Notre Dame will have a new quarterback lining up behind center for the first time since the 2018 season. There is plenty of talent at the position, but there are still plenty of questions from the group as well.
RETURNING PRODUCTION (Career)
Jack Coan - 297 com., 437 att., 68.0%, 3,278 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT
Brendon Clark - 2 com., 4 att., 50.0%, 29 yards, 1 TD
Drew Pyne - 2 com., 3 att., 66.7%, 12 yards
JACK COAN IS THE KEY
I’m of the belief that Wisconsin grad transfer Jack Coan provides Notre Dame with its greatest chance to reach its ceiling in 2021. A case could be made that playing one of the younger quarterbacks is best for future development, but Notre Dame has a chance to compete for a title in 2021, and Coan as the starter is the best chance to make that happen.
He lacks the raw physical tools that excites fans, but Coan has enough arm talent to make all the throws he needs to make in the Notre Dame offense. Despite not having a cannon we saw Coan effectively attack down the field for the Badgers. Coan is also an extremely accurate passer that completed 69.6% of his throws in his lone season as a starter with the Badgers, which ended with Wisconsin playing in the Rose Bowl.
The last quarterback to sniff that completion percentage in a Badger uniform was Russell Wilson. Wilson completed 72.8% of his thrown with the Badgers in 2011, but the next closest mark to Coan’s 69.6% mark was Alex Hornibrook completing 62.3% of this throws in 2017. That’s a significant gap in production. Coan’s 151.76 passer rating that season was also the best mark since Wilson was wearing a Badger uniform.
Coan shows good pocket mobility, makes quick reads in the pass game and his anticipation on film at Wisconsin is better than what we saw from the past three Notre Dame quarterbacks. At times he’ll hold onto the ball a bit too long in order to let routes develop, and I’d like to see his internal clock speed up, but the Notre Dame offense is also geared more towards giving him opportunities to either run or dump it off than his previous offense.
Coan will certainly have more pass game weapons than he had at Wisconsin, and if he can make a quick adjustment into the Notre Dame system - which looked to be the case in the Blue-Gold Game - he should be a very productive player in this offense.
Notre Dame will lose run game production with Coan replacing former starter Ian Book, but if Coan is what I believe he will be it will more than be made up for in the pass game.
DREW PYNE PROVIDES INSURANCE
If sophomore Drew Pyne had a bit more seasoning I’d feel much more confident in his ability to beat Coan out for the starting role. Pyne has several tools you want in this kind of offense. He possesses a quick release, he’s an accurate passer, his arm is strong enough to attack the intermediate parts of the field and he’s willing to attack down the field. Pyne is also a wicked smart young quarterback that shows impressive anticipation.
What Pyne lacks is on-field seasoning, having thrown just two career passes, and another year in the weight room should also do him some good.
He battled Coan during the spring and made the quarterback competition much closer than I expected, but we also saw his need for seasoning in the Blue-Gold Game. Whether or not Pyne can push for the job in the fall will be determined by how much growth he makes in the summer and fall camp now that he got some much-needed first-team work during the spring.
For Pyne to win the job, however, I believe he needs to be significantly better than Coan in order to make up for the experience gap, and that could be too much to overcome.
IS TYLER BUCHNER TOO GOOD NOT TO PLAY?
I get why so many Notre Dame fans are clamoring for freshman Tyler Buchner to be thrust onto the field in 2021, even if that means he’s the starting quarterback. Buchner has elite tools, but he’s played just one season of football in three years, and despite his immense tools he’s just not ready to be a starting quarterback for a team contending for a national title.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for Buchner, and if he becomes more consistent and absorbs more of the playbook between now and Sept. 5 his talent and unique style of play might make him too good not to find a role for.
Simply put, when a running back or wide receiver is just too talented not to play we see programs that compete for and win championships do whatever it takes to find a role for them. That should be the case at quarterback as well. Buchner lacks the experience needed to be the full-time quarterback, but his talent is special, and the fact he’s such a dynamic athlete gives Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees a unique weapon at quarterback.
So what does that look like for Buchner? A short-yardage and/or red zone role would make a lot of sense early on. How well he performs in that role could end up in him having a more expanded role where perhaps he gets rotated in as a change-of-pace situation that keeps defenses on their toes, forces them to prepare for even more offense and of course gives Notre Dame a unique run-throw weapon at quarterback in certain situations.
This kind of role would not only help the 2021 offense, it would also give Buchner the experience and seasoning he needs to not only compete for a starting role in 2022, but to be ready to be a playmaker capable of leading the Irish against big-time foes like Ohio State and Clemson, who the Irish face that season.
WHAT HAPPENS WITH BRENDON CLARK?
Junior Brendon Clark might have the most powerful arm on the roster, and he’s an athletic player that brings legitimate run-throw ability to the offense, much like Buchner. The problem for Clark is that he has always been an extremely raw player both mechanically and when it comes to going through progressions. He desperately needed seasoning in 2020 and he didn’t get it, and he has now missed two straight spring (one due to Covid, one due to an injury), and that slowing down of his development will make it very, very hard for him to get back into the quarterback race.
KEY QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS
There are five quarterback questions I’m looking forward to seeing answered this summer and into the fall.
1. Is there a legitimate quarterback battle still raging? — Coan seems to have the starting role locked down, at least that’s what my sources tell me. Will that continue in the fall, or can Pyne and Buchner make enough strides to legitimately push him? That remains to be seen.
2. Can Coan improve the pass attack? — Coan’s arm at Wisconsin didn’t look as strong as Book’s, but he’s a more confident passer, he processes reads better and he shows the ability to make more chances. I won’t be surprised if the pass game is more efficient and explosive in 2021, but now Coan has to prove it.
3. How much growth will Pyne make during the summer/fall? — Young players tend to make bigger strides than veterans, and both Pyne and Buchner got much-needed experience this spring. So how much growth will they make this summer and fall? That answer will factor into each of the first two questions.
4. Will Buchner force himself onto the field? — I don’t think there is a more physical gifted quarterback on the roster, and honestly from a pure talent standpoint I don’t think it’s all that close. I am normally not a fan of playing multiple quarterbacks, but his God-given ability and unique skillset could make him too hard to keep off the field.
5. What happens with Clark? — Clark seems to be the odd man out. He’ll need to make a hard charge very early in fall camp, but does he have the seasoning to make that happen? We’ll find out in August.
The quarterback depth chart will play to its potential if ….
Jack Coan quickly adapts to the offense, improves the pass game and becomes a great point quarterback … Drew Pyne’s mastery of the offense, swagger and accuracy forces Coan to be at his best for fear of getting beat out, which puts Pyne in position to once again battle for the job in 2022 … Tyler Buchner is simply too good not to play, which forces Rees to get creative with ways to get him on the field.
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