Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan is a winner. And there’s a lot of back-up to that statement, from his time at Wisconsin to his early impression in South Bend.
The Rose Bowl appearance in his only season as a starter at Wisconsin.
Missing 2020, transferring, and claiming the starting job at a Notre Dame fresh off a playoff trip.
Coan Impresses Early As Notre Dame Quarterback
Setting several Notre Dame debut records in a 4-touchdown, zero interception effort against Florida State.
Willingly taking a backseat to Tyler Buchner, recognizing that the dual-threat freshman phenom adds potency to Notre Dame’s offense.
Dislocating his finger, getting it popped back in, and throwing the game-winning touchdown against Toledo.
It’s been a wild ride to 2-0 for the Irish, but the Notre Dame quarterback play has been a major storyline. But it is also one of the biggest strengths of this team. And one of those reasons is Coan’s mentality. Not only does he win, but he will quickly share any credit he receives.
“The line did a great job in protection, and [tight end Michael Mayer] made a great move to get open” Coan said of his post-dislocated finger game-winning touchdown pass.
Gritty Coan Does What It Takes
The video of Coan getting his finger popped back into place went viral quickly. The Notre Dame quarterback claims it didn’t hurt badly. He just, “Noticed it didn’t look right.”
“I knew it wasn’t broken by the way it looked” Coan said of knowing he could stay in the game, “We’ve got the best trainers in the country, and they did a great job”.
Coan put together a gritty performance throughout the Toledo game. He hit the turf frequently, getting sacked six times. He made a poor decision on a pick-six that gave the Rockets a halftime lead. And he rarely got help from the running game, making everything that much tougher. But, by the end of four quarters, Coan improved to 2-0 as a Notre Dame starter. It’s not been the comfortable start Irish fans envisioned, but they can take comfort in the fact that the new Notre Dame quarterback is an absolute gamer.
Coan Trusts The Offensive Line
Praising the offensive line is a difficult task, given the six sacks they gave up. After losing four starters from last year’s unit, the Irish are struggling to adapt. Kyren Williams, sans a 43-yard touchdown run, has struggled to get untracked, and the Irish have leaned on the passing game. Even in the passing game, the line must adjust to Coan’s style – a pure pocket passer with a short drop back. It’s been a rocky road, but trust and communication remain constant. “We have a great relationship, and I’m totally confident in all of them” Coan affirmed, “We’re a tight-knit group and we all want to get better”.
Against Purdue, Notre Dame has a chance to get their offensive line struggles sorted out. While the Boilermakers have impressed in some areas, the pass rush has not been one. As a unit, they’ve notched just one sack in two games. If Coan still is struggling for time in the pocket, then it’s not going to be pretty for the Irish as their schedule gets tougher. However, getting the run game going will be another problem. After struggling in two games, the Irish face a defense that gave up 27 and 42 yards respectively to their opponent’s leading rushers.
Williams has had a difficult time finding avenues, and that may continue on Saturday. The Boilermakers have 10 tackles for loss as a unit in just two contests. Ten different players have contributed to that statistic, with Branson Deen leading the way at 1.5 TFL. Will the pressure reside solely on Coan again? He’s ready for a challenge against a Big 10 opponent: “They’ve always been a talented team – they’re pretty experienced” Coan said, “When I played them at Wisconsin, it was always a tough game”.
Is The Notre Dame Quarterback Room A 2-Man System?
When Buchner first entered against Toledo, some wondered if it was a changing of the guard. Was the veteran Coan being benched after the offense’s slow start? Coan knew Buchner would be getting snaps before the game. And, the transfer quarterback is happy with whatever helps the Irish win.
“He’s an amazing athlete. And he’s the total package, and he can throw the ball too, make no mistake about that,” Coan told the media this week. “He’s a dynamic player, a playmaker, and we definitely need him on offense”.
Certainly, while Coan did his part in boosting the Irish to victory, Buchner utilized a different skill set to help. He ran seven times for 68 yards, which kept the Rockets off-balance. And due to his running ability, whenever Buchner passed, it felt like a surprise to everyone. This led to great success, as the freshman was 3-3 for 78 yards and a touchdown. He faked a quarterback run and found a wide-open Chris Tyree on the sideline for a 55-yard score in the fourth quarter. The Irish also saw their running game improve at times with Buchner on the field. Accounting for Williams and the dual-threat Buchner proved difficult for Toledo.
But Coan is still the starter, and his polished skillset under center is very much needed. Head coach Brian Kelly affirmed that by slotting Coan back into the game for the game-winning drive.
“Honestly, the only thing I care about is winning” Coan said of the two-man system, “Whether that’s me, Tyler, [backup Drew Pyne], or anyone. Whoever gets us the best chance to win, and Tyler gives us a chance to win”.
Can Coan and Co. Keep Improving?
While the Notre Dame quarterback situation is still being figured out, there are bigger weaknesses on this roster. Obviously the offensive line is the major storyline, and against a Purdue defensive line, the unit will face a solid test and tune-up for their make-or-break portion of the schedule. For Coan, a major improvement to watch for is his ability to get the ball in the hands of his skilled athletes far more quickly and frequently. Buchner, partially due to his elite athleticism, did that well versus Toledo. Coan has been composed and featured a great connection with Mayer. But beyond that, the Irish receiving corps has been somewhat limited to big bombs down the field. It feels like the Irish are missing those 10-15 yard plays that they gained so frequently last season.
Can Coan get the ball to Braden Lenzy with space to operate? Or to Avery Davis on a crossing route with some room? Or maybe to Tyree or Williams on screen plays? Purdue has one fantastic defensive playmaker in George Karlaftis. If they can keep the ball away from him, and put it in the hands of their elite athletes, it could be a far more exciting day in Notre Dame Stadium – at least for Irish fans.
So whether it’s Coan under center, or Buchner, or some combination – improvement in more consistent offensive production will be a key to watch, as Notre Dame looks to continue their rocky road to 3-0.