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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.

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Pulse of the fanbase: How Irish fans are feeling eight games into Freeman Era

As Notre Dame enters their biggest home game of the season, The Observer took a look at the overall mood of the fanbase through eight games. The Irish have dropped two games as huge home favorites, but they also have two top-20 wins on the road. Sitting at 5-3, how confident are Irish fans about the rest of this season and the direction of the program under the current coaching staff? In an Observer survey, 105 respondents weighed in with their opinion. 

Confidence in Marcus Freeman: 8.12 of 10

All confidence ratings were given on a scale of a 1-10 with 1 being “should be fired after the season” and 10 representing “can lead the Irish to their next national championship within a few years.”Overall, Irish fans feel good about their young head coach. He’s had some learning moments this year, but he’s gotten the Irish up and ready for big games. If he can start making sure the Irish are mentally ready for those easier contests, this team and program can elevate itself sooner rather than later.

Confidence in Tommy Rees: 4.76

Rees, in year three as offensive coordinator, got a lot less slack from Irish fans. A touch under 30% of respondents granted Rees a seven or above. Those higher grades reflect a confidence in Rees to expand on some of the brilliant moments that he’s shown. The Irish have at times put together some superbly-called drives, such as the end-of-half touchdown drive at Syracuse last week. Rees has demonstrated some creativity, and some respondents appear to believe that Rees has been dealt a tough hand with thin depth at wide receiver, and now four starting quarterbacks in three years.

However, 33% of grades saw Rees land at a three or below, so the feelings can be pretty extreme. Who exactly is to blame for the inconsistent offense? Irish fans are split on this answer. 

Confidence in Al Golden: 7.26

Golden has by and large done a solid job in his first year as defensive coordinator. There’s been some interesting blitz decisions that have led to big gains at inopportune times, but the adjustments and overall performance have been there. The biggest weakness for the Irish is their awful red zone defense, ranked dead last in the FBS. 

However, Golden and the Irish defense have held a lot of teams below their scoring and yardage averages. Of respondents, 54.7% gave Golden a seven or an eight, so there’s a lot of confidence, but there’s a little more doubt with some questionable moments scattered throughout the year. 

Who should start at quarterback?

This was a curious question that ultimately revealed that junior Drew Pyne is still the favored signal-caller, despite growing noise for freshman Steve Angeli. Of the 106 respondents, 70.1% picked Pyne, the more experienced signal-caller who is 5-1 as a starter. Pyne has been less than ideal in recent weeks, completing under 50% of passes over his last three games. However, he’s shown the ability to be a strong QB1 in prior games, and he has his flashes in every game. Pyne could also benefit from a lot less drops from his receivers, but certainly he’s missed his fair share of throws. 

That being said, while there’s some intrigue about Angeli, particularly after the freshman engineered a comeback in the spring game, many realize that throwing a lower four-star quarterback into the fray as a true freshman is not the answer. Under Pyne, the Irish still have a small chance at 9-3, and building for the future by starting Angeli is not the answer. 

Who are Notre Dame’s top three offensive and defensive players? 

While the exact answers varied, the general offensive consensus was junior tight end Michael Mayer (not exactly shocking), a running back and an offensive lineman. The most popular permutation was Mayer, sophomore Audric Estime and sophomore Joe Alt. Estime appeared on 72 ballots, while classmate and fellow running back Logan Diggs earned 30 votes. Alt, sophomore tackle Blake Fisher and graduate student guard Jarrett Patterson were among vote-getters on the offensive line. 

At other positions, Pyne brought in a handful of votes, and sophomore Jayden Thomas led all wide receivers with eight votes. 

There was a decent amount of variation amidst the defensive players, but overall, three seniors separated themselves from the crowd. Vyper Isaiah Foskey was the clear top vote-getter, with transfer safety Brandon Joseph sitting in second. Both Foskey and Joseph are potential first-round draft picks, and they’ve come on strong in recent weeks. Foskey has four sacks and two punt blocks in the past two weeks, and Joseph notched a pick-six against Syracuse. Coming in third was linebacker J.D. Bertrand who had himself a day against Syracuse. The senior has performed well recently after a slow start that involved two targeting penalties, and he’s leading the linebacker unit. 

Beyond those three, defensive lineman Rylie Mills and senior linebacker Marist Liufau earned plenty of votes. Three cornerbacks, freshman Ben Morrison, junior Cam Hart and graduate student Tariq Bracy all earned similar numbers of votes. 

Predicting the rest of the season

There’s a lot of confidence in the fanbase surrounding the upcoming game. In all the responses, 72.5% picked Notre Dame to upset Clemson this weekend, with another 3.7% picking the Irish to at least cover the 3.5-point spread. Interestingly, however, many Irish fans do expect another loss this season, likely to rival USC at the end of the season. Only 12% of answers picked the Irish to finish 9-3, while the most popular answer was eight wins (56%). Another 26% chose the somewhat predicted outcome of 7-5, with the Irish likely losing their top-10 games versus USC and Clemson but beating Boston College and Navy. Only six answers had the Irish finishing with just six wins, and no one picked the Irish to lose out. 

Overall, there’s more positivity amidst the fanbase then one might expect from scrolling social media. There’s a lot of confidence in Marcus Freeman and Al Golden. And there’s some faith in Tommy Rees (although considerable less patience for the third-year coordinator). Over 70% expect the Irish to win this weekend. So despite some bumps in the road, the Freeman Era is alive and well in South Bend. Now can the Irish keep the positive momentum going with a monumental win on Saturday?

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Thomas: How the Irish can build for the future without sacrificing 2022

Hopes of a national championship, a playoff berth, or even a New Year’s Six bowl game have evaporated for Notre Dame this season. The first two ended when the Irish dropped their second straight game to open the season, a stunning loss to Marshall. The latter ended upon Notre Dame’s embarrassing 16-14 defeat to the Stanford Cardinal. 

So what’s left to play for? And how can Notre Dame build for the future while not trying to give away wins? As much as tanking is a part of professional sports, it doesn’t exist in college. You only get four years with players — if you’re lucky. If you are an elite-level program, your top players stay for just three years. To simply give up on winning to play some younger players could instantly lose a locker room.

Notre Dame’s culture is praised by current players and alumni alike. And if Marcus Freeman jeopardizes that to start planning for 2023, it would be a catastrophic mistake. So here’s a look at some of the dos and don’ts over the last five or six games of this season (bowl eligibility pending).

DON’T: Start Steve Angeli

I like freshman quarterback Steve Angeli. He was a fun player to watch in the spring game last semester. His performance there is largely why so many are rooting for him to usurp Drew Pyne as the starter. Realistically, Angeli is not going to be some kind of instant upgrade to Pyne, nor does he give the Irish a better chance at winning games at the current moment.

Give me another ten minutes on this deadline I’m writing on right now, and I could probably find a nice long list of quarterbacks that had a good spring game and disastrous seasons. Let’s not assume Angeli is some savior because he had a couple of spring-game touchdowns.

Pyne has proven he has starting quarterback-caliber talent. He played very well against UNC and BYU. He was serviceable against Cal and UNLV. We didn’t get a full glimpse of sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner this year. And there’s no guarantee the Irish go to the transfer portal for a quarterback next year. Pyne remains part of this team’s future under center, and he’s a key leader in the locker room. To bench him so the Irish can “see what they have” would be a quick way to lose the locker room.

It’d be nice to see the Irish get some big leads against inferior opponents down the stretch (Navy, Boston College), so Angeli can get some game reps in. But he shouldn’t be starting. No matter how much I want to write “Peanut Butter Angeli” as a headline.

DO: Get everyone not named Michael Mayer more action in the passing game

Last week should have been a prime opportunity for this. But rather than expand the offense, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees demonstrated what we already knew about the Irish. Junior tight end Michael Mayer can dominate most teams and, in single coverage, he’s a total mismatch. The problem? Not only will teams like Syracuse, Clemson, and USC likely find ways to make life harder for Mayer, the Irish won’t have Mayer next year. Finding additional threats in the passing game will benefit the Irish in the short term and the long term.

The list is extensive. Do you want sophomore Lorenzo Styles to be your No. 1 receiver for the next year or two? Start getting him more than three or four targets a game. The drops are bad right now, but the lack of a consistent workload is also hampering his development. Same with sophomore Jayden Thomas.

And your guess is as good as mine when it comes to why freshman Tobias Merriweather is barely seeing the field. He played a bit under a third of the offensive snaps last week, which was a welcomed bump from past contests. The Irish have to see what they have past Mayer, or else the wide receiving corps is going to remain a crippling part of this roster moving into 2023. Get tight ends sophomore Mitchell Evans and freshman Holden Staes some reps in the passing game and not just in the quarterback sneak game. The Irish will need both to be a threat next year.

DON’T: Give up on Estime, Styles, etc

At the beginning of the year, a lot of the Irish’s hopes were contingent on unproven talent having big years. Topping that list were sophomores Styles and running back Audric Estime. Both have had some issues this year. Styles has had some brutal drops this season. Last week, on a 3rd and two, he was wide open on a return arrow route and dropped a pass that was a likely first-down conversion. Last week, Styles got wide open on a 3rd and 10 route. Pyne hit him in the numbers, but the sophomore dropped it.

Estime has looked great at times, but he’s fumbled the ball three times in the past four games. One of those fumbles came on a potential game-winning drive versus Stanford.

It’s easy to advocate for the younger guys getting more touches. But the younger guys are also definitively part of the offensive problem. That being said, the ceiling is still really high. Styles is getting open, which is half the battle. Estime is still an absolute ox of a running back, and he has solid numbers overall. Mistakes and growing pains are going to happen when you heavily rely on unproven talent. The Irish can’t let that affect their game plan.

Staes had a tough drop last week. Sophomore wide receiver Deion Colzie has had a forgettable season to this point. Merriweather has hardly even tapped into his potential. Notre Dame has young talent to work with, but they have to be patient. The Irish have seen issues with poor development at key skill positions haunt them in 2022. They have to stick to their guns and continue getting their young guys the necessary reps. The Irish need them now, and they’ll need them even more next year. 

DO: Start utilizing more linebacker depth

Notre Dame’s linebacker room is an interesting piece. They’ve struggled at times this year, but they’ve also made some big plays. It remains to be seen how many of those players will take their extra year or two of eligibility and stay at Notre Dame. 

The Irish reeled in some impressive linebackers last year. Freshman Junior Tuihalamaka and freshman Jaylen Sneed should see at least some rotational snaps. They could become key pieces of the defensive rotation next year. Last week, senior J.D. Bertrand played 62 snaps. That’s a ton, and the Irish have some depth to spell Bertrand and some others in that position group. The Irish rotate their defensive line relatively liberally, and it would be nice to see the linebackers at least embrace some of that moving forward.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@nd.edu