Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly provided some clarity Wednesday about his team's quarterback situation entering maybe its biggest remaining game: Saturday's clash against No. 7 Cincinnati at Notre Dame Stadium.
The 12th-year Irish coach said he expects Jack Coan to start against the Bearcats. Coan, who has started the first four games of the season, suffered a soft-tissue lower-body injury in a 41-13 win over Wisconsin on Saturday on one of the five sacks he took against the Badgers. Kelly said Monday that Coan's condition remained uncertain and it would take until practice Tuesday to learn more.
“Jack Coan's our starter and we expect him to start (against Cincinnati),” Kelly said Wednesday. “He practiced on Tuesday, which kind of surprised us a little bit. We didn't know what his availability would be on Tuesday, we were thinking Wednesday, but he practiced and did a pretty good job, so our expectations are that he'll be back to start for us.”
If Coan's condition changes and he can't start, redshirt freshman Drew Pyne will get the nod against Cincinnati. Pyne showed promise in relief of Coan on Saturday, going 6 for 8 for 81 yards and a touchdown, though he was also strip-sacked, leading to a go-ahead field goal for the Badgers. Pyne seemingly has the confidence of the locker room if Coan can't play.
“I love all of them,” wide receiver Braden Lenzy of the quarterbacks. “They're all very close. That's very Notre Dame-like, there's not much animosity, we all just want each other to succeed. I think they all understand that whoever's going to put us in the best position to win will play.”
The one aspect of the quarterback situation that appears certain is that Tyler Buchner will play against Cincinnati. He was a revelation against Toledo in Week 2, breaking off several big runs and then using the running threat to hit Chris Tyree with a short pass that turned into a 55-yard touchdown.
Buchner, a true freshman, has missed most of the last two games with a hamstring injury and was not available Saturday when Coan went out. But Kelly said Buchner was feeling “really good” Sunday and will get some snaps no matter who the starter is.
“If (Coan) looks good, he'll be our starter and Tyler Buchner will play,” Kelly said. “If (Coan) can't (play), then Drew is ready to go and it appears that Tyler is going to be in pretty good shape to play for us. So, it's a two-quarterback situation, it just depends on what two from that standpoint.”
Coan was the starter in 2019 for the Badgers. He injured his foot before last season and then transferred to Notre Dame. He won the job in fall camp after an offseason competition.
He started the season with a 366-yard, four-touchdown performance against Florida State but since then has been sacked a dozen times in three games and has completed more than 50% of his throws just once in those three contests.
Notre Dame's leaky offensive line has been criticized for its protection of Coan, but Kelly said the quarterback can also help the situation.
“What's most important is the ball has got to come out on time,” Kelly coach said. “So, (the quarterbacks) can't hold on to the football. You've got to be decisive. For me, within this offensive structure, the ball has to come out on time.
“The offensive line is under scrutiny right now and look, they have to play better. But not all that is on the offensive line. The ball has got to come out on time, and there are certain situations where the ball needed to get out in a timely fashion and it didn't.”
Kelly has praised Pyne's ability to get the ball out quickly, which the former four-star recruit demonstrated in his performance against Wisconsin – strip-sack aside.
“When when you recruit somebody that's standing on the yellow pages to be 6-(foot)-1, you know what I mean, you've got to see it and the ball's got to come out,” Kelly said of Pyne. “And he's really good at that stuff.”
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend
Records: No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0), No. 7 Cincinnati (3-0)