As Ohio State makes its final preparations for the Week 1 matchup against Notre Dame, it will be taking a closer look at recently announced starting quarterback, Tyler Buchner. The Fighting Irish QB was used in a change of pace fashion last season due to his ability as a runner that gave a different look to their starter, Jack Coan. For the Irish, they will lean on his ability to make plays with his feet, but there are questions remaining about who he is as a passer.
Buchner entered Notre Dame as a consensus four-star recruit as the No. 71 player nationally. On Aug. 13, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman announced that Buchner was going to be the starter Week 1, leaving no questions to who will be taking the field for those first snaps against Jim Knowles’ new Ohio State defense. Knowles will be looking at Buchner’s ability as a runner as something the Buckeyes will need to takeaway immediately. Buchner’s inexperience as a passer brings an interesting dynamic for the Irish offense, and they will need to throw the football to have any chance.
Buchner has shown in limited experience that he can be a capable starting quarterback. Without seeing him in the Spring Game, that leaves film exclusive to his spot duty, with only significant snaps coming against Virginia Tech. Outside of his running ability, there is not a large sample size, but there is enough to get a semblance of what Buchner is bringing to the table as a quarterback.
This is where Buchner earned his stripes, er, golden dome for Notre Dame. Buchner is a surprisingly physical and elusive runner who is hard to bring down. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees tries to utilize Buchner’s legs in a variety of ways, including zone reads, moving the pocket, and short yardage QB powers. Bringing this dimension as a running threat from the quarterback position will be a challenge for Ohio State’s defense. Looking into a few concepts Notre Dame likes to use, there’s a lot to see from Buchner, even in his limited role.
In this first play, Notre Dame is running a zone read off of a split-zone concept. Buchner is keying on the play side defensive end here. Once the defender commits to taking on the block inside, Buchner pulls the ball, taking it to the outside. Buchner shows his burst by getting to the edge and getting upfield. He also shows his balance with the stiff arm at the end of the run.
Ohio State will need to be well prepared for this. The linebackers and defensive ends will need to be on the same page on who is taking the running back or quarterback on any given play. Staying disciplined is the No. 1 key to slowing down the zone read with a quarterback like Buchner.
This next play should look familiar to Ohio State fans, and if you take a look at any Ohio State game in the Urban Meyer era, this play probably gives some mixed feelings. Like Meyer, Rees really trusts his quarterback with the ball in his hands in short yardage situations. This play is a run the whole way. Buchner does a play fake by showing pass to let the running back lead through the hole. Buchner follows and fights through contact to get a first down. Using his size and strength he is able to fight for extra yards.
For a quarterback, Buchner does not avoid contact. This might change with him as the starter, but that would take away a significant part of his skillset.
The last aspect to look at with Buchner is his elusiveness. He is able to break tackles and shows his escapability here. In the play below, Notre Dame is in a 3rd-and-long situation, which means this is an obvious passing down. Purdue has the play covered pretty well downfield, and All-American, first round NFL Draft pick George Karlaftis applies pressure in the pocket. Buchner is able to break a tackle in the backfield and scrambles for a first down.
Ohio State will need to create pressure, but it will be important for the Buckeyes to maintain their rush lane integrity. If they get upfield or overcommit, Buchner has the ability to do some damage moving the sticks.
Notre Dame used Buchner as a change of pace quarterback last year due to his ability to run the football. Jack Coan was a much more consistent passer compared to the second-year Buchner, but the Fighting Irish let Buchner loose as a passer at times. We’re going to look at how Buchner was able to do some damage downfield, but we’ll also see the inconsistency he showed as a passer last season.
In the first play, Notre Dame uses Buchner’s legs as a weapon. They fake a quarterback run and slip the receivers behind the defenders. Buchner takes a hard step like he’s running to the outside, sets his feet and hits the receiver in wide open space. This is a great concept Rees used here, using the first receiver to clear out and using Buchner’s running ability to suck in the defenders. By using the danger of his legs, Notre Dame created an easy throw and a big play. Buchner did not do anything significant here, but this shows the conflict his skillset can create for defenses.
In the next play, Notre Dame is playing Virginia Tech, who uses exclusively man coverage on the outside. Buchner gets solid protection from the offensive line and steps into his throw after a quick drop. With a one-on-one match up to the outside, Buchner knows if he makes a good throw his receiver will have a chance. For a quarterback with some accuracy issues, the arm strength and touch Buchner puts on this throw is impressive. He throws it where only his receiver gets it, and shows that he can deliver some throws downfield if he is kept clean in the pocket.
In the last play of this section, Buchner once again has some time to throw. This is a classic four verticals concept with all the receivers getting up field. Virginia Tech shows a one high look, which means the slot receiver is going to work across the one-high safety’s face. This is not a challenging throw, but Buchner gets some velocity on the throw with solid ball placement that allows the receiver to turn up the field.
Buchner is not a bad passer by any means, but his struggles with consistency led to some mistakes. If the Buckeyes can get pressure, Buchner has shown a tendency to let that effect him as a passer. As we can see, Buchner has the arm talent to be dangerous from a clean pocket.
Buchner was by no means a perfect passer, and that is a big reason he was a change of pace player instead of a full-time starter. In this play, Buchner is pressured and in a situation in his own half of the field there are a few options. In this case, taking the sack and bringing the punt team on would have been best case scenario, or throwing the football away. Instead he forces the issue and tries to make a big play through contact. This leads to a pick in plus territory for the opponent, and shows that sometimes Buchner is unwilling to give up on a play, leading to mistakes.
If Ohio State can create consistent pressure, Buchner struggled when he was uncomfortable in the pocket.
In the next play, Buchner uses his athleticism once again to try to extend the play. Buchner gets out of the pocket and is looking downfield. Cincinnati has this play well-covered, but Buchner forces the issues anyway trying to make a play that is not there. The throw is late across the middle, but does come up short, showing the limit to Buchner’s abilities.
The last play shows why Buchner is classified as a dual-threat. There is no reason a quarterback should miss a throw on a bubble screen, but here is an example of that. Notre Dame has a two-on-one advantage to the outside, which is why the bubble is being thrown. Buchner rushes his mechanics with two players getting in the passing lane, but if you look closely neither player is in position to alter the play. This shows the levels to Buchner’s passing game. We saw deep throws in great locations and now missed bubbled screens.
For Ohio State to contain Notre Dame’s offense, the Buckeyes will need to stop Buchner from beating them with his legs. Buchner is an athletic, elusive quarterback who doesn’t fear contact and the coaching staff is heavily reliant on his physicality in short yardage. The Fighting Irish will look to get Buchner the ball in a multitude of ways. The quarterback run will be an added dimension that is hard to prepare for, but if Ohio State can remain disciplined in containing the quarterback run, this Notre Dame offense can become one dimensional fast.
As a passer Buchner, has arm-talent, but he is limited as a passer from an accuracy standpoint. Buchner didn’t throw a lot last year, but he had his moments flashing some arm strength. With that sample size, we also saw how pressure can effect him as a thrower. If Ohio State can contain him as a scrambler and get pressure on Buchner, he can be inconsistent as a passer.