Tyler Buchner opened the season as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. Then an injury in early September forced him from the role.
A speedy recovery coupled with the transfer of replacement Drew Pyne — who steered the team to an 8-2 record — now have Buchner prepared to lead the No. 21 Fighting Irish into the Gator Bowl against No. 19 South Carolina on Dec. 30 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Talk about a whirlwind, right?
“You never really envision it going this way,” Buchner said. “When you’re announced as the starter and then you’re hurt (in) Week 2, you lose two games. It’s never the way you picture it. But you learn a lot through that.
“I feel like getting hurt wasn’t the worst thing that could have ever happened to me.”
Notre Dame (8-4) entered the fall with a No. 5 ranking but started the season with losses to eventual College Football Playoff entrant Ohio State and unranked Marshall. Buchner went 28-for-50 for 378 yards and two interceptions while rushing for two touchdowns before injuring the AC joint in his non-throwing shoulder.
While watching games in the press box alongside offensive coordinator Tommy Rees brought Buchner valuable seasoning, the Fighting Irish know there may be some bumps, especially early in the game.
It won’t be Notre Dame’s lone obstacle. Tight end Michael Mayer and defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey, both team captains, announced this month their intent to forego the bowl game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Mayer had 67 catches for 809 yards and nine touchdowns, while Foskey’s 11 sacks helped him close his career as the program’s all-time sacks leader. Meanwhile, cornerback Cam Hart (shoulder) will be out for the game.
The Notre Dame defense will need all the playmaking it can muster against South Carolina (8-4). Quarterback Spencer Rattler sparkled down the stretch, helping the Gamecocks close the season with a 7-2 flourish. The run included throwing for a combined 798 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions in consecutive wins against then-Top 5 foes Tennessee and Clemson.
South Carolina relies on the pass amid a rushing attack that averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. Rattler, an Oklahoma transfer, connected with Antwane “Juice” Wells Jr. for six of his 16 touchdowns and 898 of his 2,780 yards this season.
Rattler, who also is mulling whether to enter the NFL Draft, cited a loyalty to Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer and the program for cementing his participation in the Gator Bowl.
“The least I could do is play in the bowl game, so I had to do it for him, the coaching staff and obviously the players, as well,” Rattler said. “All we got is all we need, and we’ve got some young guys that are hungry to make plays. We’ve got guys that are experienced here that wanted to finish this thing out right.”
As with the Fighting Irish, the Gamecocks also will lean on their depth. Starting offensive lineman Dylan Wonnum and safety Devonni Reed won’t play in the bowl game as they pursue professional careers.
Running backs Marshawn Lloyd (nine touchdowns) and tight end Jaheim Bell (two) entered the transfer portal.
Notre Dame and South Carolina are meeting for the first time since Oct. 20, 1984, a 36-32 Gamecocks victory.
–Field Level Media