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Notre Dame Football

Breaking Down Buchner

December 28, 2021

The hype around Tyler Buchner as a recruit was significant when he committed back in March of 2019 despite missing all of his sophomore season with an injury. The talent was obvious and it blossomed during his junior year with video game-like numbers.

Over 6,000 yards of total offense and a combined 81 passing and rushing touchdowns was like a lit match added to the hype fire.

The train slowed down a bit with no senior season to follow up on what he did as a junior, but that didn’t change expectations for him. It just set them back a bit as he enrolled early, but was not considered someone who would compete to start in 2021.

Still, he made throws like this in the spring so many held on to hope that the highest rated quarterback Notre Dame had signed in half a decade could be a star for the Irish sooner than later.

Buchner wasn’t ready to be QB1 as a freshman, but he has absolutely made an impact. He ignited the offense when they were searching for an identity early in the season and sprinkled in flashes of brilliance along the way. Tommy Rees found ways to let Buchner shine as a runner while incorporating RPOs to assist him as a passer. His numbers throwing weren’t anything to get excited about, but he finished with the fifth highest yards per carry (7.8) out of any quarterback in the country even after everyone on the opposite side of the ball knew that it was likely going to be a run when he was in the game.

Buchner can break tackles. He can accelerate by defenders. He can bring out the truck stick when he has to as well. His abilities as a runner give him an edge to be the starting quarterback in 2022. Over a ¼ of his carries went for 10 yards or more.

He hasn’t quite established the other part of being a dual-threat yet. That’s not a surprise given that he’s only a freshman and hadn’t played in a game since 2019 before this fall. It would be unreasonable to think he was going to come in anywhere close to a finished product as a passer.

The attempts aren’t significant enough to make any fair assessments of him, but at this point he has thrived running play-action/RPOs. 39.5% of his drop backs have involved a play-action fake of some kind and he’s 11 of 14 (78.6%) and averaging 10.9 yards per attempt. That’s a direction the offense will likely be headed with him if he wins the quarterback job next season.

The focus on him and the running game can open up plays like this and his ability to throw on the move while changing his arm angle is part of what makes him a unique talent.

It’s the rest of the drop back pass game where Buchner showed he has plenty of room to improve. As a regular pocket passer with no play-action fake he was 10 of 21 (49.6&) and 6.9 YPA.

There are going to be plenty of situations where he’ll have to drop back, go through his progressions, and make the right throw and many of those will have to be on 3rd down. He only had 10 attempts all seasons and it’s no wonder why Rees tried to protect him there. All three of his interceptions came on 3rd down and he only converted once on those 10 attempts.

That’s the area where Buchner has to grow the most. I know some will see those numbers, even in such a tiny sample size, and be frightened by the distance he has to travel to get there. That ignores the fact that Buchner wasn’t even supposed to play this season or that those results are pretty typical for a freshman.

Michigan true freshman JJ McCarthy, who had a similar part-time role to Buchner this season, only converted two first downs on his nine passing attempts on 3rd and 4th down. Both of his interceptions came on those downs as well.

There was only one true freshman quarterback from a Power 5 program who qualified to be ranked in the top-100 in pass efficiency and that was current Oklahoma starter Caleb Williams. There weren’t many freshmen who saw the field at top programs and the list of ones who contributed as much as Buchner did is short.

It is not a sure-thing that the flashes are going to lead to great success. Florida’s Emory Jones, a first time starter in 2021 after showing tantalizing dual-threat potential as a backup, came into the season projected to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Some even had him going in the first round in early mock drafts. With Dan Mullen and his success developing quarterbacks, Jones was supposed to take off this fall.

It didn’t go as planned and he’s now looking for his next stop in the transfer portal. Things probably would have gone a lot smoother for him and for Mullen if Jones had two first round talents like Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney to throw to. They definitely elevated Kyle Trask as a quarterback the previous season.

That’s another piece of it that isn’t emphasized enough. The supporting cast matters a great deal, which is why former USC quarterback Kedon Slovis can go from freshman phenom to transferring to Pitt a couple of years later.  In year one Slovis had Michael Pittman and Amon-ra St. Brown to throw to as well as being protected by two future first round picks on the offensive line. As a junior he had Drake London and not much else in terms of top tier talent.

Buchner will have the advantage of having a much improved offensive line, a strong backfield, and a receiver/tight end group that might be the most talented one the Irish have had since 2009. Just about any quarterback would be set up for success with that supporting cast.

I don’t expect to see more of him against Oklahoma State than we’ve seen from him down the stretch to finish the season, but the Buchner era can get its start as soon as the Fiesta Bowl is over. The work he puts in between now and September will determine whether or not his time is coming soon or if he still has a ways to go.

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