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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.

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Gameday Gallery: Notre Dame vs. South Carolina in the Gator Bowl

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‘The third and fourth quarters are our quarters’: Irish run game executes monster second half to beat South Carolina

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In Notre Dame’s 45-38 Gator Bowl win over South Carolina, the Irish run game paved the way to victory with 264 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. 

Sophomore running back Logan Diggs finished the day with 89 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. He also added 81 receiving yards, which included a 75-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Sophomore Audric Estime and junior Chris Tyree also found success in the run game, finishing the day with 95 and 21 rushing yards, respectively. 

Diggs scored his receiving touchdown off of a short pass from sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner. Diggs then raced down the sideline, beating the pursuit of multiple Gamecock players to the end zone. Diggs’ explosive touchdown cut the Gamecocks’ lead to seven and kept the Irish within striking distance at halftime. 

Diggs described what went through his head during his touchdown. 

“As soon as I got out of my release, I knew it was good. I have trust in Tyler that he’s going to put it where it needs to be. At that point I have to trust myself and trust my speed to capitalize, and I did, and it’s a blessing,” Diggs said.

Although the Irish only had 54 rushing yards in the first half, the second half saw the Irish rush for 210 rushing yards.

Diggs knew that the run game would have success after halftime. 

“We always know the third and fourth quarters are our quarters,” Diggs said. “We had to be patient in the first half, but once your back is against the wall, that’s the type of games that we want.”

Offensive line steps up to provide crucial blocks

Diggs praised the offensive line for the team’s second-half success on the ground. 

“When we were in that huddle and you see the O-line and they’re fixing their gloves and tightening their hands, you just know. I have the utmost trust in them and [offensive line] coach Harry [Hiestand] and their preparation,” Diggs said. “All I do is adjust my reads and trust my coaches and go out there and execute. They put us in a great position to continue to run the ball.

Buchner himself had a great day on the ground, rushing for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Buchner also credited his success in the run game to the offensive line.

“The big guys played their tails off. It’s great standing there in the huddle when they’re strapping their gloves and they’re ready to go. Having that look in their eyes gives you more confidence as quarterback that we’re going to be able to run the ball,” Buchner said.

Head coach Marcus Freeman loves the mentality of his offensive linemen late in the game.

“They want the pressure on. They want to run the ball in those critical moments, and hats off to them,” Freeman said. “They’re an excellent group. They’ve done an excellent job all season.”

In addition to praising his running backs and offensive line, Buchner praised the blocking of his tight ends and wide receivers as well.

“The boys up front were rolling today. Our backs had an unbelievable day,” Buchner said. “The tight ends and the wideouts had a huge role in the run game today, and I don’t know if people realize that. [Graduate student Matt] Salerno, [sophomore] Deion [Colzie], [sophomore Jayden] Thomas, [sophomore Lorenzo] Styles Jr…. those guys blocked their tails off all day long. Those are things that go unnoticed.”

Freeman touted his team’s ability to run the football against a South Carolina defense that was expecting them to run the ball.

“When you have the ability to run the ball when the other team knows you’re going to run it, that’s when you know things are rolling. They knew we were going to run the ball,” Freeman said.

On the game-winning touchdown drive, the Irish focused heavily on running the football, but they ultimately scored on a pass play to sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans on a critical third down.

Freeman credited the run game with opening up the game-winning touchdown pass to Evans.

“I think it’s a credit to how we were running the ball,” Freeman said. “In that short yardage situation, to be able to leak Mitch out, that’s a tough play for a defense, especially when you’re able to run the ball.”

Looking ahead

The success of the run game in the Gator Bowl bodes well for the Irish run game next season with the Irish returning their top three running backs in Diggs, Estime and Tyree. The Irish also return three of their starting offensive lineman next season with sophomore left tackle Joe Alt, senior center Zeke Correll, and sophomore right tackle Blake Fisher all expected to return. The Irish will need to replace graduate student right guard Josh Lugg and graduate student left guard Jarrett Patterson.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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‘What a great feeling’: Irish take home first bowl win of the Freeman era, 45-38

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Last year, the Irish came out of the gate with a 21-point lead in the Fiesta Bowl but lost in the second half to Oklahoma State, 37-35. After making it back to a bowl game this year, the Irish were behind South Carolina at the half, 24-17, but turned the game around to win 45-38. This matchup became the highest-scoring game in Gator Bowl history.

“It’s never how you foresee it on the front end. In all the days you can sit here before this game and daydream about how you think this game will go, it wasn’t like that. But the ending was, and that’s what we’ll remember,” head coach Marcus Freeman said. “To send [the seniors] off the right way, no matter how we could achieve it, that’s what matters. So I’m happy we got it done.” 

The Gamecocks came out swinging and scored quickly. After several quick flips, the Irish defense looked to be making their first stop, but gave up a pass underneath to tight end Nate Adkins for 24 yards. Quarterback Spencer Rattler then hit Xavier Legette in the flat, who ran in for a score from the Irish 14.

The Irish offense took the field to roaring South Carolina fans and could not answer, going three-and-out and punting to the Carolina 32.

The Irish quickly got another chance though, this time from their own 50. Rattler found Ahmarean Brown on Carolina’s 43, but — looking to evade Irish graduate cornerback Tariq Bracy — Brown dropped the ball. Junior safety Ramon Henderson pumped the breaks to spin around and dive on it. Diggs then took the ball seven yards before a completed pass to Tyree and a sneak from quarterback Tyler Buchner grabbed the first Irish first down.

Facing third and 15 after an illegal motion, Buchner found sophomore tight end Mitchell Evans over the middle for 18 yards and a first down. This was Evans’ first reception of the season after taking a secondary role to All-American Michael Mayer all year. After that, sophomore receiver Jayden Thomas was left wide open on the right side of the field to grab another first down for the Irish. Buchner fired a second-down pass attempt to Tobias Merriweather just out of the freshman’s reach, so on the next snap, the quarterback took it in himself. The Irish went 50 yards in 10 plays and three minutes and 37 seconds. 

Adkins caught another long pass up the middle for a first down at the Irish 42, this time from wide receiver Dakereon Joyner. Rattler found Adkins immediately after that for nine yards. Joyner received another wildcat snap and gained eight yards to the Irish 25. On third and eight, Rattler tried to find Legette in the end zone, but Xavier Watts broke up the pass.

However, the Gamecocks fooled the Irish on fourth down. Holder Kai Kroeger executed what head coach Shane Beamer called a fake field goal, despite Gamecocks kicker Mitch Jeter not even being on the field. Kroeger took the snap from the Irish 23, looked off a wide receiver and passed to long-snapper Hunter Rogers in the end zone. 

On Notre Dame’s third drive, they again didn’t get very far. After a Braden Lenzy first down, Buchner attempted a pass, but it was tipped at the line. South Carolina’s DQ Smith snatched it out of the air and took it to the house, leaving 44 seconds in the quarter. It was Buchner’s third career pick-six and left the Irish trailing, 21-7.

Buchner would finish the game 18-33 with three passing touchdowns and two rushing scores. He ultimately threw for 274 yards but also tacked on three interceptions.

After the Irish waited the quarter out, Diggs picked up six yards to start the second. Buchner found Thomas for a first down, bringing the Irish to the Carolina 46. Tyree then brought the Irish to their own 40 for another first. Buchner found Thomas again for a first down at the Carolina 30. Buchner then took off around the outside for a 21-yard run to bring the Irish to the nine-yard line. He missed another pass though, this time for receiver Deion Colzie and on third and goal, the sophomore quarterback took a sack along the Carolina sideline. To put up more points, graduate student Blake Grupe drilled the first field goal of the game with 8:36 left in the half to make the score 21-10. 

On the next Carolina drive, several stops from Bertrand and junior defensive end Riley Mills brought the Carolina offense to two third downs, but they converted on both. Mills and Bertrand would make themselves known throughout the game. Bertrand accounted for eight tackles, half a tackle for loss and one QB hurry. Mills racked up only four tackles but broke behind the line several times for a sack and one and a half tackles for loss. On the second down of that Carolina drive, Rattler found Joyner for 26 yards. Two incomplete passes into the end zone from Rattler forced the Gamecocks to kick. Jeter sent the ball through the uprights for three points and a 24-10 advantage. 

On the first play of the Irish drive from their own 20, Logan Diggs caught a short pass from Buchner and took off. Diggs got around to the outside and, with insurance from a late block from Styles, found the end zone. After the kick, the Irish held 17. 

On the next drive, the Irish forced the first Gamecock punt of the day. But they were also forced to punt from within their own five. 

Although the punt from Jon Sot was returned to about the Irish 40, a blindside block committed by Joyner and an ensuing unsportsmanlike conduct foul on South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer walked the Gamecocks back to their own 20 to start their final drive of the half.

While it looked for a while like the Gamecocks would march right down one more time to the Irish end zone, freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison intercepted a deep shot from Rattler for his sixth pick of the season. The Irish would kneel for the first time Friday night to end the half. 

To open the second half, the Irish and the Gamecocks exchanged three and outs. With 12:49 left in the third, Matt Salerno fair caught the Carolina punt at the Irish 32. Audric Estime was stuffed on the first play of the drive, but on the second he broke out to the Carolina 48 for 20 yards. From there, the Irish took three plays to reach the end zone. Buchner found Thomas for 25 yards and a first down at the 23. Estime ran once more after that to bring the Irish to the Gamecocks 11. To finish the drive off, Buchner took it to the house himself. Notre Dame tied it up with the first score of the half, 24-24. 

The Irish couldn’t tackle Legette on the kickoff return, so the Gamecocks started their responding drive from their own 33. It took a third-down pass finding Adkins again for the Gamecocks to convert. The tight end caught this pass for 17 yards. On second and 11 from the Irish 42, Rattler hit Legette in the end zone for a score. Carolina led the Irish 31-24 with 8:31 left in the quarter. 

From their own 20, the Irish sent Logan Diggs in twice, bringing up third and four. From the line of scrimmage, Tyler Buchner tried to flip it to Thomas, but the pass ended up behind the receiver and bounced between Gamecocks before Nick Barrett rolled to catch it. With 6:37 left in the third, the Irish defense didn’t let the Gamecocks convert. From their own 12, the Irish took over again, but to no benefit. They got close to midfield before punting for a touchback. 

Despite the exchange, the Irish defense held tight. Bertrand rocketed into Rattler’s face on third and ten to force an incomplete pass and then a punt from the Gamecocks. After a delay of game penalty, the Gamecocks only punted to their own 44. Buchner took the pass in the shotgun and found Lenzy coming across on a deep crossing route. With his speed, Lenzy turned the corner inside the pylon for another one-play drive from the Irish. 

Lenzy’s score tied up the game, 31-31. The Irish defense again made a third and ten stop. Botelho logged his second sack of the day to force the Gamecock punt, which Salerno caught at the Carolina 26.

Diggs rushed twice for a total of six yards. On third and four, Buchner tried to find Colzie down the sideline, but Gamecocks defender Marcellus Style broke it up. The Irish took the fourth and four opportunity to fake a punt of their own. Sophomore tight end Davis Sherwood dumped it to Lenzy, who then looped around the right side for an Irish first down at the Gamecock 47.  On third and two, Diggs broke through the middle and took it 39 yards to the house. The Irish took the lead for the first time then with 12:41 left in the game. 

Another touchback started Carolina at its own 25. The Gamecocks punted for a fourth time and gave the Irish the ball back with 11:09 to go. 

The Irish marched downfield in response. Eventually, Estime brought the Irish inside the Gamecocks’ seven-yard line with a 26-yard rush, but the Irish would fail to score. Instead, Buchner would try to force a pass to Mitchell Evans, but Carolina defender O’Donnell Fortune intercepted it for a 100-yard touchdown run. This tied the game up at 38 apiece, but the Irish weren’t done just yet.

“We were looking for a specific look, and we thought we had it,” Freeman said regarding the pick-six. “Didn’t have the exact look we were looking for, and the guy made a great play … Ultimately should not have thrown it, should not have called it.”

Tyree got tripped at the 20-yard line on the kick return, so the Irish started their drive from there. After marching fairly quickly downfield, the Irish found themselves with another third and five. Buchner hit Tyree for a first down at the Carolina 19. On third and seven, Buchner found a wide-open Mitchell Evans, who walked into the end zone for the second Notre Dame lead of the game. The Irish drive left a minute and 38 seconds in the game. 

“This is what real life is about. The ability to respond to some of those situations that happened to you,” Freeman said. “But the greatest thing about it was to be able to, again, use that situation as another example in the future, and the ability for that offense to have that happen, look at them on the sidelines and say, ‘In about … two minutes, you’re going to go right back out there,’ and for them to march down the field and score — that’s what it’s all about.”

The Irish kicked off for the last time, which Brown returned to midfield, but another blocking penalty brought the Gamecocks back to their own 13. Rattler scrambled for first down and more, and with a personal foul on freshman linebacker Jaylen Sneed, the Gamecocks were on the Irish 36. Junior cornerback Clarence Lewis broke up Rattler’s first down pass. Then, Mills pressured Rattler again to force intentional grounding. The loss of down penalty forced South Carolina into a third and 21. Rattler threw out of bounds under pressure. The Gamecocks then backed up 15 more yards for unsportsmanlike conduct: fourth and 36.  

Rattler fired up a long shot for Wells Jr. who jumped up, covered by Bracy and freshman Jaden Mickey. Bracy attempted to make the catch, but it bounced off his hands and Mickey swatted it out of the air, killing the Gamecocks’ drive. 

In victory formation, Buchner knelt once to end the game, marking a win for the Irish. It’s their first bowl win over a ranked opponent since 2017.

“What a great feeling,” Freeman said. “As I told these guys in the locker room, the opportunity to finish as a champion, there’s no greater feeling. I’m so proud of the way they continued to battle today, which is a representation of what they’ve done all season long. I know I said this before but we were on that bumpy road. But they continued to trust their coaches, to trust their leaders, and this is a great way to finish off this 2022 season … I’m extremely proud of this team, the leaders, the seniors. To send that group off the right way, it’s very pleasing.”

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How it happened: Five key moments of Notre Dame’s 45-38 Gator Bowl victory

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Notre Dame battled South Carolina in a back-and-forth Gator Bowl that saw the Irish erase an early 14-point deficit to secure a victory and finish the season 9-4. Here are the five key moments from the Irish’s Gator Bowl win.

Gamecocks take control of game with trick play and pick-six

After both teams scored early in the contest, South Carolina turned up the heat in the first quarter. 

After Notre Dame tied the game at 7-7, the Gamecocks wasted no time responding to the Irish on the ensuing drive after a facemask penalty on senior linebacker Marist Liufau set up the Gamecocks with a first down at their own 40-yard line. The Gamecocks turned to some trickery on the following play. Wide receiver Dakereon Joyner threw to Nate Adkins over the middle for an 18-yard gain. A few plays later, the Gamecocks were set up with a first down at the Irish 25-yard line. 

It looked like the Gamecocks would get into the endzone easily again, but the Irish defense stiffened up. On first down, senior linebacker Jack Kiser stuffed running back Rashod Amos for a loss of two. After a short pass on second down, junior Xavier Watts broke up a pass from Rattler to force the Gamecocks to bring their field goal unit on. The Gamecocks then caught the Irish off guard with a direct snap to punter/holder Kai Kroeger who found long-snapper Hunter Rogers over the middle for a touchdown.

The Irish needed an answer on the ensuing drive, and the drive started off well for the Irish with graduate student wide receiver Braden Lenzy gaining a first down on a sweep play. After two short runs set up a critical third down, disaster struck for the Irish. Buchner’s pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Alex Huntley, and it fell into the hands of DQ Smith. Smith then took the ball the other way for a touchdown to give the Gamecocks a commanding 21-7 lead.

Irish claw their way back, tying the game early in third quarter

Following the pick-six, the Irish were in desperate need of a score. A short pass to Thomas and a first down run by Tyree set the Irish up near midfield. It looked like the drive was going to stall a few plays later, but Buchner found Thomas for a first down on a crossing route while taking a major hit in the pocket after the throw. Buchner’s 21-yard run then set the Irish up first-and-goal, but the drive ultimately stalled, forcing the Irish to kick a field goal and cut the lead to 21-10.

The Gamecocks answered the Irish field goal with a field goal of their own to take a 24-10 lead with just over five minutes to play in the second quarter. On the following Irish drive, though, it only took the Irish one play to respond. Buchner found Diggs motioning out of the backfield, and it was a foot race from there. Diggs sprinted down the sidelines, outrunning the pursuing defense to complete a 75-yard touchdown that brought the Irish to within seven points.

After both teams failed to score at the end of the first half and on their first possessions of the second half, the Irish took advantage of their second opportunity. Sophomore running back Audric Estime got the drive going with a 19-yard run that put the ball in Gamecocks’ territory. On the following play, Buchner found Thomas near the sidelines for a 25-yard completion, setting the Irish up at the Gamecocks’ 23-yard line. Another Estime run set the Irish up at the 11-yard line before Buchner ran the ball in for his second touchdown of the game. The five-play, 68-yard drive tied the game at 24-24 with 10:28 to play in the third quarter.

Irish claim first lead

The Gamecocks answered the Irish on their ensuing drive to retake the lead. On a crucial third and one from their own 42-yard line, Rattler connected with Adkins on a short shovel pass that went for 17 yards, setting the Gamecocks up in Irish territory. Two plays later, Rattler threw a deep ball to Xavier Legette, who made a sensational diving catch in the endzone to give the Gamecocks a 31-24 lead.

Looking to quickly answer the Gamecocks’ touchdown, the Irish faltered with Buchner throwing an interception to Nick Barrett. The Irish defense kept Notre Dame within a score, though, forcing the Gamecocks to a three-and-out. Although the Irish were forced to punt on the ensuing drive, the defense stepped up again, forcing the Gamecocks into another three-and-out. A poor punt set the Irish up at the Gamecocks’ 44-yard line, and on the first play of the drive, Buchner found Lenzy deep over the middle for a touchdown to tie the game with 31 seconds to play in the third quarter.

After stopping the Gamecocks again, the Irish got the ball back at their own 27-yard line. It looked like the Irish drive had stalled again, but the Irish turned to some trickery on a fourth-and-four from their own 33-yard line. With the Irish in punt formation, the ball was snapped to sophomore tight end Davis Sherwood, who dished the ball to Lenzy on a sweep. Lenzy broke free, converting the fourth down and gaining 20 yards on the play. Three plays later, a 39-yard touchdown run from Diggs gave the Irish their first lead of the game with 12:41 left to play.

Buchner pick-six ties the score 

With a 38-31 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Irish looked like they were close to putting the Gamecocks away. A Buchner 17-yard run at the beginning of the drive set the Irish up in Gamecocks’ territory. A few plays later, Estime exploded through the gap for a gain of 26 yards to set the Irish up at the Carolina seven-yard line. On the ensuing play, Buchner looked for Evans over the middle, but his pass was intercepted by O’Donnell Fortune. Fortune eluded multiple Irish players on the goal line, and he ran down the sidelines for a 100-yard interception return. That interception was good for the longest in Gator Bowl history, and it tied the game at 38 apiece with just under eight minutes to play. 

Buchner orchestrates game-winning drive

Logan Diggs started the drive off for the Irish with a 17-yard run to set Notre Dame up at its own 37-yard line. A few plays later, a Buchner quarterback sneak for four yards on third down gave the Irish a first down at midfield. After a short completion to Evans, a 12-yard run by Estime gave the Irish a first down at the Gamecocks’ 33-yard line. After short runs by Tyree, the Irish faced a third-and-five with 2:49 to play. Buchner faced heavy pressure on the play, but he found Tyree out of the backfield for nine yards to give the Irish a first down at the Gamecocks’ 19-yard line. Estime then carried the ball on the next two plays for short gains to set up a third-and-seven for the Irish with just 1:45 to play. Buchner faked the handoff to Estime and found a wide open Evans for a 16-yard touchdown to put the Irish up 45-38. The Gamecocks looked to answer late, and they put together a late drive, getting all the way to the Irish 34-yard line. A couple of penalties eventually derailed the drive, leading to the  Gamecocks turning the ball over on downs. The Irish then needed one kneel down to secure a 45-38 victory.

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Irish Insider: Notre Dame v. South Carolina in Gator Bowl

Freeman, Irish captains discuss leadership, team culture ahead of Gator Bowl

Everything Freeman said as Irish seek win to end season

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

Next man up: Mitchell Evans steps into larger role after Mayer’s departure

Observer Sports Staff predicts Gator Bowl: Notre Dame v. South Carolina

Keys to Victory: Notre Dame v. South Carolina

Thomas: Gator Bowl, recruiting dram puts spotlight on Irish safeties

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

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

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Gator Bowl: Everything Freeman said as Irish seek win to end season

With the Irish set to face the South Carolina Gamecocks tomorrow afternoon in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, head coach Marcus Freeman discussed his team’s experience so far in Jacksonville

“We are so excited to be here in Jacksonville, Florida. This has been a first-class bowl game all week, and our guys have been able to do some great things in the city of Jacksonville. We have had some really good preparation, and it’s been going really well. We are excited to play a really talented opponent tomorrow here at this stadium. This has been a great experience for our guys.”

Building momentum for 2023?

When asked about the importance of this game heading into next year, Freeman emphasized that winning the Gator Bowl is of the utmost importance.

“Most importantly it’s winning,” Freeman said. “As I told our players yesterday in our team meeting, our focus is right now. Our focus is finishing the season off the season right now in the right way. If you continue to focus on the future and think about the future, you lose this opportunity we have right in front of us. The future will be taken care of if we finish the season off the right way.”

Different mindset, one year later

Last season, Freeman was announced as the head coach just weeks before the team’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Freeman discussed how the preparation for the Gator Bowl has looked different this season.

“My emotions were all over the place [last year]. I remember having the press conference with [Oklahoma State head coach] Mike Gundy, and it was all surreal and I was kind of just figuring it out one day at a time,” Freeman said. “This year, I think we are still figuring some things out, and I don’t think the day will come when you say that you’ve got it all figured out. That’s the reality of this profession.”

Freeman stated that for this year’s Gator Bowl, his team has a more defined plan and practice schedule.

“You have a plan for how you want to succeed, but those plans have to continuously enhance and change depending on the situation you’re in,” Freeman said. “A year later we have a practice structure. We have a plan that we looked at for this year compared to what we did last year.”

Preparing for South Carolina

Freeman is excited to play a talented South Carolina team and use this bowl game as another learning experience for bowl games in future years.

“We get the chance to go out and play a really talented football team and reflect on our performance,” Freeman said. “We will be able to look back and ask where we can enhance our preparation and make sure that the next bowl opportunity we have we are in a better situation.”

After starting the season 6-4, the Gamecocks have put together their two best performances of the year over their last two games, upsetting Tennessee and Clemson. Freeman has made sure his team is prepared to face a South Carolina team that is currently playing its best football of the season.

“Their last two games they have shown they can beat any team in the country. That’s our preparation and that’s our challenge. That’s the team we are going to face, and we will see what happens tomorrow, but that’s what our preparation has been,” Freeman said.

Freeman discussed some of the difficulties of having a month to prepare for an opponent.

“When you have almost a month to prepare for an opponent, sometimes that’s too much time. The beauty of playing a team in seven days is that you can only watch so much film,” Freeman said. “Sometimes you can watch too much film and assume that you are getting an idea of what the other team is going to do, but you don’t really know.”

Freeman understands that with opt-outs, the South Carolina team on the field on Friday will look a lot different than the South Carolina team from the rest of the season.

“We spent a lot of time going over the fact that our offense has to go against their defense, which isn’t South Carolina’s defense, and our defense has to go against their offense, which isn’t South Carolina’s offense. That forces you to be able to execute off of your fundamentals, basic schemes, and basic concepts, and not just always attack an opponent’s tendencies,” Freeman said.

Freeman expects to see some different play calls and tendencies from South Carolina because of the players they will be missing. 

“With opt-outs, you don’t know what you are going to see. We don’t know what we are going to see tomorrow. We will have an idea of the basic concepts that they do on offense, defense, and special teams, but we obviously have to prepare for some different wrinkles and things we haven’t seen,” Freeman said.

On Buchner’s readiness, passing game

When asked about sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner’s preparedness for the bowl game, Freeman said that Buchner is ready to go.

“I think he’s ready to roll. You are talking about a guy that hasn’t played football from week 2 to week 12. He had some time where he wasn’t on the practice field, but after 14 practices, I think he’s ready to roll. And he’s been magnificent in practice. He’s done a great job of leading the offense,” Freeman said.

With junior tight end Michael Mayer not playing in the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft, Freeman has seen a group of wide receivers emerge during practice.

“At some points when in doubt you throw that ball to [Michael Mayer], and now he’s not out there. It’s been excellent to see what [wide receiver coach Chansi] Stuckey has done with that wide receiver room and seeing those guys elevate and take advantage of those opportunities,” Freeman said.

Importance of bowl game prep for development

During the bowl game preparation, Freeman has seen a lot of competitive situations among players that didn’t see the playing field as much during the regular season.

“We have had a lot of competitive situations. That’s been the focus for me in this bowl prep,” Freeman said. “With opt-outs and guys not playing, you don’t know what you are going to see. This game is going to be about our preparation and what we can do. We have been able to see our top defensive backs on our wide receivers in competitive situations. We are doing a really good job and I am excited to see them play tomorrow.”

Freeman stressed the importance of the bowl preparation process in developing inexperienced players.

“Bowl preparation is so important. You get a chance to prepare for a great opponent, but also early in the bowl practice you really get a chance to develop guys who didn’t get the chance to see a lot of action throughout the season,” Freeman said.

Evaluating transfer portal options

The transfer portal is becoming a huge part of college football, and Freeman discussed how there is really no timeline associated with the portal.

“There is no timeline and the important thing is finding the right fit,” Freeman said. “We are constantly looking and evaluating at all positions until we find the right guy.”

Freeman emphasized that any additions from the transfer portal have to fit well in the program and not just improve the roster. 

“It has to be the right fit. They have to not just enhance our roster athletically, but they have to fit into the Notre Dame locker room,” Freeman said. That’s something that we will continue to access. Recruiting is an everyday thing.”

On Shane Beamer

Freeman discussed the incredible job that South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer has done in just his second year as head coach.

“He’s done an excellent job recruiting, developing and improving. That’s the challenge to continue to enhance and develop your roster. His team throughout the season has gotten better and better. At one point, you could have seen the South Carolina season go one way or the other, and they got better. That’s a reflection of the way he’s led,” Freeman said.

On the 2022 Irish legacy

Freeman hopes this year’s football team can be an example to future groups.

“I want this group to be an example for our future groups. We have talked about it all season in that this road where we want to go isn’t always as we see it on the front end. I want this group to be the one that sets the example for why you continue to trust your coaches and continue to work no matter what the outcome is each week,” Freeman said.

Freeman believes that a victory in the Gator Bowl would help propel his football program forward for future seasons.

“To finish this thing off the right way with a victory in the Gator Bowl would be tremendous,” Freeman said. “It would not only be a congratulations to this senior group of players that have been so resilient, but I think it’s going to be an example of what we can continue to do to propel this program.” 

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu

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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