Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly made the wrong move this week with his quarterback decision. It was wrong, because the choice was never made right. Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees stayed with Jack Coan as the starting quarterback and Tyler Buchner as the changeup (which was essentially a glorified wildcat). Both Coan and Buchner delivered turnovers around the south endzone to help bury the Irish in the first half.
After the Wisconsin game, Brian Kelly stated that Jack Coan was still the starter moving forward. A few days after, the message was more like “Jack is our starter if he’s healthy.” Drew Pyne was a catalyst in the Wisconsin game, and generally looked better at quarterback than Coan because of better mobility.
Despite Kelly’s declaration, and seeing Coan practicing, there were still some thoughts out there that Pyne could still start against the Bearcats.
That, of course, didn’t happen.
Perhaps it was hubris by Kelly to stay with Coan and the Buchner package, but it could also be what ends up saving the season.
The road that Notre Dame was going down was certainly a rocky one this season. The offense has looked really bad most of the time it’s been out there. A combination of bad opponents and some timely plays had kept this Notre Dame team undefeated going into this game against Cincinnati. None of it was sustainable — and even if Brian Kelly thought differently in private, in public his support of Coan and whatever else they were doing was a work of fantasy.
There’s no spinning out of this loss. Notre Dame needs to make changes on the offensive side of the football. The offensive line has been terrible, and that includes maybe their best showing of the year — in this loss to Cincinnati. Chris Tyree probably needs to touch the ball more than 8 times in a game, and drops are still a concern from the wide receivers. At the front end of it all, however, is still the play at quarterback.
Drew Pyne didn’t light the world on fire against the Bearcats. He was 9-22 (41%) for 142 yards and a touchdown. It was probably unfair to Pyne to sit after his first series in place of Buchner, who is just running the wildcat offense while he’s out there. Pyne looked different. His mobility compared to Jack Coan made him look like Mike Vick, and the passing game compared to Tyler Buchner made him look like Aaron Rodgers.
It’s something different, and that something different helped put the Irish in a position to get back into a game that they went down 17-0 in at one point.
For Notre Dame to move forward this season — especially after this loss — they have to make a firm move at quarterback. Moving on to Drew Pyne at quarterback gives them the opportunity to rally around something fresh, and actually improve during the season. If Brian Kelly and Notre Dame decide to keep going about “business as usual” then there is little doubt from me that the Irish lose no fewer than two more games — whoever the opponent is.
The entire team has flaws. The defense, while playing mostly well throughout the day, still collapsed in crucial moments, and the special teams units coughed up a fumble and missed an extra point. Still... this is a quarterback world, and an improvement there would greatly hide or mask or obfuscate many other deficiencies.
It needs to be Drew Pyne moving forward. Everyone knows it, but will Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees make the move? Honestly... I just don’t know.