Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 6, 2021

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

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62 NOV. 6, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED M aybe it was a given in the locker room who would start for Notre Dame at quarterback against Virginia Tech and USC, but there certainly wasn't a con- sensus among media members or the Fighting Irish fan base. Sophomore Drew Pyne re- lieved graduate student Jack Coan in back-to-back weeks against Wisconsin Sept. 25 and against Cincinnati Oct. 2. He moved the ball more effectively than Coan did in the first half of those respective games. The numbers backed that up. So did the scoreboard — both of them. So, wh e n C o a n s ta r te d against the Hokies Oct. 9, it was a bit of a surprise. Espe- cially when he was replaced for a third straight game, that time by true freshman Tyler Buch- ner. And like Pyne, Buchner operated the offense at a higher level than Coan. Then everything changed in a span of two drives. Three min- utes and three seconds of game time. Fourteen plays. One hun- dred-ten yards. Eleven points. One last-minute victory at Vir- ginia Tech thanks to two incred- ibly efficient scoring drives from the guy who was benched in two straight games and injured in the one prior to those. All that to say this: tip your cap to Coan, Notre Dame fans. One month ago, many of you thought there was no way on earth head coach Brian Kelly should start Coan against a top-10 Cincinnati team that has since risen to No. 2 in the coun- try. And maybe y'all were right. Coan didn't play well in that 24-13 loss to the Bearcats. Both Notre Dame touchdowns were scored with Pyne on the field. Now, how many Notre Dame fans could imagine Kelly trotting any signal- caller other than Coan onto the field for majority of the Irish's offensive snaps in the final four games of the season? Coan's comeback against Virginia Tech and his effectiveness against USC won him the job back outright. Remember when Kelly said he wanted to avoid a "flavor of the week" type of situation with his quarterbacks? Maybe Coan should thank his head coach for having the wit to stick with him through thick and thin. But Coan should also thank himself for proving it to Kelly and the rest of the country that he was the man for the job. If Coan had come up short against Virginia Tech, maybe Kelly would have rolled out Buchner as the starter against USC. Maybe Pyne would have reentered the conversation. But that didn't hap- pen. And if Coan's start against USC was another midseason audition of sorts, he passed that one, too. He didn't blow anybody away with his numbers, but he led scoring drives and had a hand in another Notre Dame victory. Quarterbacks fail midseason audi- tions all the time. Look what happened to Spencer Rattler at Oklahoma. He went from Heisman Trophy front-runner to backing up a true freshman. Allow for a personal anec- dote for a moment to further prove that point. I covered Mississippi State the last three college football seasons. Twice I covered a Bulldogs team that took on a graduate trans- fer quarterback only for that quarterback to lose his start- ing status midway through the season. Tommy Stevens for- merly of Penn State lost the job to true freshman Garrett Shrader. K.J. Costello formerly of Stanford lost the job to true freshman Will Rogers. Coan could have easily lost the job to Buchner or Pyne. But Kelly stayed with him, and Coan re- warded his head coach for that. Coan isn't going to win any major national awards. He might not even do enough to get selected in the 2022 NFL Draft. But he has done enough to keep Notre Dame in the top 15 of the Associated Press poll through the first eight weeks of the reg- ular season. He could very well do enough to extend the Irish's streak of double-digit win seasons to five. Sure, Coan came to South Bend with visions of taking Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff in what would be the program's third such berth in the last four seasons. That feat could be out of reach. But if Coan continues to start through the end of the 2021 season, nobody is going to look back on the sea- son that was and deem it to be a failure. It was trending that way when Coan was benched in back-to-back games. He saved himself. He saved the sea- son. And he should be commended for it. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Coan went through a rough patch in the middle of the season, but has rebounded to regain control of his starting quarterback role. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER A Tip Of The Cap To Jack Coan Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at

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