Blue and Gold Illustrated

June/July 2023

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

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6 JUNE/JULY 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED N otre Dame has not averaged more yards per game than Alabama in a single season since 2017. The Fighting Irish have an average finishing position of 41.4 in total offense among 131 FBS teams in the five seasons since then. Alabama's average finish? 6.8. And yet, the Crimson Tide poached both offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and quarterback Tyler Buchner from the hallowed grounds in North- ern Indiana in a span of two and a half months. College football in 2023: Expect the unexpected. At no point during Alabama's re- cent run of Heisman Trophy winners and national championships did any- one sit back and say, "Man, the things the Tide are missing are Notre Dame's OC and QB." But now head coach Nick Saban has both, and it has to be nothing short of completely puzzling for folks in Tus- caloosa, South Bend and everywhere in between. Rees' Notre Dame offenses since being named offensive coordinator in 2020 finished 26th, 45th and 60th in yards per game. Alabama's offenses fin- ished fourth, seventh and 11th in the same category. If Buchner wins the starting job, Al- abama will be going from a Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick in Bryce Young to someone who has only started three games in two years in Buchner, who was well on his way to losing Notre Dame's offseason quarterback competition to Wake Forest graduate transfer Sam Hartman. Rees helped bring Hartman to Notre Dame in January. Then he bolted for Bama in February. Now, after Alabama's quarterbacks had a far less than inspir- ing showing in the Tide's spring game, Rees stole away the QB he was set to replace with Hartman. The reality that the real-life version of a "WTF" meme is happening at a place as proud and prolific offensively as Ala- bama of late is entirely peculiar. The Tide has been knocked from its post as the top team in the country in back-to-back seasons by conference ri- val Georgia. The Bulldogs had the fifth- best offense in the country this past season and made a mockery of TCU in a 65-7 national championship game vic- tory. Alabama never got the chance to face Georgia in the SEC Championship Game in part because it lost to Tennes- see, owner of the nation's No. 1 offense. Any time Saban has taken licks on the chin, he shakes them off and takes mea- sures to punch back with more ferocity. His equivalent to a Rocky Balboa training regimen designed to get the best of Ivan Drago this time around is a 1-2 punch of getting the offensive coordinator and quarterback of a program that hasn't won it all since 1988 back together. Bizarre. Saban also has a track record of just making things work, though. Tusca- loosa is as effective of a career reshap- ing facility as any in the country. Lane Kiffin. Steve Sarkisian. Two offensive- minded coaches who had nothing going for them at the time they showed up in T-Town but are now in charge of high- profile Power Five programs. Rees isn't in as much of a needy place regarding his perception in the profes- sion as those two were, but he could blossom at Alabama more than he ever did at Notre Dame. Buchner, meanwhile, does need an intense makeover. Right now, he's nothing more than a quarterback who can't stay healthy and hasn't proven himself as a passer. As a freshman in 2021, he was em- ployed as a gimmicky runner who came in to give Notre Dame's offense a boost when Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan couldn't get any- thing going. That occurred more than Rees probably wanted it to. It got so bad at Virginia Tech that Buchner took over for majority of the game. He flashed in spurts, but he also threw two costly interceptions. Without Coan's reinsertion and a game-winning drive, Notre Dame would have lost. Buchner is 1-2 as a starter. He com- pleted 46 of 83 throws (55.4 percent) for 217 yards per game with 3 touch- downs and 5 interceptions in those games. He also ran for an average of 41 yards per game and scored 4 scores. A late fourth-quarter pick-six versus Marshall was Notre Dame's death knell in a shocking upset loss for the Irish at home vs. the Thundering Herd. Nothing Buchner has done to this point in his career screams "this guy has what it takes to start at Ala- bama." He arrives having to do some- thing he couldn't at Notre Dame this year: win a quarterback competition. It would be immensely frustrating for Notre Dame fans to watch two of their own have the best seasons of their ca- reers under the grinning guidance of Saban. That's definitely not out of the realm of possibility. If there is anywhere for them to thrive in a change of scenery, it's at a powerhouse like Alabama. So, while it's puzzling on the surface for Saban to make the moves, it makes all the sense in the world for everyone who views it that way to be eating crow in December. College football in 2023: Expect the unexpected. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at Alabama has been the best program in the country the last decade-plus. Now the Crimson Tide are poaching personnel from Notre Dame. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Alabama's Interest In Irish Talent Is Unexpected

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