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Notre Dame Football: Drew Pyne was set up to fail in Blue-Gold Game

Spring games are nothingburgers so don’t buy the narrative

NCAA Football: Notre Dame Spring Game Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Hopefully very few people need to hear this, but just so we’re abundantly clear:

Like pretty much every spring game for every program across the country, the Blue-Gold Game rarely provides any meaningful insight into the Notre Dame football program. It’s a self-aggrandizing tradition, a zero-sum game. You don’t get a chance to see the full starting lineup together on either side of the ball. And no matter what, the home team simultaneously wins and loses.

Nevertheless, people want to read something into the game, and I get the impulse. Personally, I really would love to hype up Steve Angeli’s two touchdowns, including a game-winning scamper, as a sign he’s vying for the starting job. But I’m not going to do that. I’m going to be sensible and remind fans that they should take nothing away from this game regarding the quarterback competition, especially when it comes to Drew Pyne’s place in it.

And for those of you who insist on reading something into Pyne and the offense’s generally unspectacular performance, you need to slow your roll. Here’s why:

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
Pyne was all-time quarterback in the first half of the Blue-Gold Game because Tyler Buchner turned his ankle
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. First, consider the pass-catching personnel Pyne was working with on both teams. Receivers Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins are both out with injuries, and the tight end room is similarly decimated. Injuries aside, the wide receiver depth chart would still be objectively thin because of some unacceptable recruiting that got the last position group coach fired. Then the pass-catching is diluted even more by dividing the handful of available scholarship players between two teams. Finally, those scholarship players are limited in the intensity and number of snaps they take because the last thing the team can afford is another injury.

So, what is Pyne left with on both rosters? A no-win situation, that’s what. There’s a reason the best offense we saw all day came off screen passes to running backs (all due respect to Angeli’s walk-off winner and Andrew Yanoshak’s touchdown grab).

Maybe it would be different if Buchner were available. If both QBs were out there we could compare how each quarterback operated with similar personnel at their disposals rather than all eyes scrutinizing Pyne. But even then, it still wouldn’t be fair to make sweeping pronouncements about the quarterback competition when you don’t get a look at either one working with the full, healthy first-string offense.

In case it needs to be said, expectations for a spring game should never be high. It would be unrealistic to expect Pyne to complete 70% of his passes, throw a handful of touchdowns and have no more than one interception. If that were “taking advantage of his opportunity” and he actually did it — while wearing a red pinnie, no less — then either the defense sucked or Pyne’s ability to elevate his teammates’ performance is first-round NFL draft caliber.

And speaking of the red pinnie…

2. The moment you see a quarterback wearing red, you should immediately put an asterisk next to your impression of his performance (does the name Phil Jurkovec ring a bell?). Pyne isn’t a running quarterback, but he’s shifty enough to make some things happen with his legs if given the opportunity. (Of course, even if he had free rein to use his legs, the offensive line wasn’t doing him a lot of favors on Saturday, and it’s clear Marcus Freeman told the defense to take pity on Pyne by letting him play through what would otherwise be a touch sack).

Had Buchner played, he himself probably wouldn’t have instilled a lot of confidence with how he would have been limited. Heck, I bet Buchner would have gotten fewer opportunities to take off that pinnie Saturday than he did in last year’s spring game because of how important he is to success next season. After all, there’s a reason Steve Angeli and Ron Powlus III didn’t have to wear red jerseys…

3. Did everyone just forget about the 30 mph wind gusts in the forecast? As an illustration of how wind can wreak havoc on a passing game, I refer you to that miserable 12-7 win over Louisville in 2020. Just wanted to bring that up.

I’m not saying that I think Pyne will win the quarterback competition for next season. On the contrary, I think Buchner offers too much dynamism and versatility for the coaching staff to go any other direction at QB. But that’s my perspective as an outsider. The quarterback competition isn’t won in the spring game in front of the ignorant masses. It’s won day-after-day in practice in front of the coaches who get paid millions of dollars to make those decisions. To overanalyze a spring game performance is unfair to Pyne.

Quit making mountains out of molehills. Reserve judgement until you see the on-field product in Ohio Stadium on Sept. 3. In the meantime, just be glad college football was on TV in April, even if it was on Peacock.