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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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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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Gator Bowl grades: Buchner delivers rollercoaster effort amidst transfer rumors

Tyler Buchner entered the 2022 season with a lot of hype. With the offensive line and run game struggling, Buchner’s inexperience as a passer shone through in a rough, 0-2 start to the season. In the second loss, Buchner suffered an injury that sidelined him until Friday’s bowl game.

The sophomore took the field for his third career start amidst raging rumors that Notre Dame is trying to land Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Sam Hartman. That would put Buchner into another quarterback battle in 2023. With a lot of pressure to showcase the talent that earned him the QB1 spot to start the year, Buchner delivered a wildly up-and-down performance in Notre Dame’s 45-38 win. He accounted for 335 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Here’s a drive-by-drive look at Buchner’s Gator Bowl effort.

Drive 1: Three plays, two yards, punt

Best play: Incomplete pass on first down

Worst play: Incomplete pass on third down

Buchner didn’t exactly start hot, delivering two off-target throws on his first two attempts. The first was certainly catchable, but it was a bit of a rocket from just yards away towards a crossing Lorenzo Styles. It went in the box score as a Styles drop. It was, but it was also off-target. The third-down throw was far worse. On third and eight, Buchner had sophomore receiver Jayden Thomas open for the first down, but he just led his target too far across the field, ending the drive with a three-and-out.

Grade: D

Drive 2: 10 plays, 50 yards, TD

Best Play: 15-yard touchdown run

Worst Play: Incomplete pass to Holden Staes

In a grind-it-out touchdown drive, Buchner was inconsistent, but he made plays where it counted. On 2nd and 15, he threw a bullet pass to freshman tight end Holden Staes. It went slightly high. Similar to the incompletion to Styles, it was catchable, but it was an off-target effort.

However, Buchner responded with a third-down completion to sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans for 18 yards to keep the drive alive. Four plays later, Buchner appeared to call an audible on third and nine from the 15-yard line, and he danced through the middle and into the end zone on a quarterback draw. It was a reminder of the dual-threat ability that Buchner brings to the table, which becomes more lethal in the red zone, particularly with the Irish’s strong run game.

Grade: B+

Drive 3: Five plays, 19 yards, pick-six

Best Play: Shovel pass to Braden Lenzy, 13 yards

Worst Play: Pick-six

This was a disaster of a drive, as Buchner did very little besides shoveling a second-down pass to graduate student receiver Braden Lenzy. After a pair of runs, Buchner looked to dump it to sophomore running back Logan Diggs, but the pass was deflected at the line. It popped in the air and was returned for a touchdown. There was some miscommunication with Diggs’ motion; he collided with offensive guard Josh Lugg, who also allowed his blocking assignment to get elevated and deflect the pass. Out of three interceptions, this one was the least on Buchner, but it still was a massive mistake in the moment, putting the Irish down 21-7.

Grade: F

Drive 4: 11 plays, 56 yards, field goal

Best play: 14-yard pass on 3rd and 12 to Jayden Thomas

Worst play: 12-yard sack on 3rd and goal

Buchner rebounded well from the pick-six, completing two of three passes for 28 yards on the ensuing drive for the Irish. He added a 21-yard rush that got them into field goal range. His most impressive play was easily on a 3rd and 12 conversion from the South Carolina 44. Buchner rolled right and got drilled as he unleashed a throw to Thomas. The pass hit the sophomore receiver in stride where only he could catch it, allowing Thomas to convert the first down. From a difficulty standpoint, it was arguably Buchner’s most impressive throw all day.

A few plays later, Buchner nearly undid all his work by scrambling around on a third and goal. He dropped back and scrambled right and eventually took a massive 12-yard sack. By not getting rid of the ball, Buchner turned a 24-yard field goal attempt into a 36-yarder. Graduate student kicker Blake Grupe drilled the kick anyways, but Buchner nearly made a disaster of a solid drive by trying to play the hero.

Grade: B-

Drive 5: One play, 75 yards, touchdown

Best Play: 75-yard touchdown pass to Logan Diggs

It is hard to fault Buchner for anything on this drive, but it is also hard to give him a ton of credit. Most of the work on this one-play drive came from Diggs. The running back motioned out of the backfield, and Buchner hit him in the chest and in stride. Diggs, with a little blocking help, did the rest of the work.

Grade: A

Drive 6: Three plays, -8 yards, punt

Best Play: 8-yard screen pass to Audric Estime

Worst Play: 9-yard sack on third down

This was an absolute disaster of a drive, although it wasn’t really on Buchner. It started with a shovel pass that was absolutely blown up for a seven-yard loss. After that, Buchner completed the second-down play call as well as he could have, dishing off a screen pass that gained seven yards and made it a manageable third down.

On third down, Buchner faced basically immediate pressure as All-American left tackle Joe Alt got beaten off the snap. Buchner evaded an immediate sack but got drilled soon after by an unblocked blitzing linebacker. Maybe Buchner could have just gotten rid of the ball after the first sack attempt. It wouldn’t have changed much, except where the Irish punted from.

Grade: C+

Drive 7: Three plays, one yard, punt

Best Play: Incomplete deep pass on third down

Worst Play: Incomplete slant on second down

After a one-yard run to start the second half, Buchner looked to pass twice, both times firing toward freshman receiver Tobias Merriweather. The second-down pass was a low slant, falling in the ‘catchable but off-target’ department. Merriweather ran a slant near the sticks, but he had to fall to reach Buchner’s low throw and couldn’t collect the pass. That led to a third and nine, and Buchner targeted Merriweather once more, this time on a deep post. It was a well-placed ball, just out in front of the freshman. However, Buchner’s target seemed to lose the ball in the lights and never attempted to make a play on the ball. It ended up as a ‘what could have happened’ moment.

Grade: C

Drive 8: Five plays, 68 yards, touchdown

Best play: 25-yard pass to Jayden Thomas

Worst play: 1-yard run on first down

This was a case study in how valuable Tyler Buchner can be for this Notre Dame offense. First down called for a designed run which went for one yard. But after that, it was all smooth sailing. Estime’s 19-yard run set up one of Buchner’s best throws of the evening. He found Jayden Thomas on a deep out route by the left sideline, dropping the ball in a bucket for his classmate. It was a 25-yard gain that put the Irish at the South Carolina 23. Then, Estime ran for 12, and Buchner kept for 11 yards to finish off a blistering five-play, 68-yard touchdown drive.

Grade: A

Drive 9: Three plays, six yards, interception

Best play: 6-yard run

Worst play: Interception

Buchner showed why he could be so dangerous, and then he demonstrated the inexperience and recklessness that has the Irish exploring the transfer portal. After two runs for six yards, the Irish faced third down. Buchner scrambled to avoid pressure. Although he was virtually out of any options to convert the first down, Buchner tried to make some magic happen. He flipped the ball toward Jayden Thomas, but the ball was behind the receiver. It popped up in the air and into South Carolina hands for an interception. Down 31-24 already, Notre Dame faced a potentially devastating momentum swing.

Grade: F

Drive 10: Eight plays, 31 yards, punt

Best Play: 12-yard pass on third down

Worst Play: Incomplete pass on 2nd & 7

Buchner offered a solid response to his second interception, moving the Irish into South Carolina territory before a punt. After the offense gained 13 yards in three plays, Buchner turfed a second-down pass under heavy pressure. It was a harmless incompletion that kept the drive alive. With the third-down opportunity, Buchner delivered a strike on a slant to Lenzy, good for 12 yards and a first down.

Two plays later, however, the Irish faced another third down and the Gamecocks blitzed. Buchner faced instant pressure and did well to not take a sack, but he could only find Thomas for one yard, leading to a punt.

Grade: B+

Drive 11: One play, 44 yards, touchdown

Best Play: 44-yard touchdown pass

Another candidate for one of Buchner’s best throws of the evening, this 44-yard bomb to Lenzy tied the game up for the first time since the first quarter. Sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans picked up a blitz, but Buchner still threw under duress. He managed to hit Lenzy in stride on a deep crossing route for the score.

Grade: A+

Drive 12: Seven plays*, 73 yards, touchdown

Best play: 8-yard run on 2nd down

Worst play: Incomplete pass on third down

This drive was seven plays, with the asterisk denoting a fake punt that extended the drive while Buchner wasn’t on the field. Prior to the punt, Buchner underthrew a deep post route into tight coverage. It was an interesting play call on 3rd and 4, and Buchner threw to his first read. A perfect throw might have been completed, but it was a small margin for error.

After the fake, Buchner threw incomplete on a broken play but ran for eight yards to set up a short third down. From there, Diggs did the work with a 39-yard touchdown run to give Notre Dame a 38-31 lead. Buchner did quite little on this drive, but he also didn’t do a ton wrong. And ultimately, Notre Dame scored, with the help of a little trickery.

Grade: C

Drive 13: Six plays, 53 yards, pick-six

Best play: 17-yard run on first down

Worst play: Pick-six

It was almost a masterclass. A fantastic, game-sealing drive to give the Irish a 45-31 lead and basically clinch a Gator Bowl victory. And then it turned to disaster.

Buchner started the drive with a 17-yard run, putting the South Carolina defense on its heels. A few plays later, Buchner called his own number on a three-yard quarterback sneak to convert a first down. But, after a 26-yard run by Estime, Buchner erased the offensive progress. The play call was for a first-down slant pass over the middle for Evans. Buchner pump-faked a screen to get one linebacker to clear the throwing lane. The throw may have been open for a split second, but Buchner took an extra drop step before releasing. It allowed the weakside linebacker to diagnose the play, and he dropped back to make the interception, returning it for a game-tying touchdown.

Grade: F

Drive 14: 12 plays, 80 yards, touchdown

Best play: 16-yard touchdown pass

Worst play: 1-yard run

Buchner displayed impressive resilience in a strong response after his second pick-six. In 12 plays, Buchner passed three times for 30 yards and ran once for four yards. Beyond that, he was happy to let his running backs do the work, and that they did. However, the drive included a 3rd and 1 conversion as Buchner read a quarterback sneak well and brought it around the right tackle for a four-yard gain.

A few plays later, sitting on the edge of field goal range, Buchner calmly completed a pitch-and-catch third-down conversion to junior running back Chris Tyree, who motioned out of the backfield. That allowed the Irish to drain some more clock, which they gladly did on a pair of runs of one and two yards.

That left a 3rd and seven from the 16-yard line, and many assumed the Irish would run the ball and force South Carolina to take a timeout before attempting a field goal. The Irish lined up in their preferred run concept, duo, but the call was a play-action pass. After faking the handoff, Buchner kept his eyes to the right, towards a streaking Thomas. Suddenly, he pivoted back left and found Evans wide open. The play call worked well, and Buchner executed it to perfection on his final snap of the day.

Grade: A+

Final Grades

Over 14 drives, Buchner displayed the highs and lows that come with raw talent and very little experience. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees gave his sophomore quarterback a chance to both sling it and use his legs. In those 14 drives, Buchner earned 4 ‘A’ grades and 3 ‘F’s. It was truly a wild performance from start to finish.

In 2022, the Irish had a quarterback who generally played safe, but his ceiling limited the Irish in a few critical moments. There’s no doubt, after he accounted for five touchdowns in the Gator Bowl, that Buchner raises that ceiling, but the floor, for now, appears to be much lower. Or it looked as much in Friday’s three-interception effort. That’s a lot of risk to carry into a 2023 season with a lot of returning talent and Playoff aspirations. If Buchner was looking to deliver a performance that proved the Irish don’t need to consider the transfer portal, he failed to do so. But he did deliver the Irish their first bowl win over a ranked opponent since 2017, and he showcased a talent level that, once polished, could be the best the Irish have had at the position in years.

Final Grade: B-

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu.