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Leftovers & Links: Marcus Freeman predicted Notre Dame would need two QBs; past and present prove him right

Marcus Freeman was right about one football reality during preseason practices. When he told Drew Pyne that Tyler Buchner would start for Notre Dame at Ohio State to open the season, he reminded Pyne that two quarterbacks are needed to get through a season.

Freeman would have preferred to be wrong about that, but it is now the Irish present. Including this year, 11 of the last 13 Notre Dame seasons have leaned on multiple quarterbacks, the two exceptions being Ian Book’s surge to become the all-time winningest quarterback in Irish history in 2019 and 2020. Otherwise, suspension (2013) or injury has forced in a backup (2010, 2015, 2017) when performance has not (2011’s trip to Stanford, the 2014 bowl game victory against LSU, most of 2016, a pivotal change in 2018) with on notable unbeaten season carried by a closer concept.

Thus, Freeman’s confidence in Pyne needed to be voiced in August more than it does now, because keeping Pyne fully engaged this season was always likely to lead to Pyne playing in competitive moments this season.

“As I said when we addressed the quarterback competition in fall camp, I have the utmost confidence in both of those guys being able to lead our offense and lead this football team,” Freeman said Monday. “... You don’t know when his time is going to be, but I knew it was going to come at some point. Here it is.

“He’s always prepared like the starter. He’s prepared like a pro. That’s who Drew Pyne is and he went out [Sunday] and Drew Pyne doesn’t need to be any different than who he’s always been, no matter if he was QB1 or QB2.”

Pyne may not need to be different than who he typically is, but he is different than Buchner. Freeman intends to keep plenty of quarterback running in the playbook, but those plays may not yield the same big-play rewards as they do with Buchner. In two games this season, he not only rushed for two touchdowns, he also gained six first downs with his legs, not to mention drawing a flag on another rush to move the chains. Notre Dame’s running backs have combined for four first downs and one touchdown.

“The major difference is probably the straight-line speed,” Freeman said. “Tyler Buchner is maybe a 4.5-guy. He can run in a straight line.

“Drew’s athletic, but he’s not straight-line as fast as Tyler. The ability to pull the ball and (use) zone-reads to make a team respect you as a quarterback being able to run the ball is something that Drew can do. The passing game obviously isn’t much different. I don’t see much change in that package.”

If Pyne does not make better decisions than he did late in the 26-21 loss to Marshall on Saturday, then that passing game package may need to change. With Notre Dame’s hopes hanging by a thread, trailing 26-15 with fewer than four minutes remaining but driving to make it a one-score game, Pyne threw his second pass directly to Herd linebacker Owen Porter.

That is not the norm of what Freeman has seen from the junior.

“He’s got a strong arm, I believe in that,” Freeman said. “Probably the best is his decision-making. That’s what you got to hope for out of your quarterback. Did he make the right decisions? Did he take care of the football? Did he make plays?

“He does make the right decisions, and we have to put him in a position to make the right decisions. That’s to me what I hope that we see out of Drew Pyne as we move forward. He makes the right decisions, takes care of the ball and then the third part will happen, the making the plays part.”

2010: Injury ended Dayne Crist’s season with four games remaining, at which point freshman Tommy Rees entered and won those four games.2011: Crist was benched after one half, but Rees was also eventually sidelined in the season finale in favor of Andrew Hendrix.2012: Rees supplemented Everett Golson in numerous late-game moments.2013: Golson’s suspension led to one last on-field leading role for Rees.2014: Golson gave way to a timeshare with Malik Zaire in the Music City Bowl.2015: Zaire’s season ended at the start of the second game, at which point DeShone Kizer took over.2016: A quarterback situation handled poorly, Brain Kelly split time between Kizer and Zaire for portions of the season.2017: An injury to Brandon Wimbush gave Ian Book his first career start.2018: Book supplanted Wimbush as QB1 early in the season.2019: Book.2020: Book.2021: A Jack Coan injury first led to Pyne’s cameo, then Coan struggles led to another, before more struggles created a chance for Tyler Buchner at Virginia Tech, just for a Buchner injury to put Coan back behind center.

Some attention was paid to Notre Dame taking to the practice field Sunday night, always a recovery and review day under Brian Kelly. At first, the assumption was this was a coaching decision to spark some urgency. Freeman offered some clarity: The Irish practice on Sundays under him and instead take off Mondays.

“It’s something I’ve been a part of really since I played, my time at Purdue, Kent State, Cincinnati,” Freeman said.

Sitting in the NBC production meeting Friday night, a package of highlights from Marshall football history stood out. Quarterback Bryon Leftwich being carried to the line of scrimmage by two offensive linemen — he was playing on a broken leg — in 2002 always catches some by surprise, a moment largely forgotten to history as the Herd beating Louisville in the GMAC Bowl to end that season hardly resonates with time.

And far too few people remember Randy Moss went to Marshall.

This is not to compare anyone on the current Herd roster to arguably the most talented receiver in football history, but Moss starring in Huntington sums up much of the Marshall program. It has always had talent, often procured through an aggressive partial qualifier system. While Notre Dame still should have beaten the Herd on Saturday, Marshall taking that approach to the transfer portal is both fitting for the program and broadly unrecognized as the talent influx it was.

Ineffective offense, turnovers doom Notre Dame vs Marshall in Marcus Freeman’s home debutMarshall 26, Notre Dame 21: Highlights were few, but Irish lessons persistThings We Learned: Change in tone around Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive lines the underlying issue to Irish concernsNotre Dame QB Tyler Buchner out for season with shoulder injury; Drew Pyne to start

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