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When Tyler Buchner makes his second appearance in five weeks in the Commonwealth of Virginia on Saturday night, Notre Dame’s freshman quarterback will get a chance to show how far he’s come since his previous visit.
The ninth-ranked Irish probably wouldn’t have rallied for that 32-29 win over Virginia Tech without Buchner’s eye-opening contributions off the bench. He threw a 46-yard touchdown pass and reached the end zone as a runner for the first time on the college level.
That made him Notre Dame’s first true freshman quarterback to pass and run for touchdowns in the same game.
And yet, even after turning a 10-0 deficit into a 21-16 lead, Buchner also was responsible for a 26-yard enemy touchdown off an interception late in the third quarter. When he later rolled his ankle after throwing his second interception, his night was over and it was up to erratic starter Jack Coan to lead the fourth-quarter comeback.
“I had some good plays, I had some bad plays and that’s football,” Buchner said of that Oct. 9 night in Blacksburg, Va. “I definitely have to be able to learn from it and continue to get better from there.”
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He remains a run-first option off the bench for coach Brian Kelly, who has raved about Buchner’s intelligence, poise, toughness and maturity. It seems clear that Buchner represents the future at the position for Notre Dame, and one of the key indicators of that is the way he reacted to the biggest gaffe of his young career.
Kelly was waiting for him as he came off the field after his misfire coughed up the lead, but it wasn’t with words of anger. Instead, it was the sort of high-level exchange between coach and quarterback that usually takes place much further down the developmental path.
“It was a classic learning experience,” Buchner said this week before facing unranked Virginia. “Just threw an out into a cloud corner, which you can’t do. BK was great. Obviously, I can learn from that and I won’t do it again because it’s not a great feeling.”
Having since shaken off the effects of that ankle sprain, much the same way he powered through some early-season tightness in his hamstring, Buchner continues to see his role expand. It’s unlikely he’ll supplant Coan this season, especially with the Irish still holding an outside shot at reaching the College Football Playoff for the third time in four years.
But everything else about the young man from San Diego screams budding star.
“I learned a lot (at Virginia Tech),” he said. “There are things I learned football-wise, but it’s just about learning from my mistakes, being confident in my ability and trusting what I’m seeing. Just be more confident and have confidence in how much you’ve prepared and that you are prepared.”