SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner feels it in the air.
Game week is upon the Fighting Irish, and their starting quarterback will be making his first career start at The Horseshoe against the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes Saturday.
The anticipation within the Irish Athletics Center has been amplified with the top-five matchup just a few days away, and Buchner has taken notice as he continues to prepare for what will be the biggest football moment of his career to this point.
“The vibe around the building is different,” Buchner said. “There’s some extra juice and people have some extra pep in their step. Everyone’s excited to be in the building. I’d say for me personally, I’ve been trying to spend more time than usual (in the building) preparing. I’m really anxious to get out there and go play.”
Buchner’s focus and confidence has slowly grown over the last couple weeks of fall camp since being named the starter ahead of junior Drew Pyne. Both Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees have said Buchner’s done all they’ve asked him to do up until this point, and they’ve been happy with the overall progress of their signal-caller.
“I think it really helped build my confidence,” said Buchner of being named the starter early in fall camp. “I think the coaches wanted to do that, so we could start building around a certain goal. I guess I no longer had the stress of competition in practice every day, and we could work on building an identity as an offense.
“My personal confidence is high, and I’d like to think it doesn’t waver. I like to have the idea that my confidence stays the same no matter the factors. I try to keep it level at all times, and I feel like I’m in a good spot.”
Mostly everyone’s eyes will be dialed in on the other offense, with Heisman-hopeful quarterback CJ Stroud gearing up for what could be another monster year with the Buckeyes.
Add in a wide receiver room led by Jaxon Njigba-Smith (95 catches, 1,606 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2021) and a running back group steered by the likes of TreVeyon Henderson (1,248 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021), and Ohio State’s offense should be one of the most productive units in college football once again this season.
The Buckeyes offense may be the better unit on paper, but Buchner’s focus remains on what his offense is capable of heading into Saturday.
“We’re really good up front,” Buchner said. “We have really good playmakers on the outside, and I think our (running) backs are really good as well. So, you know, I think if I can get the ball out to those guys to let them make plays, and we’re able to run the ball well, I think we’ll be really good.”
Some of the mounted pressure that’ll be on Buchner’s shoulders pregame Saturday could be eased by a trio of running backs in Chris Tyree, Audric Estime and Logan Diggs, all of whom are capable of breaking open a defense.
At times though, Buchner may rely on his own running ability to get comfortable early on against Ohio State. He averaged more than seven yards per carry and scored three touchdowns on the ground during limited playing time last season as a freshman.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Buchner when asked if using his legs will help him ease into the game Saturday. “It’s always nice to get that first hit out of the way. It’s almost been in a year since I was hit in a game, so it’ll be nice to get in there and get back into the flow of things early.”
After Buchner adjusts to the game, Notre Dame’s offense will try to take advantage of what was a mediocre Ohio State defense a year ago.
In 2021, the Buckeyes ranked 59th in total defense, 38th in scoring defense and 96th in passing defense during an 11-2 season that finished with a win over Utah in the Rose Bowl.
Ohio State made a change at the defensive coordinator position in the offseason, though, hiring former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles away from the Cowboys.
Buchner’s been able to study a style of defense Knowles runs, with the Irish having played Oklahoma State last January in the Fiesta Bowl.
That should help the sophomore during preparation, but Buchner knows not to underestimate a defense looking for a bit of redemption in 2022 on a national stage.
“They’re really good up front, and their secondary has a great ability to disrupt and make plays,” said Buchner of Ohio State’s defense. “But I think at the end of the day, it still comes down to our unit. If we play the way we can with how we’ve prepared, I think we’ll be in a good place to succeed against them.”