Notre Dame quarterback Tyler Buchner rebounded from throwing two pick sixes to throw a go-ahead TD pass to tight end Mitchell Evans with 1:38 to go to give Notre Dame a 45-38 win over South Carolina in the Gator Bowl.
Buchner was making his first start since injuring his shoulder in the second game of the season. He had to start the Gator Bowl after Drew Pyne, the player who took over for Buchner as Notre Dame’s starter, transferred at the end of the regular season.
No. 21 Notre Dame’s 80-yard game-winning drive took over six minutes off the clock and was a huge boost of confidence for Buchner after he threw a game-tying pick six on the previous drive. Notre Dame was driving to take a two-TD lead over the No. 19 Gamecocks when Buchner was picked off by O'Donnell Fortune at the goal line.
Fortune then returned the ball 100 yards for a game-tying TD with 7:42 to go.
Buchner finished the game 18-of-33 passing for 275 yards and three passing TDs to go along with three interceptions. DQ Smith returned an interception 47 yards for a TD with less than a minute to go in the first quarter to give South Carolina a 21-7 lead over the Irish.
Buchner also rushed for two scores and ultimately ended up playing a direct role in seven of the game’s 11 touchdowns.
The Irish outgained South Carolina 558 to 352. Notre Dame rushed for 264 yards on 46 carries while South Carolina had just 65 rushing yards on 22 attempts.
While Friday night’s game was Buchner’s third start of the season, it could end up being his final start in a Notre Dame uniform. The Irish are considered the frontrunner to land Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman in the transfer portal. Hartman has been one of the most productive QBs in college football over the past two seasons and has one more season of eligibility remaining.
The bowl game was also the Irish’s first win in a game Buchner had started. After he beat out Pyne for the starting job to open the season, Notre Dame lost to Ohio State in Week 1 and fell to Marshall in Week 2 after Buchner threw two interceptions before his shoulder injury.
The three TDs Buchner threw against South Carolina matched his previous career total on 85 attempts.
The victory means Notre Dame finishes the season at 9-4 in Marcus Freeman's first season as head coach. Freeman was promoted from defensive coordinator after Brian Kelly left to become the head coach at LSU. South Carolina finishes the season at 8-5.