Take Five: Tyler Buchner, Notre Dame O-Line, Short Week and More

Mike Hutton looks at the Notre Dame quarterback position, the Irish line, playing on a short week and more
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Five thoughts on Notre Dame football as it prepares to take on the Purdue Boilermakers.

1. Don’t forget about Drew Pyne. The sophomore was still listed as Jack Coan’s backup quarterback for the Purdue game. Pyne was never really demoted. Tyler Buchner was always the No. 2 quarterback. The coaching staff wanted to spring Buchner against Toledo. I saw Pyne in the live part of Notre Dame’s summer scrimmage. He was much better at making reads and getting the ball to the receivers than Buchner was. And he wasn’t that far behind Coan. Notre Dame has three decent quarterback options at the moment. Pyne’s biggest issues are out of his control.

He’s a shade under 6 foot, which makes him too “small”, he’s not Coan and he’s not the playmaker that Buchner is. It appears not many are, though.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Pyne is still a viable option.

“We've got great confidence in Drew. I think they're all very capable for your offense,” Kelly said. “I think circumstances really dictate how you would move in that direction. But I don't know that there's one second of hesitation between Tommy (Rees) and I relative to what Drew's capable of doing and how he can run our offense.”

2. Nobody asked me but if I’m coaching this team, I’d find more and more excuses to use Buchner going forward. The experts warn that once opponents get more game film on him, they’ll exploit Buchner’s inexperience at making quick, accurate reads with the passing game. Make it simple. He can improvise and use his athleticism to make plays. It’s not complicated. If you have a legitimate running threat at quarterback, it’s one more option the defense has to defend. That makes the running and passing game better. The worst offensive stat so far? Jack Coan has -27 yards rushing on 17 carries. Don’t misunderstand, the quarterback position still needs to be shared, but Buchner needs to get a bigger cut of it.

3. It was somewhat empty out there. There were 62,009 paid fans at the Toledo game on Saturday. The stadium holds over 77,000. You could look at that a couple of ways. A) It was Toledo, and people were so excited it was on Peacock, they wanted to stay home and watch it. B) It’s going to be this way indefinitely until Covid 19 smolders and dies out, which it should eventually. C) This is the new normal.

Kelly said he can’t worry about it though he agrees the stadium should be fuller.

“I don't want to be in here when we play other teams and there's more fans in the stands than our fans,” he said. “That’s when I'll really be concerned. I just don't have time to really concern myself with it. Look, we won 35 of our last 40 games. If that's not good enough, I don't know what else to do.”

4. Is the offensive line really as bad as it seems.

Yes. This could be the unfixable problem that torpedoes the season. Notre Dame has given up 10 sacks in two games. It’s averaging 2.7 yards per rush. It’s converting just over 31% of its third downs. That’s against a MAC team and an ACC team that lost to Jacksonville State. Arguably, their first or second best linemen, Blake Fisher, is out indefinitely and his back up Michael Carmody has a sprained ankle and could be out. Marshall transfer Cain Madden has struggled. The deeper question is how could an ND offensive line get so bad? The talent level was going to dip after losing four linemen to the NFL. But these players, like Josh Lugg and Jarrett Patterson, have experience. It should be better. And it’s up to offensive line coach Jeff Quinn to figure something out.

5. It’s not easy playing on Sunday night.

These kids are still in college. And it was a weird two weeks. I’m talking about the configuration of how Notre Dame opened the season. See what happened to Florida State on Saturday when it lost to Jacksonville State on the final play of the game. It needs to be accounted for. It’s not something the Irish can talk about because it sounds like excuse making but a program pays a price for playing on a short week. Notre Dame got home at 4:30 a.m. on Labor Day after the FSU game. It couldn’t have its usual normal Tuesday practice because kids had to recover. Then it had to play Toledo, which likely spent the last couple of weeks preparing for the Irish after a throw away game against Norfolk State. All that stuff matters. That’s why this home game against Purdue is important. The Irish should be in the normal rhythm of its season. This is a no-excuses Saturday. ND is favored by seven-points. I’ll be optimistic. Take them. It’s a good bet.

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