sevens. Few Irish fans will forget how the unit flexed its muscles, literally and figuratively, in Notre Dame’s 35-14 destruction of then-No. 4 Clemson. After Notre Dame rushed for just 130 yards as a team against the Thundering Herd, sophomore running back Logan Diggs nearly topped that figure alone. The Irish galloped for 263 yards on an average of 5.6 per carry while also protecting quarterback Drew Pyne well.

That the Irish finished with respectable rankings in stats most associated with offensive line play such as rushing yards (35th) and sacks allowed (39th) given their dismal play at the start of the year speaks to how much they turned things around. Of course, one of the biggest reasons for Notre Dame’s O-line resurgence was All-American graduate student Jarrett Patterson, who was notably absent for the opener at Ohio State due to a right foot sprain. Patterson finished his Irish career with all kinds of accolades. Perhaps most impressively, he did not allow a single sack in nearly 1,700 pass block snaps. The Irish will certainly miss his dominance at left guard.

For as good as Patterson was, the guy to his left might have been even better. According to Pro Football Focus, sophomore Joe Alt graded out as college football’s top tackle in 2022. It’s been a meteoric rise for Alt. He’s gone from three-star recruit (according to Rivals) to starter in 2021 to downright elite last season. Alt could be the latest in a long line of Irish offensive line greats.

They’ll need him to be every bit as good in 2023 with Patterson and Notre Dame’s other starting guard, graduate student Josh Lugg, set to depart. The Irish will have senior center Zeke Correll back and sophomore Blake Fisher will look to build on his breakout 2022 season at right tackle.

Notre Dame adds five new O-linemen to the program for 2023, all from their recruiting class. That quintet includes Notre Dame’s highest rated recruit (according to 247 Sports) in tackle Charles Jagusah. Jagusah is a four-star recruit, as are tackle Sullivan Absher, who comes to South Bend from South Point High School in Belmont, NC, and interior linemen Sam Pendleton (also from North Carolina) and Joe Otting. Three-star interior lineman Christopher Terek rounds out the class.

It’s possible that some of that group sees playing time in 2023, but it would be a major surprise if any of them take over Patterson or Lugg’s starting spots. After all, the Irish also brought in several four-star linemen in last year’s recruiting class, including tackles Aamil Wagner and Billy Schrauth. More experienced options like junior Andrew Kristofic and sophomore Rocco Spindler could see increased roles as well. There will definitely be some things for offensive line coach Harry Hiestand to sort out in the second year of his second stint in South Bend. But given the strong foundation bookended by Alt and Fisher at tackle, Notre Dame’s O-line should be rock-solid once again. Hopefully from day one this time around.

2023 Projected Depth Chart

LT: Joe Alt, Tosh Baker

LG: Billy Schrauth, Rocco Spindler

C: Zeke Correll, Pat Coogan

RG: Andrew Kristofic, Aamil Wagner

RT: Blake Fisher, Michael Carmody

Contact Andrew McGuinness at amcguinn@nd.edu.

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Wake Forest quarterback announces transfer to Notre Dame

Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman announced Thursday afternoon he’d be transferring to Notre Dame for the 2023 football season.

Hartman coming to South Bend represents a home-run addition for offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and the Irish heading into the spring period. Widely regarded as the best quarterback in the portal, Hartman spent the last five years building one of the most impressive quarterback resumes in the country at Wake Forest. 

The stats of the Charlotte, North Carolina native are as gaudy as they come. He is the all-time ACC leader in career touchdown passes with 110; he’s thrown for 12,967 career yards, 3,701 of which came in 2022; and his production with his legs isn’t too shabby, either, with 856 career rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns on the ground. 

Perhaps most promising for the Irish is his completion percentage in 2022: 63.1%, a career-best mark up from 58% the last two seasons. He helped lead Wake Forest — who totaled a 25-37 record in the five years before he arrived — to a 38-24 mark during his five years as starter.

The decision to take an additional year at Notre Dame makes sense for both parties. The Irish already lost 2022 signal caller Drew Pyne in the transfer portal to Arizona State. They seemingly have decided to go in a different direction than last season’s offense, which leaned heavily on the run to the point of being predictable. 

Hartman is a dynamic quarterback who can hit deep shots and force defenses to respect Notre Dame’s passing attack. And from Hartman’s perspective, despite all his statistical prowess, a move to the Irish provides a chance to boost his ever-growing draft stock. Scouts are no doubt interested in seeing Hartman’s production outside of Wake Forest’s unique slow mesh offensive style, and a move to Notre Dame gives him the chance to prove himself both under a national spotlight as well as in a more conventional offensive system.

The move also creates an interesting timeline for Notre Dame’s quarterback room going forward. While it’s unlikely Marcus Freeman officially names Hartman starter anytime soon, you don’t bring in the all-time ACC leader in passing touchdowns to compete in a quarterback battle. Barring an unlikely sequence of events, Hartman will be under center for the first Irish snaps of the 2023 season against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.

As such, Tyler Buchner’s window to start is likely pushed back another year. The MVP of the Gator Bowl just a week ago lost much of his 2022 campaign to injury, but showed plenty of promise and potential in his return in Jacksonville, Florida.

But even in 2024, Buchner’s starting status might be far from a guarantee. Kenny Minchey was a late addition to the 2023 recruiting class who holds high four-star status himself. He’ll have a chance to make an impression and a case to be a future starter as soon as this spring as an early enrollee. Further muddying the picture will be the enrollment of would-be freshman CJ Carr, the early headliner of Freeman’s 2024 class. Carr could potentially end up as the first five-star quarterback Notre Dame has signed since Gunner Kiel in 2012. 

But Rees and Freeman no doubt are willing to sort out that potential logjam further down the line if it means having Hartman under center this fall. And above all else, it’s a good problem to have. In the short term, Notre Dame gets an immediate star at a key position of need who changes the team’s floor and ceiling for next season. And down the line, they’re slated to have no less than four (can’t write off Steve Angeli, either) four-star or higher quarterbacks that can compete for the starting job when Hartman leaves. 

Depth is a bulletproof vest in college football. The best way to protect against injury-related production drop-offs is to have every backup be a player who’s already starter quality. The Irish are currently set to have just that at the quarterback position going down the line.

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‘You want to take every opportunity you can’: Buchner prepares to start in Gator Bowl

Arguably the biggest question mark in determining Friday’s bowl game outcome, sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner will take the field as the starter for the first time since his injury against Marshall. With the transfer of former starting quarterback Drew Pyne and the accelerated healing of Buchner’s shoulder, head coach Marcus Freeman chose Buchner to take the field on Friday. However, Buchner has not played since the Irish loss to Marshall. On top of that, he has only started two games in his entire career.

After his injury, Buchner traded in his cleats for a headset. He spent much of his time at the press level with Tommy Rees during games. Taking notes and observing the offensive coaches helped Buchner strengthen his understanding of play calling and his overall football IQ, he said. 

“Just seeing the game from a different perspective and listening to what the coaches are talking about during the game,” Buchner said. “Sort of having a different mindset toward the game in general certainly helped me become a smarter player.”

Buchner’s time away also allowed him to reflect on the game and the lessons he’s learned from injury. Accepting that things will not always turn out as planned allowed Buchner to understand the value of an obstacle, as well as instill optimism about playing again. 

“Sometimes the losses are the things you learn the most from, and sometimes you need one in a way that a win or staying healthy couldn’t have done,” Buchner said. “I’ve learned a lot of things along the way – personally and through football.

Buchner is not the only one who has learned throughout the season. Since Buchner’s last time starting, the Notre Dame offense has improved drastically. The offensive line gelled and became dominant in the run game, while also being able to provide a stronger pocket for the pass game. The trio of Logan Diggs, Chris Tyree and Audric Estime developed into one of the strongest backfields in the nation. The wide receiver crew has started to mesh well with the emergence of sophomores Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie. Even with the absence of All-American tight end Michael Mayer, Buchner has a lot to work with. What he will do with this is the question that remains. 

The Gator Bowl is a quasi-audition to regain his starting job. It is on Buchner to perform well. A victory against the Gamecocks will certainly help his case. However, it’s a long road to securing the starting job next year. With strong rumors of a transfer quarterback coming in, the presence of Steve Angeli and the commitment of highly-ranked recruit Kenny Minchey, Buchner must prove himself to be in the spotlight. Angeli was also preparing for the bowl game with the starters and could get some meaningful reps.  

“Steve’s really talented,” Buchner said. “He’s become a really smart player on the field. He’s a lot more athletic than I think people give him credit for and he spins the heck out of the ball.”

For the time being, Freeman speaks highly about Buchner’s performance and progress in practice. Buchner explained that he felt like “a quarterback in week one of the season” since he has not experienced getting hit recently. However, Buchner has been able to jive with the offense in practice, Freeman said. 

“He’s done great,” Freeman said. “He’s progressed from not playing football for so many weeks. Every day he gets better and better in his decision-making and really getting back there and getting live reps.”

Coming off an injury, Buchner knows the gift of playing could be lost at any moment. He emphasized the importance of seizing each opportunity to take the field and appreciating any experience as a starter.

“There’s a limited amount of games that you get in your entire life,” Buchner said. “Obviously, there’s always a chance of injury in football; it’s just a part of the game that everyone gets hurt. You want to take every opportunity you can to get better.” 

Contact Madeline Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu

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Irish role players have big opportunity in Gator Bowl after opt-outs, transfers

As Notre Dame prepares for the Gator Bowl against South Carolina Friday afternoon in Jacksonville, they will be without several key players. 

Most notably, junior tight end Michael Mayer and senior defensive end Isaiah Foskey have opted out of the contest in order to prepare for the NFL draft. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne transferred to Arizona State, ending his Notre Dame career as well. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will also miss the game due to a shoulder injury. 

Here are some key players who will have increased workloads, and with strong performances, could make a case for an elevated role next season. 

Tight end Mitchell Evans

Well-known for his signature tight end sneak in short-yardage situations, Evans will have the opportunity to showcase a much wider range of abilities against the Gamecocks. Not even listed on Notre Dame’s first two-deep depth chart of the year, Evans earned a spot in the rotation thanks to his reliable play. Mayer’s departure leaves him as the top tight end heading into the bowl game. 

While Mayer will undoubtedly be difficult to replace, Notre Dame will have no shortage of options heading into next season. Junior Kevin Bauman, who was Mayer’s primary backup to begin the season, missed most of the year with a knee injury but is expected to return. Freshman Eli Raridon will return from injury as well, and the Irish also add highly-touted recruit, Cooper Flanagan, to the mix. 

Yet Mayer has commanded the lion’s share of targets over the past three years, which means that the position of his successor is effectively wide open. Notre Dame is well-known for its tight-end-heavy offense, meaning Evans will have a massive opportunity to show that he can be the top option heading into 2023. 

Defensive ends Nana Osafo-Mensah and Alexander Ehrensberger 

In the wake of Foskey’s departure, some new pass rushers will have the chance to make a name for themselves. Graduate student Justin Ademilola will take Foskey’s role as the primary Vyper, while junior Rylie Mills was listed as the top defensive end on the roster. Both of these players already have had substantial roles this season, so two lesser-utilized defensive ends will certainly rotate in and see plenty of snaps Friday. 

Osafo-Mensah tallied 11 total tackles and a forced fumble this year, while Ehrensberger has appeared in just three games this year, notching two tackles against Boston College. The defensive line position appears to be wide open next year. In addition to Foskey, at least one of the Ademilola twins will be graduating, although Justin has another year of eligibility if he chooses to stay at Notre Dame. Graduate transfer Chris Smith will also be departing.

This leaves several spots open. Mills and junior Jordan Botelho will both likely see expanded roles next year, but the defensive line is a position that requires a great deal of depth. With strong performances against South Carolina, Osafo-Mensah and Ehrensberger can take a step towards an increased role next year. 

Quarterback Steve Angeli 

Interestingly, the depth chart listed both sophomore Tyler Buchner and freshman Steve Angeli as the QB1 for the bowl game. Head coach Marcus Freeman has since specified that Buchner, as expected after Pyne’s transfer announcement, would be the starter. However, the “or” designation signifies that Angeli may be in line to get his first meaningful action of the season Friday. 

As rumors continue to swirl about potential transfer quarterbacks, Notre Dame could be in an interesting situation next year. While the coaching staff continues to insist that Buchner is fully healthy, injuries have plagued his short tenure with the Irish and he is 0-2 as a starter. While it is clear that Buchner has the talent to lead a team, his availability will remain a question mark. 

If Notre Dame doesn’t add a transfer signal caller, depth could be extremely thin at the position, with Buchner, Angeli and incoming freshman Kenny Minchey leading the group. This bowl game is extremely important for Buchner to prove himself, but it is also vital for Notre Dame to see what they have in Angeli. 

Cornerback Jaden Mickey

Hart’s continued injury gives Mickey another opportunity to prove himself. It has been an up-and-down season for the freshman corner, but he wasn’t expected to play as much as he has prior to the season. The comparisons to fellow freshman Benjamin Morrison and rising superstar are inevitable, but Mickey has generally played well in his role this year. 

However, with Hart set to return for the Irish and Morrison seemingly locked into the other starting role, Mickey needs to have a big game this weekend to show that he can be a continued factor in what is shaping up to be one of the nation’s better secondaries. Graduate student Tariq Bracy is set to graduate and Clarence Lewis continues to be an up-and-down performer. The opportunity is certainly there for Mickey if he can seize it.

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Moller: Freeman can use Gator Bowl to gain momentum into next season

As more and more college players decide to sit out bowl games to prepare for the NFL draft or enter the transfer portal, bowl games have lost their significance to an extent. In Friday’s Gator Bowl between the Irish and the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Irish will be without junior tight end Michael Mayer and senior defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey. Both All-Americans opted out to pursue the NFL draft. The Irish will also be without junior quarterback Drew Pyne. Pyne started the last ten games for the Irish but decided to transfer to Arizona State. On the flip side, the Gamecocks will likely be without some important wide receivers and tight ends and pieces in the secondary. 

So with all of these key players out on both sides, what does the Gator Bowl mean for head coach Marcus Freeman and the Irish?

After falling short of some lofty preseason goals, winning the Gator Bowl in itself might not mean too much for the Irish. However, this is an opportunity for Marcus Freeman to gain more experience as a head coach and build momentum into next season.

Building momentum into next season starts with sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. The dual threat will start in the Gator Bowl for the first time since week two. He suffered an AC sprain to his non-throwing shoulder in Notre Dame’s loss to Marshall. Expected to lead the Irish this season, Buchner never got a chance to prove himself after two modest performances in his only two starts.

Despite a very disappointing season for Buchner, he will have the chance to prove himself in a low-stakes game this Friday. Buchner really didn’t get a chance to show off his abilities in seven quarters of action this season. Conservative game plans only allowed him to attempt 50 passes. Buchner completed 28 of those passes for no touchdowns and two interceptions. 

Without a key offensive weapon in Michael Mayer, there will be a lot of pressure on Buchner to perform at a high level if the Irish are to beat the Gamecocks. Although Buchner will have some high-quality running backs to rely on, the playbook will likely be more open for Buchner in the bowl game. With rumors swirling around that the Irish are pursuing a quarterback in the transfer portal, Buchner’s performance in the bowl game is very important for him if he wants to secure his starting spot for next season. 

In Mayer’s absence, the Irish will need a plethora of players to step up at the wide receiver position. Mayer accounted for roughly one-third of all Irish receiving yards on the season. There will be a major void that needs to be filled in the bowl game and next season. Although graduate student Braden Lenzy will be around for the bowl game, he isn’t expected to return next year. That leaves it up to a young, inexperienced Irish receiving corps. 

To build momentum into next year, the Irish should prioritize getting sophomores Lorenzo Styles Jr., Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas involved in the offense. All three receivers have shown flashes of their potential this season, but none of them have contributed to the offense on a consistent basis. Freshman Tobias Merriweather is another receiver that should see plenty of the field in Jacksonville. Although Merriweather only has one catch on the year, that catch was a 41-yard touchdown reception that showed just how explosive he can be. At tight end, it’s worth seeing what sophomore Mitchell Evans and freshman Holden Staes bring to the table.

The bowl game might also provide more clarity on the Irish run game going forward. The Irish stuck with a three-man backfield during the regular season. Junior Chris Tyree and sophomores Logan Diggs and Audric Estime each recorded over 400 yards on the ground. With the backfield becoming potentially more crowded next year with the return of freshman Jadarian Price from injury, there could be some major splits in playing time among running backs. The Irish can use Friday’s game to figure out which back they trust most going forward. Audric Estime appeared to be the Irish’s best option on short-down situations towards the end of the season, but Tyree and Diggs proved themselves as reliable options as well. If one of these three players can step up on Friday, that could help them secure more playing time in next year’s season opener. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish have the chance to prove themselves against a South Carolina team that is led by quarterback Spencer Rattler. Although Rattler has proved to be inconsistent at times this year, he is one of the most talented players in college football and he will prove to be a challenge for an Irish defense that recently struggled to contain USC quarterback Caleb Williams. Rattler is nowhere near as talented as Williams, but the Irish defense will have a chance to redeem themselves from their poor performance in Los Angeles to close out the year. 

All in all, the Gator Bowl is a low-risk game for the Irish. They really have nothing to lose considering the players that are going to be missing, so they should prioritize opening up the playbook on offense and seeing what players can make big plays. If the Irish are going to perform well on Friday without some of their top players on both sides of the football, they are going to need some new faces to step up. And those players that step up might prove to be key pieces to next year’s Irish team. 

Additionally, this game gives Marcus Freeman another head coaching game under his belt. There have been lots of ups and downs in Freeman’s inaugural season, and the Gator Bowl has the potential to be the perfect segue into Freeman’s second year as head coach.

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Notre Dame 2023 recruiting class instant analysis, grades

Notre Dame signed its recruiting class after an eventful early signing day. Most notably, the Irish entered the day with 26 commitments, but flips affected the class. Five-star safety Peyton Bowen flipped to Oregon and four-star running back Jayden Limar is projected to do the same. 

Here’s an instant analysis and grades given to each position group. 

Quarterback: A- 

Four-star quarterback Kenny Minchey would have probably been worth a B or B+ by himself. However, the recruitment’s timing plays a big role in elevating this grade. After losing out on the Dante Moore sweepstakes, the Irish were down and out on a quarterback in the 2023 cycle. Although projected to get highly-ranked C.J. Carr in 2024, the transfer of Drew Pyne left the Irish with questionable depth at the position. 

Minchey re-opened his recruitment late in the fall after previously committing to Pitt. The Irish coaching staff turned up the heat and landed a prolific passer who impressed at the Elite 11 camps. Not only did the coaching staff walk away from this class with a quarterback, but they walked away with one of the best signal-callers.

Minchey ranks 13th among quarterbacks by the On3 consensus rankings. Rivals ranks Minchey at No. 11 among pro-style quarterbacks. In an interview with The Observer, Rivals Notre Dame recruiting analyst Kyle Kelly compared Minchey to both C.J. Stroud and DeShone Kizer in his skillset and physical makeup. He also called it arguably the Irish’s biggest win on the recruiting trail, so it’s hard to drop this grade below an A-.

Running Back: A-

Don’t stress about the de-commitments in this group. Dylan Edwards and Jayden Limar both flipped to Pac-12 schools, but the Irish held onto their highest-ranked running back in Jerimiyah Love. Love is an explosive runner and playmaker ranked as the 5th overall running back by On3 Consensus. Plus, the Irish have a trio of lethal running backs from this season returning, as well as a high-ceiling freshman in Jadarian Price. The Irish did lose two intriguing names in this group. But it was from a deep-position group that was likely going to see some transfers anyways.

Tight End: B+

Cooper Flanagan is the only signee at this position for Notre Dame. However, much like running back, the Irish didn’t need a ton of depth here. Although they will lose Michael Mayer, the Irish have five tight ends currently rostered that will fight for playing time in 2023. Notre Dame also signed a pair of four-star tight ends last year in Holden Staes and Eli Raridon. As such, there was no real need to go after more than one tight end this cycle.

Flanagan, ranked the 14th-best tight end by On3 Consensus, is an intriguing prospect with big-time upside. The biggest impact here for the Irish is Flanagan’s run-blocking ability. He fine-tuned this skillset in a run-heavy high school offense, and that talent could get him on the field early. He’ll have to earn his snaps in a deep tight end room. But Flanagan’s physicality is a big win for the Irish who must get more reliable blocking at the position in 2023.

Wide Receiver: A 

Unlike at running back and tight end, the Irish needed depth here. They signed just one receiver — Tobias Merriweather — last season, and expect to enter next year with just five returning receivers who combined for under 1,000 yards in 2022. The Irish desperately needed depth, and, if possible, talent that could impact their depth chart immediately. 

Check and check. The Irish produced a haul of four receivers, including three from Texas. Jaden Greathouse and Braylon James may be the biggest names in the group. But Rico Flores Jr. out of California and three-star Kaleb Smith represent solid additions to the group as well. 

Greathouse played with Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik in high school and posted some gaudy stats. His experience playing with a high-level Power-5 quarterback could help him get on the field early. James gives the Irish a third big vertical threat, joining Deion Colzie and Merriweather as receivers that are at least 6-foot-4. Flores posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to end his high school career. And Smith flashed his athleticism while notching two special teams touchdowns to go with five receiving scores. This class is flush with impressive raw athletes that could get on the field early in their Irish careers.

Offensive Line: B-

A little undecided about the haul here. Notre Dame brings in five guys to compete in a loaded offensive line room. This grade is on the higher end of the B- spectrum, and it only falls from a B due to some of the bigger names that Notre Dame missed on. However, Charles Jagusah, the fifth-ranked tackle by On3 Consensus, is a great headliner to this class. Kelly called Sullivan Absher a “prototypical right tackle.” The Carolina native should fit in well as he tries to earn the right to be sophomore Blake Fisher’s eventual successor at the position.

Joe Otting, Chris Terek and Sam Pendleton will probably need more time before having a chance at cracking the starting lineup. They could eventually turn into starting guards or centers for the Irish. The Irish did miss on a few big five-star names, including Kadyn Proctor (Alabama signee) and Samson Okunlola (Miami) along with four-star Monroe Freeling (Georgia) that could have elevated this group.

Defensive Line: B

No major complaints about this group. Although it definitely would have crept up into A/A- territory had they held onto prolific edge rusher Keon Keeley. As it is, however, stealing a high-level pass rusher out of Ohio in Brenan Vernon, directly beating Ohio State for an in-state recruit, is a massive win for Notre Dame. Vernon could be an instant impact player in the edge rusher rotation. Notre Dame is losing Isaiah Foskey and potentially graduate student Justin Ademilola. If Ademilola does depart, senior Nana Osafa-Mensah is the only returning player with more than 80 snaps at the position.

Outside of Vernon, Boubacar Traore is an intriguing prospect. If he stays healthy, which is a prominent concern, he becomes a steal. Canadians Devan Houstan and Armel Mukam are unlikely to make immediate impacts. Time will tell how much the Keeley miss will hurt the Irish. 

Linebacker: A

Just another phenomenal linebacker class from Marcus Freeman and the Irish. Butkus award winner Drayk Bowen has been all-Irish all the time since he verbally committed. He could be an instant contributor on special teams while waiting to crack the rotation in a deep linebacker corps. Jaiden Ausberry is higher-ranked than Bowen by some services. And the Irish stole him out of the heart of LSU territory, winning a key recruitment battle for an elite-level linebacker.

Preston Zinter is a three-star recruit with an intriguing upside. The Irish have maximized recent three-star linebackers, such as team captains Drew White and J.D. Bertrand or 2022 starters Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser. Zinter will be a name to watch. A great group with elite talent and a high upside follow a 2022 class that was high on both quantity and quality.

Defensive Back: B+ 

The Bowen de-commitment hurts. Losing a five-star always will. The Irish lost a pair of them in this cycle, albeit one before the season started in Keon Keeley. That being said, the Irish have buckets of talent here. Christian Gray is the highest-ranked Irish recruit at cornerback since Shaun Crawford in 2015. Micah Bell brings “a rare sort of speed,” with several sub-10.5 100m dash times.

At safety, four-star Ben Minich has run a 10.47 100m and brings elite speed to the position. Adon Shuler was a two-way star this past season and featured dynamic athleticism while accumulating over 100 tackles and 662 all-purpose yards from scrimmage. Irish cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens got four-star cornerback Benjamin Morrison ready to play in a hurry this fall. And he’s got a whole bunch of young talent to work with here.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

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Ten quotes that defined the Notre Dame season

“I think we learned that we have a good football team, but we have to learn how to finish.” – Marcus Freeman

Freeman said this after Notre Dame’s season-opening 21-10 loss to No. 2 Ohio State. At the time, it felt like the general consensus surrounding the Irish. Notre Dame fell a couple of spots in the polls after the defeat, but after leading the Buckeyes late into the third quarter, the competitive loss felt every bit like two elite teams battling it out. Defensively, the Irish wavered late but otherwise held down one of the best offenses in the country. However, Freeman did fall to 0-2 as a head coach, marking the second game that he lost after holding a halftime lead. 

“You really can’t just sulk in these losses. I mean, we’re 0-2, yes, and it’s horrible, it’s horrible, but we’re just going to prepare for the next team.” – Michael Mayer

The junior tight end and captain of the Fighting Irish stood in front of media after the most shocking loss of his collegiate career and the past few seasons of Notre Dame football. The Irish had just lost to Marshall, 26-21, falling to 0-2 in the process. With national championship hopes dashed, Notre Dame needed to find something else to play for. “It’s horrible” summed up the feelings of the fanbase. With an elite recruiting class waiting in the wings and a promising head coach that was struggling on the field, the Irish program’s health felt like it depended on turning the season around. 

“My mindset has never changed since the moment I got here … I will always be prepared and as ready as possible for any point that I need to help the team.” – Drew Pyne

At the tail end of that Marshall loss, sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner went down with an injury that kept him out the rest of the season. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne entered and couldn’t lead the comeback, but from there on out, he was the starting quarterback. While the numbers weren’t gaudy, Pyne gritted his way through the season, winning eight of ten games as the starting quarterback for the Irish. Now in the transfer portal, Pyne lived up to what he said prior to the Week 3 clash with Cal. He stayed ready and largely kept his team in a position to win games, turning an 0-2 Notre Dame squad into a team that was playing for a New Year’s Six bowl in the season finale. 

“There was a conversation between me and God …There was some, ‘Lord, what is going on?’” – Marcus Freeman

Freeman’s first win was not a smooth ride. The Irish beat Cal, 24-17, but on the last drive of the game, the Irish forced multiple turnovers that were ultimately overturned. A fumble return for a touchdown was brought back due to the quarterback being down, giving Cal a final chance. Their Hail Mary for the win bounced around before being batted down in the end zone. After the crazy finish, a relieved Freeman recounted his ‘conversation’ with God as he attempted to secure his first win as a head coach. Despite the chaotic finish, the Freeman Era had officially gotten off the starting blocks with its first win. 

“You’re a fool if you can’t find a way to get the ball in his hands” – Marcus Freeman

This quote came after the North Carolina game, from Freeman about Mayer. It really could have come after any contest, but Mayer posted one of his several elite performances against the Tar Heels. He caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, leading the Irish offense to 45 points after they had combined for just 55 in the first three weeks. The Irish’s success in the passing game became nearly synonymous with Mayer’s performance. He ended the season as the all-time leader in career receptions, yards and touchdowns by an Irish tight end. 

“We know it was a tough week for all of us. Anybody that’s a part of this Notre Dame family or Notre Dame Nation and this football team, it was a tough week” – Marcus Freeman

After a three-game surge that had the Irish creeping back toward the Top 25, Notre Dame came crashing down to earth in a 16-14 loss to Stanford. After seemingly pushing the right buttons and getting the program back on track, Freeman was faced with a whole bunch of questions. The Irish came out with more urgency the following week, finally performing well as a big favorite. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but the result was never in doubt. Notre Dame trounced UNLV, 44-21. Freeman was very honest after the game in reflecting on the mood of the team that week. He noted the importance of displaying some of that urgency in this game. While the actual result wasn’t particularly noteworthy, it did keep the season from going completely off the rails. 

“You look at every game that we have won, I think we rushed the ball 40 plus times. That’s been our backbone. We knew this defensive line was special, but we couldn’t shy away from our strength.” – Marcus Freeman

These next two quotes are both about the identity that Notre Dame began to form under Freeman. Also, it reflected something of a refreshing change with the Irish in big games. They had an identity and they stuck to it with success in a big moment. It would have been easy to assume they couldn’t run on No. 4 Clemson’s highly-ranked rush defense. But Notre Dame pounded the rock anyways and shoved their identity down the Tigers’ throats. In previous iterations of Irish football in big games, it felt like they were incapable — or unwilling —to do this. Under Freeman, they weren’t afraid to match strength against strength and came out on top. 

“Call duo until you can’t speak.”  – Tommy Rees

The Notre Dame offense frequently utilizes a run scheme called ‘duo’. Playing off the previous quote, it was the perfect example of Notre Dame leaning into their strengths and dominating a quality opponent. Notre Dame was pretty much the only team to out-physical Clemson and a lethal and well-coached run game and offensive line helped the cause. So, as Rees prepared to leave his box to come celebrate with the team, he told tight ends coach Gerad Parker “if I don’t make it down in time, call duo until you can’t speak.” Hard to argue the logic after his two running backs, sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, ran for 218 yards in the game. 

“We did not have the urgency or execution in the second [half]” – Marcus Freeman

After a dominant first half against Navy, the Irish slipped back into their second-half form from earlier in the season. The Irish nearly coughed up a 35-13 halftime advantage, giving up 19 unanswered points. It felt like a trend all season for Notre Dame. Against Ohio State, they gave up a 10-7 advantage at the break. A seemingly comfortable BYU win turned stressful due to a stagnant offense. Up 24-7 in the third quarter against Syracuse, the Irish stalled and gave up ten unanswered points, needing to intercept the Orange on a potential game-tying drive before pulling away. Ultimately, Freeman’s team felt a little lackadaisical when it came to intensity in the second half and the Navy game encapsulated that struggle. 

“What these seniors did for this program will be the reason why we do win a national championship in the near future” – Marcus Freeman

Year One of the Freeman Era may not have gone exactly according to plan, but after an 8-4 season, the Irish’s goals remain the same. This Freeman quote came after the Irish improved to 8-3 on Senior Day against Boston College. When he was hired, Freeman talked about an ‘unwavering standard’ and that standard remains in place. It was a bumpy road in year one, but Freeman made sure to honor the seniors that turned the season around and remind everyone that the hunt for a national championship in the coming years is still very much alive in South Bend.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.

Categories
Sports

Drew Pyne to enter transfer portal

Notre Dame starting quarterback Drew Pyne will enter the transfer portal, he announced on Twitter Friday afternoon. He is not expected to compete in the team’s upcoming bowl game, according to multiple sources. 

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote on Twitter. “I have been blessed to be among great coaches and teachers and play with teammates I consider brothers. Now, it’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

The junior signal caller was thrust into action when sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner went down with a shoulder injury late in the second game of the season against Marshall. After assuming the starting role, Pyne completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards this year. He threw for 22 touchdowns against six interceptions, also adding two scores on the ground. 

It was an up-and-down season for Pyne, yet he finished with the fourth-highest passer rating in Notre Dame’s history and went 8-2 as a starter. 

The former four-star recruit from New Cannan, Conn. arrived in South Bend prior to the 2020 season, where he served as the third-string quarterback behind Ian Book and Brendan Clark. Last year, alongside Buchner, he backed up Jack Coan, but all three quarterbacks saw meaningful action. He entered the game in the second half against Wisconsin at Soldier Field in September, and completed 6 of 8 passes for 81 yards and a score, helping lead the Irish to victory with a 31-point fourth quarter. 

This year, he was expected to challenge for the starting job but was outperformed by Buchner in fall camp, who was named the starter prior to the season opener. But after Buchner’s injury, Pyne got his chance. 

Head coach Marcus Freeman had hinted that Buchner could be cleared to play in the bowl game, and Football Scoops writer John Brice tweeted Tuesday after Pyne’s announcement that the true sophomore is expected to suit up. Without Pyne in the mix and if Buchner is left off the roster, it will come down to four-star freshman Steve Angeli who has seen very limited action this season. Notre Dame also recently received a commitment from Kenny Minchey, a four-star quarterback in the class of 2023. 

The Irish will find out their postseason fate Sunday.

Categories
Sports

Pyne flips script, shows capability to dominate despite mistake

All year, Notre Dame junior quarterback Drew Pyne has been judged by virtually everything but the final result. After taking over as the starter, Pyne won eight of his first nine games. He did this without gaudy numbers. Pyne never threw for 300 yards in those nine games. During a three-game winning streak, Pyne completed just 32 of 64 total pass attempts for four touchdowns and two interceptions. On five occasions, the former four-star didn’t eclipse 156 yards passing. He had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage in every game, and he missed open receivers with underthrows. Yet, with one exception, the Irish kept winning. Pyne seemed to find the clutch gene when he needed it. 

There was the Clemson game when the Irish really didn’t orchestrate any offense all half, leading 7-0 on a special teams touchdown late in the second quarter. Then Pyne notched the final 26 yards of a 78-yard drive, running twice for 15 and completing an 11-yard pass. Then, up 28-7, Pyne drove the dagger into Clemson’s back with a scoring strike to junior tight end Michael Mayer in the fourth. 

Or against Syracuse, when Pyne completed three straight passes for 51 yards and a touchdown in a critical end-of-half drive to seize control against the then-No. 16 Orange. Throwing it back to his first career start, Pyne led the Irish to just seven first-half points. On three straight scoring drives to start the second half, the junior completed eight of nine passes for 85 yards, leading Notre Dame to 17 points and a 24-17 win. 

All season long, Pyne showed flashes, putting it together in big moments and slowly pulling the Irish season back on track. On Saturday, however, it was almost the opposite. For almost all of four quarters, Pyne dazzled. He completed his first 15 passes. On the day, he finished 23 of 26 for 318 yards. Criticized for his downfield passing, Pyne completed eight passes that were aired out at least 18 yards past the line of scrimmage. Throw in a short pass to Audric Estime for 30 yards, and Pyne completed nine passes, including three touchdowns, for 18 or more yards. 

“Yeah, we went empty [backfield] a lot. We kind of knew what [USC’s] check was to empty,” Pyne said of the downfield passing success. “We worked that all week, Coach Rees had great plays against it and we were just able to execute.”

From a box score standpoint, the Irish piled up impressive numbers. They were outgained by just 33 yards, earned one less first down and punted one less time. Even on the ground, the Irish generated a couple of big plays. Audric Estime broke off a 24-yard run and a key nine-yard rush on third down. Chris Tyree set up the Irish’s first touchdown with an 18-yard run. For large portions of its time on offense, Notre Dame moved the ball at will. 

Pyne demonstrated trust in more than just Mayer, finding sophomores Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie for chunk gains on several occasions. Colzie notched three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. He converted a 3rd and 10, a 2nd and 20 and also scored a touchdown on his three catches. Pyne targeted Styles five times, completing four passes to the sophomore, often short passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. Styles responded to the trust by racking up 36 yards after the catch. 

“I think it’s credit to them. They’re two young guys who just work their tails off nonstop. We work in practice, after practice. I worked that with Deion during the week, throwing a high ball up to him in the red zone,” Pyne noted. “Those guys come to work every single day with a positive attitude. They’re silly guys who like to have fun. They’re some of my best friends. That chemistry of being close with them — as receivers — translates on the field and in all the work we put in during the week.”

However, when it comes down to it, this game will be remembered for two fatal offensive mistakes. Rather than stretches of frustration with moments of brilliance, it was long stretches of brilliance with two moments of frustration. On the second drive of the game, Pyne couldn’t evade pressure enough to convert a 3rd and 2, falling a yard short of the first down. Notre Dame opted to go for it rather than try a 44-yard field goal and failed. That kept the deficit at 10 points. From there, the Irish offense did get going, but they had limited opportunities, getting just one more full drive in the half. They converted that one for seven points over nine plays and 80 yards. But USC responded and kept a double-digit lead at halftime. 

Coming out in the second half, the overwhelming sense was that Notre Dame needed to score after receiving the kickoff. USC was controlling the clock and marching at will. The Irish needed to minimize the number of stops required of their defense. And Pyne and Co. obliged for the first seven plays of the drive. Back-to-back completions to Mayer accounted for 35 yards, and the Irish quickly marched down to the red zone. There, Pyne kept the ball on a read-pass-option and looked to distribute it quickly to a running back in the flat. Instead, he never fully gripped the ball, dropping it for an easy USC fumble recovery. The Trojans subsequently mashed the Irish defense for 74 yards on seven plays and a touchdown. Notre Dame never again came closer than 10 points. 

“I think USC is a great team. That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things the rest of the season,” Pyne said. “Caleb Williams is a great player, their defense is good. They are a great team, but so are we and they got the best of us tonight.”

Pyne’s answer was in response to a question about whether it was fair to boil the game down to just two or three key moments. Pyne didn’t directly answer that, but his assessment of two great teams battling it out signaled a seemingly tacit agreement with the statement. USC wasn’t necessarily the better team. If Notre Dame executes on two more plays in this game, it’s an entirely different storyline. 

If the Irish take the points rather than go for it on fourth down, or just convert the fourth down, the game may have been 10-3. Given the lethal nature of Notre Dame’s second-half offense, a touchdown had the ill-fated fumble not occurred seems likely. That’s a 10-point swing. All of which goes to say that for all of Caleb Williams’ Heisman brilliance, the Irish were two snaps away from having the ball with six minutes left in a 31-31 game. Or, if you want to be picky, maybe USC operates a little differently on its lone second-half punt if the score is tied and the Trojans score. Still a one-possession game.

But with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, down 10, it felt lost. USC had only one non-game-ending possession last under three minutes, meaning if that held, Notre Dame would have needed to score twice in just over three minutes of game time. Cramped for time, Pyne forced a throw while scrambling, firing the game-sealing interception. 

Pyne’s season? Inconsistent and frustrating but shored up by an ability to generally deliver when absolutely needed. Against USC? Pyne and the Irish offense delivered all game only to beat themselves in two critical moments. 

It demonstrates growth — Notre Dame’s oft-critiqued offense was extremely close to going punch-for-punch with a Heisman candidate and one of the best offenses in the country. The same offense and the same quarterback that earlier this year frequently looked punchless against the likes of Cal and Stanford. It’s hard to score 38 points in 24 minutes and 37 seconds with an average starting field position that is 16 yards worse than your opponent. Defensively, the Irish looked outclassed by an opposing offense for the whole game, the first time that’s happened all year. 

“We were just trying to focus on execution,” Pyne said of playing from behind the whole game. “We were just trying to control what we control.” 

Ultimately what the Irish offense could feasibly even have controlled was barely enough to match the Trojans blow for blow. Thus, the game script demanded virtual offensive perfection. And in a regular season full of twists, turns and imperfection, Pyne and the offense were close to perfection. But a performance demonstrating vast improvement from the offense’s early and midseason form came up two snaps shy of accomplishing a daunting task. 

One fourth-down stop, one brutal, avoidable and self-inflicted mistake. One 11-point loss. 

That’s the margin of error in games between great opponents, and Pyne and a young Irish offense saw that firsthand in the Coliseum. There will be expectations that the Irish build on that growth in 2023, and Saturday night was a big first step. But before that, Notre Dame gets one more shot in 2022, and it comes with an opportunity to display sustained offensive improvement against a strong opponent. 

“We have a lot to play for, still. We’re gonna be in a bowl game, and I want to send these seniors out the right way…I’m gonna prepare for that, to finish the season out on a positive note,” Pyne said. “I’m proud of how we fought today, I’m proud of how we fought all season. I’m really proud of our team. In a month, when the game comes up, we’re going to finish it in the right way.”

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.