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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The Observer

Prepare, perform, repeat: Pyne's poise, confidence shining early in career

In the 2020 regular season, sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne, a true freshman at the time, served as the backup for three-year starter Ian Book. Throughout the regular season, he attempted - and completed - just one pass for five yards. But in the Rose Bowl against Alabama, Book briefly went down with an injury and Pyne stepped in. While it was little more than a cameo appearance - Pyne was thrown into a second-and-long situation and completed one pass for seven yards to put the Irish in a manageable position. In the context of the game, the play meant little. However, it was a foreshadowing of the confidence and swagger that Drew Pyne brings to the quarterback position in South Bend.

Pyne came on again in relief last week against Wisconsin, going 6-8 with a touchdown to lead a comeback win over the Badgers. He capped his first career touchdown pass with a celebratory Conor McGregor strut. This past weekend, despite the Irish taking a loss, Pyne again proved to be calm under pressure. Replacing an ineffective Jack Coan in the second half, Pyne was 9-22 for 143 yards. The efficiency was a little lower, but not surprising given the vaunted Cincinnati secondary and the nature of a game that put Pyne in obvious passing situations for most of his time on the field.

Pyne has - for all intents and purposes - only appeared in huge situations when the Irish needed him badly. And the New Caanan, CT product has pulled through, even if he shifts the credit to just about everyone around him:

“It all started last year against Alabama, that one play I went in. All of those guys came up to me in the huddle, and I was a little nervous,” Pyne remembered. “That group of guys has always had my back, and it’s been the same this year. Thankful to be around them, and I’ll always be confident.”

With Notre Dame’s mess of a quarterback situation - the top three slingers on the depth chart all played multiple drives on Saturday - Pyne has needed to take backup and first-team reps in practice and be ready at a moment’s notice. “It’s just about going in there, executing, and doing whatever I can do when my number was called,” Pyne said. “Credit to Coach [Tommy] Rees for preparing me to be able to go out there and be confident in my play.”

On Saturday, Pyne needed all of that confidence as he was thrown into an awful situation. A struggling Irish offense averaged about 3.5 yards per play in the first half. They trailed 17-0 courtesy of two interceptions  - one by Jack Coan and one by Tyler Buchner. And, outside of the first drive of the game, the Irish had gained 52 yards on 28 plays. Pyne came out firing, with strikes of 15 and 17 yards on his first drive to get the home squad moving. They churned out 50 yards of offense, shunned a field goal attempt and were stopped on fourth down.

“In my mind, it’s what can I do to go help my teammates, to execute whatever play Coach Rees call. My heart didn’t drop, there were no nerves. It was the same calm I have every game,” Pyne noted on his mentality when entering the game.

Impressive words for someone with ten career pass attempts entering Saturday. But Pyne backed up his words with impressive poise. The sophomore led a 38-yard touchdown drive in his next appearance. On that four-play sequence, Pyne gave the Irish fanbase some flashbacks of the mobile Ian Book, escaping pressure and sprinting left for an 11-yard gain. “Ian was unbelievable to me. I’m so thankful to be around such great guys that prepare the right way,” Pyne said, referencing his year of learning under Book as well as working alongside Coan and Buchner.

Despite another fantastic drive led by Pyne - an 80-yard beauty capped by a 32-yard touchdown pass to Braden Lenzy - the Irish did ultimately fall short 24-13. And the sophomore didn’t shy away from taking some blame: “We had a great plan, but we have to adjust, and it’s on me to go out there and execute.”

Certainly, the results were not really on Pyne. The only three-and-out that happened under his watch involved a drop on a wide-open 20-yard pass. The Irish should have put up three points on his initial drive, which would have made the final drive, one that was rushed due to the two-possession deficit, a more standard two-minute drill.

Certainly, it feels like, among the three quarterbacks, Pyne has put himself in position to be named the starter heading into the Virginia Tech clash next week. But Pyne isn’t focused on any quarterback controversy - or anything other than getting himself and the Irish better with each week.

“For me, every week of practice is the same. Jack, Tyler, and I all approach practice the same way. We stay late, watch film. We’ve got to keep getting better every single day,” Pyne noted, complimenting both his fellow gunslingers and the coaches. “It’s been awesome to go through it with Coach Rees and Coach Kelly. Testament to them for getting us [Pyne, Coan, Buchner] all here together.”

Be it with the second-team offense, the first-team, as a starter, or coming on in relief, Pyne sounds like he’s here for the long run. The sophomore displayed maturity beyond his years at the post-game press conference following the devastating loss. He’s keeping perspective on all things, on and off the field, and appreciating everything Notre Dame has to offer.

“Notre Dame is such an incredible university,” Pyne said. “I’ve gone to church almost every other night for the past couple of weeks, just sitting in the Basilica by myself, thinking about the day, the week, and focusing on having a positive attitude at all times.”

Pyne’s combination of reflectiveness, maturity, poise under pressure and his ability to demonstrate confidence and swagger have made him a fan favorite in South Bend. Wherever he slots into the quarterback picture over the remaining seven games this season, Pyne’s gutsy efforts early in his career have proven that the Irish recruited a pure gamer under center, and the position is in good hands in the years to come.