Notre Dame quarterback Drew Payne will be the first to tell you that the start of last weekend’s game against Cal was not at a record level.
It’s easy to see Pine getting nervous or excited about his first start at his dream school. The moment ended with a fight between them and Notre Dame taking their first win of the season.
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman and offensive coordinator Tommy Reese saw it as a learning moment and thought Payne would respond this week as the Irish travel to North Carolina.
“I think he was trying to force the ball, the power plays early in the game,” Freeman said. “He was making uncharacteristic mistakes and that’s probably a reflection of your early start. Everyone talks about the drydown you see among all sports. Easy throws he usually makes, he throws a little bit and we weren’t helping him.”
Freeman is right. Notre Dame Pyne’s offense didn’t help much during the first five drives as there were false starts, drops and missing protection.
“We have to help him as a foul and make sure we catch the ball,” Freeman explained. “It might be a little low, but we have to make sure we catch the ball. Some of those balls were unwipeable, but that was just something we had to make sure we were helping. Getting the snap, that’s it.
“I know Drew feels very strongly about his performance and how he starts the match. I know he is working on it. I don’t think you will see a recurring performance to start a game. We have great confidence in him.”
Reese was in the position of Pyne and wanted the midfielder to focus on being part of the Irish attack and simply do the job.
“When you’re talking about 1/11, it’s about doing your job,” Freeman said. “I think that is what Coach Reese is trying to convey to him and everyone. It is about your work. Whatever your job is, you have to get it done. All 11 people have to do their job.”
And yes, Reese may have used a few more words to tell Ben to do his job on Saturday, which drew national attention.
Football is an intense game, especially when Notre Dame is 0-2, and Freeman sees nothing wrong with Reese coaching Payne so hard right now.
“You don’t treat every player the same in terms of how they train,” Freeman said. You treat them in terms of what will help them respond in the right way. For now, that’s what Drew needs. Drew will be the first to tell you that. I hope people understand that this is a reflection of the relationship that a lot of other coaches have with their players.
“They know it’s not personal because of our relationship — if there’s a trust issue and suddenly they’re yelling at you to do your job, then all of a sudden, it’s not going to get the results you want. If you have a strong relationship with the guys in your room and they trust you, those intense moments aren’t going to be Never personal. It’s all about making sure the job gets done.”
With Pyne in the starting role, Freeman issued a challenge to sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner as he was recovering from shoulder surgery.
Buchner was in the box this past weekend with Rees doing some charting and also allowing him to get a full view of the field.
“How to make yourself better even though you’re not playing,” Freeman said. “This could be watching the play go on, drawing things for yourself to write and learning, but also being a teacher and being able to communicate after a game or training or during training with some quarterback to say that’s what you saw. What did you see?”
“That was a challenge I gave Tyler. How to make yourself better when you’re not playing, you know you’re not going to play, but you’re here and part of what we’re doing. I think he did a good job even during a week of being outside helping himself to improve, but also helping the middle room to improvement.”
The third quarterback in Reese’s room is new player Steve Angeli, who was pulled from the Boy Scouts last week.
Freeman gave Angeli a vote of confidence on Thursday, but conceded that if Pyne fell, the early signal caller was the only other option for the Irish attack.
“If he had the chance, he’d have to go out there and do it,” Freeman said of Angeli. “He has to go out there and do what we want to do in the middle. We have to meet him halfway. We have to be able to ask Steve Angeli to do the things we know he can do, but it also has to be enough where he can’t You run one play.
“I feel really strong about the way he has prepared. He is ready not as the captain of the scouting team, but as the quarterback he is ready to get into the game. He has the greatest example in Drew Payne.”
Pyne has also embraced a challenge from Freeman to show Angeli what it takes to prepare like a start to be ready to play on Saturday.
“I also challenged Drew Payne,” Freeman said. “Anytime you watch an extra movie or study, you have to drag Steve Angeli with you. You have to bring him with you because he has to learn what it really means to prepare as a college team leader. I think you see a lot of growth between those two weeks.
“Again, I’m sure it’s our next option. If something happens to Drew, he has to get in the game and do his job.”
Notre Dame’s farewell week will come after Saturday’s game at Chapel Hill and Freeman has no plans to slow down.
The Irish will train next week and use it as an opportunity to improve.
“I hope after four weeks and four games we don’t get tired,” Freeman explained. We have to improve. We have to improve that week. We will have two exercises – three or four exercises during that week to keep finding ways to develop as individuals and as footballers. We will benefit from that. It’s not like it’s after week six. Or towards the end of the year, we’re talking about your first third of season complete as we approach farewell week.”
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