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Saturday, April 20, 2024
The Observer

‘You want to take every opportunity you can’: Buchner prepares to start in Gator Bowl

Arguably the biggest question mark in determining Friday’s bowl game outcome, sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner will take the field as the starter for the first time since his injury against Marshall. With the transfer of former starting quarterback Drew Pyne and the accelerated healing of Buchner’s shoulder, head coach Marcus Freeman chose Buchner to take the field on Friday. However, Buchner has not played since the Irish loss to Marshall. On top of that, he has only started two games in his entire career.

After his injury, Buchner traded in his cleats for a headset. He spent much of his time at the press level with Tommy Rees during games. Taking notes and observing the offensive coaches helped Buchner strengthen his understanding of play calling and his overall football IQ, he said. 

“Just seeing the game from a different perspective and listening to what the coaches are talking about during the game,” Buchner said. “Sort of having a different mindset toward the game in general certainly helped me become a smarter player.”

Buchner’s time away also allowed him to reflect on the game and the lessons he’s learned from injury. Accepting that things will not always turn out as planned allowed Buchner to understand the value of an obstacle, as well as instill optimism about playing again. 

“Sometimes the losses are the things you learn the most from, and sometimes you need one in a way that a win or staying healthy couldn’t have done,” Buchner said. “I’ve learned a lot of things along the way – personally and through football.

Buchner is not the only one who has learned throughout the season. Since Buchner’s last time starting, the Notre Dame offense has improved drastically. The offensive line gelled and became dominant in the run game, while also being able to provide a stronger pocket for the pass game. The trio of Logan Diggs, Chris Tyree and Audric Estime developed into one of the strongest backfields in the nation. The wide receiver crew has started to mesh well with the emergence of sophomores Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie. Even with the absence of All-American tight end Michael Mayer, Buchner has a lot to work with. What he will do with this is the question that remains. 

The Gator Bowl is a quasi-audition to regain his starting job. It is on Buchner to perform well. A victory against the Gamecocks will certainly help his case. However, it’s a long road to securing the starting job next year. With strong rumors of a transfer quarterback coming in, the presence of Steve Angeli and the commitment of highly-ranked recruit Kenny Minchey, Buchner must prove himself to be in the spotlight. Angeli was also preparing for the bowl game with the starters and could get some meaningful reps.  

“Steve’s really talented,” Buchner said. “He’s become a really smart player on the field. He’s a lot more athletic than I think people give him credit for and he spins the heck out of the ball.”

For the time being, Freeman speaks highly about Buchner’s performance and progress in practice. Buchner explained that he felt like “a quarterback in week one of the season” since he has not experienced getting hit recently. However, Buchner has been able to jive with the offense in practice, Freeman said. 

“He’s done great,” Freeman said. “He’s progressed from not playing football for so many weeks. Every day he gets better and better in his decision-making and really getting back there and getting live reps.”

Coming off an injury, Buchner knows the gift of playing could be lost at any moment. He emphasized the importance of seizing each opportunity to take the field and appreciating any experience as a starter.

“There’s a limited amount of games that you get in your entire life,” Buchner said. “Obviously, there’s always a chance of injury in football; it’s just a part of the game that everyone gets hurt. You want to take every opportunity you can to get better.” 

Contact Madeline Ladd at mladd2@nd.edu