By The Associated Press
No. 13 Notre Dame can forget about game-managing quarterbacks.
It has a new star in Sam Hartman.
He lived up to the billing on Saturday by going 19 of 23 with 251 yards while tying a school record for a debut with four TD passes, leading the Fighting Irish to a 42-3 rout over rival Navy. He celebrated the nearly perfect performance by putting his hands on a shillelagh.
“It’s kind of our new tradition, we’re going to get a new one each game,” Hartman said of the club after delivering Notre Dame’s most lopsided opening win in 11 years. “It’s used as a weapon, but I won’t be using it. I’ll be tucking it away.”
The victory was hardly a surprise.
After going 9-4 with Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne splitting the job last season, second-year coach Marcus Freeman searched for a dynamic quarterback to lead the offense. The answer was Hartman, who transferred from Wake Forest to Notre Dame and encouraged reporters to include teammates Jaden Greathouse and Marist Liufau at the postgame news conference.
“You’ve got to ask these guys questions, too,” he said.
Hartman understands, though, that the spotlight always shines on the Notre Dame quarterback — especially when you’re one of college football’s most prolific passers at one of the sports’ most storied programs.
“You feel it when you travel,” Hartman said.
He is a unusual quarterback, too, the kind Notre Dame has been chasing since at least the end of the Ian Book era in 2020, maybe the Tommy Rees era in 2013 or perhaps the Jimmy Clausen era in 2009.
Hartman came to South Bend after compiling an ACC career-record 110 TD passes and 12,967 yards, more than Notre Dame’s career record. If he tops 4,100 yards for the second time in three seasons, he’ll be second all-time on the FBS list. Case Keenum had a record 19,217 yards with Houston from 2007-2011.
But with Notre Dame, it’s always about more than numbers.
“There’s no substitution for experience. None,” Freeman said. “I don’t care if you’re the head coach or a quarterback.”
Navy coach Brian Newberry saw it, too, likening Hartman to “a coach out on the field.”
Hartman’s mere presence already has provided a jolt of energy. A year ago, the Irish threw 25 TD passes and 207.1 yards per game, 98th out of 131 FBS teams, while struggling with deep throws. Defenses adjusted by stacking the line of scrimmage to slow down Notre Dame’s ground game.
That’s not likely to work this season.
Over the previous two years, Hartman threw for more than 300 yards per game, scored 89 total TDs and completed more passes of 20 yards or more than anyone else in the FBS.
The downside: He also finished among the top 10 in interceptions each of the past two seasons. But Freeman likes Hartman’s gun-slinging confidence.
“This moment isn’t too big. It’s about him going out there and just executing,” Freeman said. “What I really, really thought he did a great job was putting our offense in good positions to execute plays.”
What Hartman wanted from Notre Dame was better preparation for an NFL career.
Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ pro-style system seemed like a perfect fit — until he took the same job at Alabama less than a month after Hartman arrived on campus. Gerad Parker replaced Rees. Hartman and Parker aced their first real test.
“The overall operation — from Coach Parker to the signalers, to Sam, getting in the right protections, getting the right checks, executing — that’s the whole operation, and it was really good,” Freeman said. “That’s the little things that you really worry about in this first game – how many operational mistakes are we going to have? It was really good that we didn’t have any.”
For now, Hartman is one of a record seven scholarship players to transfer to Notre Dame, the second recent transfer who became the starting quarterback.
Jack Coan left Wisconsin for Notre Dame in 2021 and tied Ron Powlus’ school record by throwing four TD passes in his debut. Coan finished that season with 3,150 yards, 25 TDs, an 11-2 record and a top-10 ranking in the final AP poll.
Hartman could do even more even though his decision led Pyne to enter the transfer portal last December. Buchner opted to reunite with Rees in Tuscaloosa after Hartman won the starting job by going 13 of 16 with 189 yards and producing three total TDs in the first half of Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold scrimmage.
As a result, Hartman’s backups are Steve Angeli, who threw his first college pass Saturday, and Kenny Minchey, who awaits making his first throw.
Hartman has been humbled by joining a small, prominent Notre Dame fraternity that includes familiar names such as the late John Lujack Jr., Joe Theismann, Brady Quinn, Tony Rice and Joe Montana.
“Talking to former quarterbacks, they say it doesn’t really hit you till you’re out of it,” Hartman said. “I think that first game day will be one where you see the magnitude.”
And now Hartman’s first game even has one of those guys raving.
“It’s been great watching him,” Montana said during the telecast. “I think it’s great for Notre Dame and he brings a little something — some juice to the offense.”