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Catch of the year?: After slow start, Braden Lenzy enjoys shining moment

Irish graduate student wide receiver Braden Lenzy shocked the nation Saturday afternoon with his circus catch in the first quarter of play against Navy. M&T Bank Stadium held its breath as junior quarterback Drew Pyne launched the ball 38 yards to an endzone-bound Lenzy. Navy cornerback Mbiti Williams Jr. appeared to be in a perfect position to defend the ball. Well, he was in a perfect position. Until Lenzy pinned the ball against the defender’s back to snatch it away with one hand.

Not only was it an unbelievable catch, but it was also another touchdown that extended Notre Dame’s lead over the Midshipmen to 21-6. Lenzy’s feat also placed Pyne in a more comfortable position in the pocket. With 234 passing yards in the first half, Pyne was making good reads, completing all but two of his 16 first-half passes. That early, substantial lead allowed the Irish to ultimately defeat Navy despite looking slow and disengaged in the second half. 

If you have not seen this pivotal moment rotating throughout highlight reels yet, it is certainly one to watch. Lenzy’s catch is all over headlines of major sports outlets. It even clocked in at number one on SportsCenter’s top 10 of the weekend.

Lenzy’s shining moment is well-deserved. The Oregon native has had a slow start to the season and experienced. several disappointments in his career. Lenzy only had 128 yards total in his first seven appearances of the season. Compare that to Lenzy’s performance against Navy, where he amassed five catches for 67 yards in the first quarter alone, and it is evident how far he has come. Pyne commented after the game on Lenzy’s work ethic and how it was truly his time to shine.

“Braden’s a guy that, all season, runs as hard as he can,” Pyne said. “He’s a guy that, in practice, always has a smile on his face. I felt like I gotta give him a shot. I scrambled out there and he beat his man by a couple yards. I saw that and I said I’m going to give him a chance so I threw it up and he made the unbelievable catch. I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole life. I’m so happy for him and he’s going to continue to keep getting better.” 

Taking a look at Lenzy’s career, this catch comes at a pivotal time in the graduate student’s final year. Lenzy had a huge season in 2019 and was thought at the time to be the next big star for the Irish. His unique speed and chemistry with former Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (’19) made him an explosive asset in the running and passing games, capable of a game-breaking play at any moment. He was frequently used offensively in the backfield, something Notre Dame could benefit from this season.

However, Lenzy failed to back up his breakout campaign with a disappointing 2020 showing. Lenzy suffered a hamstring injury in summer camp and then reaggravated it during the year. He finished with only seven catches on the season.

Lenzy figured back and better than ever in 2021. But he never developed chemistry with quarterback Jack Coan (’22). Even though he ended the season with 32 catches, he didn’t play as prominent a role in the offense as expected. Nevertheless, his seven-catch performance in the Fiesta Bowl ignited hopes and he returned in 2022 with unfinished business. 

With the disappointing and uneven performance by the offense this season, perhaps Lenzy’s catch of the year will ignite the Irish the rest of the way.

Contact Madeline Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu

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Sports

“That’s why we named him the starter”: Buchner ushers in new era against the Buckeyes

When he was first signed at Notre Dame, quarterback Tyler Buchner’s talent was lauded as the saving grace that would replace the stability that Ian Book brought to the Irish football program during his time in the position. When the former QB1 had played out his eligibility after having been the starter for three years, questions immediately arose about who would — and could — fill that position. Enter Buchner, a fellow Californian, four-star recruit that seemed ready to step into the role.

That was until graduate transfer Jack Coan entered the mix, unleashing the quarterback battle that ensued during the 2021-2022 season. With the position shifting between Buchner, Coan and junior Drew Pyne, the once straight path for the sophomore blurred slightly. But despite any uncertainty and doubt, it seems Buchner has won out and has become the sole man for the job.

That same uncertainty and doubt, however, followed Buchner into this season opener. After a year of experiencing several different quarterback combinations — often multiple in a single game — having a starter preestablished in fall camp was a shocking reality for Irish fans. Especially when it was one who did not play in the spring Blue and Gold game due to injury. Yet in the season opener, in his first game fully at the helm, Buchner has proven that although he may not yet be perfect in the position, he has great capacity to be.

Buchner exhibited both his run and pass game against the Buckeyes; he racked up 177 passing yards and a net 18 yards in rushing, nearly as much as sophomore running back — and sole touchdown scorer — Audric Estime’s 21 yards. He did so without a turnover, as head coach Marcus Freemen noted in his post-game press conference, which cannot be said for Coan’s or Book’s first games as starters for the Irish.

“I’m pleased with him,” Freeman said. “But the biggest thing I’m pleased with is zero turnovers.”

Aside from starting out on an even better foot than his predecessors, Buchner also had to adapt to the changing landscape on the field, shifting from the original idea to run both the ball and the clock, as Freeman said was their game plan heading into Saturday night. When his passing game was instead called upon, Buchner was able to capitalize on several opportunities for yardage gain, despite throwing some incomplete passes. 

In response to these mistakes, Buchner emphasized that it is the small facets of the game that eventually add up to how well a player or team performs.

“At the end of the day, it sort of comes down to execution and, you know, the little things,” Buchner said. “We didn’t do little things at the level of which, you know, the standard at which we hold ourselves to.”

In terms of execution, Buchner being a first-time quarterback was cause for concern, as he enters this new role in a highly anticipated matchup against one of the top teams in the country. However, Freeman noted that his adaptability and confidence prevented the moment from overwhelming him and instead, he rose to the challenge.

“That’s why we named him the starter,” Freeman said.

He demonstrated these qualities from the opening drive of the game, which ended in a field goal attempt that put the Irish on the board first. His rocket pass to sophomore receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. set the tone for what could be under Buchner’s leadership.

This confidence, Buchner said, is bolstered by his teammates. After having gone eight for eight at the start of the game, he noted how the offense was starting to gel based on their trust in each other and their abilities.

“Luckily, I’ve got a great support staff around me. Awesome teammates,” Buchner said. “They played really well. And so you know, having the confidence that, you know, the guys around me are going to execute and do their job well certainly helped.”

Buchner also acknowledged his equal responsibility in this system. When asked about the offensive line, Buchner said that it is his job to be in the correct protection, too. This rapport Buchner has with his offense gives Freeman high hopes for the quarterback’s future at Notre Dame.  

“He’s going to be a really great football player and a great leader for us,” Freeman said.

Emily DeFazio

Contact Emily at edefazio@nd.edu