Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 9, 2021

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

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Page 30 of 55 OCT. 9, 2021 31 D rew Pyne sets aside time for him- self. To decompress. To reflect. To keep his mind in the right place. "I've gone to church almost every other night the past couple weeks, just sitting in the Basilica, thinking about the day, about the week and having a positive attitude at all times," said Pyne, Notre Dame's sophomore quarterback. There's a lot on his mind these days — and there will be going forward. He's at the center of a changing Notre Dame quarterback landscape that took yet an- other turn in the No. 9 Irish's 24-13 loss to No. 7 Cincinnati. A turn that might result in his promotion to starter and the expec- tation to elevate a floundering offense. It's a lot to process for a sophomore in college. And for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, who has a quarterback conun- drum on his hands he surely didn't antici- pate before the season but cannot stave off any longer. He made the switch to Pyne from graduate student starter Jack Coan to start the second half, which injected some life, but was not enough for a comeback. It was the latest move in a carousel of quarterback decisions and happenings in recent weeks. Some were performance related. Injuries prompted others. Whatever the reason, it's time to set a course. Notre Dame's offense needs direction, not continual duct-taping with temporary hopeful fixes. "Clearly, we can't continue down this road of, 'Who's the flavor of the week here?'" Kelly said. "We're going to have to sit down and figure this out and decide which direction we want to go, because it doesn't give us the kind of continuity and consistency on offense that we need." The absence of continuity and con- sistency on offense made a 4-0 start feel more like a house of cards anxiously awaiting a gust of wind rather than a steady climb toward a third College Foot- ball Playoff appearance in four years. Notre Dame has rampant issues on the offensive line and an unreliable run game. It entered this top-10 matchup averaging 4.3 yards per play in its last two games. A dud felt inevitable. Sure enough, Notre Dame entered halftime averaging 3.7 yards per play and trailing 17-0. It committed two turnovers and gained more than 24 yards on only one of its seven first-half possessions. "We got behind and felt like we needed to make a change and a spark there, and that's why we went with Drew," Kelly said. Coan isn't the primary cause of Notre Dame's offensive problems, but he's not enough on his own to transcend them. His limited mobility and lack of impro- visational skills are a sour mix with a leaky offensive line and a skilled but in- consistent group of wide receivers. With each game, the idea that Notre Dame's offensive circumstances and flaws could dictate its quarterback deci- sion became more prevalent. The Irish needed someone to elevate the entire operation and deliver consistency to a passing offense that has to bear the brunt of the offensive weight. It's a lot to ask. It's no guarantee that Pyne is the so- lution. Perhaps no one on the roster is. But he offers hope. He's mobile and can create offense when nothing is available. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, Kelly and teammates seem to trust him. He wears his confidence on his sleeve. "He knows what he's doing," sopho- more tight end Michael Mayer said. "He knows the offense very well. He's just confident in his throws." Pyne's final stat line is far from perfect. He was 9-of-22 passing for 143 yards with a touchdown in two quarters of action. He did, though, average 15.9 yards per completion and lead both of Notre Dame's touchdown drives. His 32-yard touchdown toss to senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy pulled the Irish within four points with 8:20 left in the game. He had three non-sack carries for 18 yards, including an 11-yard scramble that set up junior running back Kyren Williams' three-yard touchdown run. "Escapability, certainly," Kelly said when asked about Pyne's strengths. "He sees the field very well, and he just has a con- fidence, a bit of a swagger to him. There's no stat for that. It's just a sense and a feel." His own feel for managing quarterbacks now takes center stage for the first time since he swapped Brandon Wimbush for Ian Book in September 2018, which ulti- mately ushered in three seasons of stabil- ity at the game's most important position. In experimenting with three quar- terbacks this year, though, stability has eroded. Freshman Tyler Buchner earned a look as a run-game spark, but offers little as a passer at this stage in his career. Coan's ankle injury in the win over Wis- consin Sept. 25 opened the door for Pyne, who impressed in relief and earned a lon- ger look. Kelly and Rees gave him one. "I've always stayed ready," Pyne said. "It's just how I am." Kelly didn't make a quarterback deci- sion in his postgame media session. But he has now seen all three in game action and in practice. Time to pick a lane and stay in it, for better or worse. Direction with bumps is better than no direction at all. "We can't continuously go into the game and just say, 'All right, who's up next?'" Kelly said. Pyne appears to be up next. And ought to be up last. ✦ ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne led both of Notre Dame's touchdown drives in its loss to Cincinnati. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER In Need Of QB Direction, Answer Gets Clearer

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