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Notre Dame Football

Reviewing QB Drew Pyne’s up-and-down season after 10 starts at Notre Dame

November 28, 2022
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USC quarterback Caleb Williams is now the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore after defeating Notre Dame 38-27 on Saturday. He escaped pressure after pressure and scored four total touchdowns. 

In the end, Fighting Irish signal-caller Drew Pyne couldn’t match Williams blow for blow, but he damn sure tried. 

Pyne connected on 88.5 percent of his passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns. His single-game completion percentage ranks season all-time by a Fighting Irish quarterback, trailing only quarterback Steve Beuerlein's 10 for 11 performance against Colorado in 1984

He fit multiple throws into tight windows, dumped it off to a running back when necessary and pushed the ball downfield with precision and accuracy. 

“That was a really good team we played out there, and they're going to go on and do great things this season,” Pyne said after the game. “Caleb Wiliams is a great player.”

It was likely Pyne’s best performance of his Notre Dame career, even if it was marred by two ghastly turnovers — an unforced fumble in the third quarter and a fourth-quarter interception that eliminated that chance at a late Irish comeback. 

But that’s basically much par for the course he ever since he took over for the injured Tyler Buchner in week three.

Pyne is an enigma. 

He completed 64.6% of his passes on the season, which ranks 34th among quarterbacks with at least 230 attempts this fall. He has 2,021 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. His 155.27 passer rating (20th) puts him ahead of Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, who just lead the Wolverines to a 45-23 win over No. 2 Ohio State.

Extrapolate Pyne’s numbers over a full 13-game slate, and he has 2,600 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 8.0 yards per attempt, which compares just fine to former Irish quarterback Ian Book’s best seasons.

Only Pyne’s season stats are a poor representation of what the Fighting Irish coaching staff could expect from its quarterback.

In his Pyne 10 starts, he completed greater than 70 percent of his passes in five of them, while hitting his mark 53 percent of the time in the other five. He never actually performed like a 65% passer.

Drew Pyne’s Completion Percentage in 10 starts

9.17 Cal: 17-23 (73.9%)

9.24 UNC: 24-34 (70.6%)

10.8 BYU: 22-28 (78.6%)

10.15 Stanford: 13-27 (48.1%)

10.22 UNLV: 14-28 (50%)

10.29 Syracuse: 9-19 (47.4%)

11.5 Clemson: 9-17 (52.9%)

11.12 Navy: 17-21 (81%)

11.19 Boston College: 13-25 (52%)

11.26 USC: 23-26 (88.5%)

 

Everyone has good days and off days, but Pyne’s numbers are all over the place. Game-by-game he vacillated between high efficiency and Brandon Wimbush levels of inaccuracy, whom Book replaced three games into a College Football Playoff run in 2018.

At times, Pyne looked like the type of quarterback who could lead his team to victory and even push the ball downfield. In four starts he completed greater than 70 percent of his passes and threw for greater than 250 yards and at least three touchdowns. 

In other moments, he was the guy who fans prayed wouldn’t screw up a victory. He’d throw at the feet of Braden Lenzy on a short out route or lock on a triple-covered Michael Mayer and risk an interception. In almost every start, he also had multiple passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, which often occurred on third down. 

Such wild swings in his accuracy week-to-week likely made it extra challenging for the Notre Dame coaching staff to game plan offensively. How could they know what to expect?

At the same time, there’s something to be said for a guy who lost the starting job in fall camp, only to take the reins of the offense after an 0-2 start. Pyne then led the Irish to an 8-2 record.

“Shoot. After week two, you could have went in another direction,” coach Marcus Freeman said. “In week six when we lost to Stanford, it could have gone in a bad direction. But these leaders and these guys continue to fight. They’ll fight after this one. It hurts because you gave it your all, but our leaders will keep us together.”

Pyne is most certainly one of those leaders, even if he often failed to play like an All-American.

He’ll have an opportunity to build off his USC performance in whatever bowl game the Irish accept an invite to, though he may be without his favorite target. Tight end Michael Mayer, who caught 56 of Pyne’s 164 completions this season, could forgo Notre Dame’s final game to prepare for the 2023 NFL Draft.

Either way, Pyne must continue to develop his rapport with sophomore wideouts Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles. The duo possess high ceilings and are vital to the team’s future, but they were also underutilized and underperformed throughout the season. 

Both were productive against the Trojans. Styles had 34 yards on four catches, two of which moved the chains on first down. 

Colzie, on the other hand, likely played the best game of his young career. He snagged three receptions for a career-high 75 yards and his first touchdown in a Notre Dame uniform on this excellent back-shoulder catch. 

“It's a credit to them,” Pyne said. “They're two young guys who just work their tails off non-stop. We work in practice, after practice, throwing back shoulders. I worked out with Deion during the week, throwing a high ball left over in the red zone. Those guys just come to work every single day with a positive attitude. 

“They're silly guys who like to have fun, and there are some of my best friends. That chemistry of being close with them as receivers, I think translates on the field and all the work that we put in during the week.

No matter who he’s targeting, Pyne will be prepared to battle like he has all season. 

“I'm proud of how we fought all season,” Pyne said. “I'm really proud of our team. In a month, when the game comes up, we're going to finish it the right way.”

He frequently says he was the same guy every day, never getting too high or too low. But he needs to strive for such consistency as a passer as he competes for the 2023 starting job with Buchner, Steve Angeli, Kenny Minchey and, in all likelihood, a to-be-determined graduate transfer.

Pyne needs to become reliable to the point where he’s completing 62 to 65 percent of his passes at a minimum, while also attacking all levels of the field.

As ISD’s Matt Freeman pointed out, Pyne was deficient on intermediate throws that traveled between 10 and 20 yards. Even against USC, he connected on just two of such passes and threw an interception. On the season, five of his six interceptions came at this depth. 

With four or five weeks to prepare for his next start, perhaps this is where Pyne looks to improve. 

“We're going be in a bowl game, and I want to send all the seniors out the right way,”  Pyne said. “We have a lot to play for. We have another game and I'm going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note. That's going be my focus for the next month.”

 
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