Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 23 of 55

24 APRIL 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED A dding Jack Coan feels like a move meant to keep Notre Dame in College Football Playoff contention this season rather than one designed to help it win the national title. To win postseason games, it's likely the Irish need an upgrade from one of the most ac- complished quarterbacks in team history, among other things. That sounds weird to say. But CFP winners and national cham- pions have leaned on high-scoring, explosive offenses steered by first-round picks and first overall picks. Ian Book, for all he did, won't be a first-rounder. If Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Alabama's Mac Jones are taken in the opening 32 picks of the NFL Draft in late April as expected, that will mark five straight national champions who had a first-round quar- terback at the helm in the title game. Coan is a successful Power Five starter, a winner and someone who can keep the floor extremely high while still allowing the Irish to have realistic CFP goals. He's the surest bet of Notre Dame's bunch. He is not, though, a projected first- round pick. That explains the fascination with Tyler Buchner, a top-150 recruit who will step onto the practice field to a soundtrack of optimal hoopla. He does, though, have loads of hurdles to clear, and not just the typical freshman road- block of adjusting to the speed of the college game. Only twice in Brian Kelly's 11 prior sea- sons has a freshman quarterback not red- shirted. Buchner also arrived with just 13 career high school starts — he missed his sophomore year due to a knee injury and didn't have a senior season due to Cali- fornia's COVID-19 restrictions. Despite all of that, he has the most up- side. His high school tape shows a dy- namic runner, high-level athleticism and the ability to make plays off-platform and outside of structure. But it's asking a lot to expect him to be ready to play in 2021. QUARTERBACKS 2021 SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY THE NUMBERS 3 Years since Notre Dame has had a real spring quarterback competition. The last one took place in 2018, when incumbent Brandon Wimbush was getting pushed by Ian Book, who had rallied the Irish to victory over LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Wimbush started the first three games in 2018, all wins, but Book was used in goal-line situations before taking over as the starter in the fourth game en route to the College Football Playoff. Wimbush opted to be a graduate transfer at UCF in 2019. 7 Combined college football pass attempts be- tween Drew Pyne, Brendon Clark, and early enrollee freshmen Tyler Buchner and Ron Powlus III. To further illustrate their inexperience, that quartet has more high school ACL injuries (two) than high- leverage appearances in a college game (one). 43 Notre Dame's national pass efficiency rank in 2020 among the 127 Football Bowl Subdivi- sion teams. Since 2016, only five of the 20 College Football Playoff teams have finished outside the top 25 in pass efficiency: 2020 Notre Dame, 2018 Notre Dame (43rd), 2017 Clemson (62nd), 2016 Ohio State (44th) and 2016 Alabama (34th). The Crimson Tide were the only team of that group to win a CFP game. WHO'S GONE Ian Book The three-year starter with the most career wins at the po- sition is out the door after leading the Irish to a 30-5 record and two College Football Playoff appearances. He departs ranked No. 2 in school history in several career categories, including passing yards (8,948), passing touchdowns (72) and rushing yards by a quarterback (1,517). WHO'S BACK Junior Brendon Clark Injury issues involving the same knee on which he had ACL surgery in high school sidelined him for the second half of 2020. He played in one game, handling mop-up duty in Notre Dame's win over Pittsburgh. Sophomore Drew Pyne The 2020 early enrollee freshman ended the year as the backup to Book. He played in four games and completed 2 of 3 throws for 12 yards. His only reps in non-garbage time were two snaps in the CFP matchup versus Alabama when Book briefly left due to injury. QUARTERBACKS COACH/ OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Tommy Rees — Fifth year Despite the end-of-season sputtering, Notre Dame's offense still finished 17th in the Fremeau Efficiency In- dex (FEI) in his first season as coordinator, its highest since 2017. He is also in his fifth year as the quarterbacks coach for the Irish. POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH This marks the first time head coach Brian Kelly and his staff on offense have brought in an out- sider to compete for the quarterback job and provide much-needed experience. Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan is an 18-game starter and piloted an efficient Badgers of- fense in 2019, helping his team go 10-4 and win the Big Ten West Division. He did not play in 2020 due to a foot injury. In his lone full season as a starter, he threw for 2,727 yards with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. He completed 69.6 percent of his passes and averaged 8.0 yards per attempt. That's a much longer résumé than any of the other contestants, and the main reason he is viewed as the early favorite to win the job in his lone season in South Bend. JACK COAN PHOTO BY DAVID STLUKA/COURTESY WISCONSIN ATHLETICS

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