Notre Dame vs. Vanderbilt: Key Matchups as Irish Look to Bounce Back

Week three of the 2018 Notre Dame football season has the Irish remaining at home to face the Vanderbilt Commodores for the first time in a generation. It’s likely that few, if any, of the participants in Saturday’s matchup had even been born the last time these two schools met in 1996.

Both Notre Dame and Vandy enter the game with 2-0 records, with the Irish coming off a mixed performance against Ball State. Some continuing solid performances were countered by some steps back by players who will need to be more consistent as the schedule starts to get more difficult.

Below are some of the key matchups to watch in this contest:

T Liam Eichenberg vs. OLB’s Charles Wright/Kenny Hebert

Eichenberg has started two games as a member of the Irish, but struggled to deal with Ball State’s different looks. That played a part in both the four sacks of Brandon Wimbush and the six stops of Notre Dame ball carriers before they even reached the line of scrimmage.

Wright got off to a strong start against Middle Tennessee with three sacks, while Hebert’s speed has the potential to make it a long afternoon for Eichenberg. Wright’s effort was a continuation of last season’s nine-sack effort as a junior, while Hebert is a redshirt sophomore has the ability to get into the Irish backfield. That was evident in that opening game when he picked up a pair of sacks and recovered the fumble that he had forced.

T Robert Hainsey vs. OLB Josh Smith

On the right side, Hainsey was equally flustered with Ball State after being felled by the heat in the opener against Michigan. Last year, he shared the tackle slot with Tommy Kraemer, who moved next to him to take over at guard. He still continues to have issues with respect to getting flagged for penalties.

Hainsey can’t afford to have another subpar game against the Commodore’s top tackler. Smith had a career-high 10 tackles against Nevada and has thus far thrived under the leadership of Vandy’s new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. The performance helped shut down a Nevada team that rack put up 72 points in their opener.

Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Kyle Shurmur

Facing Ball State, Notre Dame had to deal with a quarterback with intriguing potential and struggled during its first series on the field. Thanks to adjustments, that threat was effectively neutralized for a good portion of the game. This side of the lineup has been strong during the Irish’s first two games and will need to keep up the continuing pressure they’ve so far been able to deliver.

As the son of the current New York Giants head coach, Shurmur has spent his entire life surrounded by the sport and no doubt soaked in plenty of his father’s knowledge. He’s been a starter since the middle of his freshman campaign and likes to spread the ball around when it comes to receivers. He tends to stick with intermediate tosses, but does have the ability to go deep, if necessary.

MLB Te’von Coney vs. RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn

Coney once again had a big impact on the Irish defense against Ball State. He led the team with a whopping 14 tackles and managed to pick up one sack, while also stopping two runners behind the line of scrimmage. Since emerging late last year, his presence on the field has been integral to keeping opposing running games in check.

The Vanderbilt running game has largely been a triumvirate during their first two games, with Jamauri Wakefield and Khari Blasingame sharing the workload. However, Vaughn offered strong hints last week that he’s becoming the go-to back by collecting 93 yards and scoring two touchdowns in his first start. The former Illinois transfer has been expected to make that sort of impact since he announced he was returning to the Nashville area.

SS Jalen Elliott vs. TE Jared Pinkney

A solid first game that was largely under the radar changed last Saturday for Elliott when he collected a pair of interceptions. Both picks eventually led to touchdowns, which were important in the tighter-than-expected 24-16 win. He’s thus far come a long way from the former quarterback who looked lost for a good portion of last season as he endured a painful baptism by fire. Maintaining his improved play will help shut down a potential receiving threat.

Elliott will have his hands full since he’ll have to deal with Jared Pinkney, who has the ability to get deep into the secondary. In the Commodores’ first two games, Pinkney has been on the receiving end of seven passes for 130 yards. While there are questions about his blocking abilities, the reality is that he’s a big man (6-foot-4) who has speed and who’s no doubt looking to enhance his NFL Draft status with a big game in front of a hostile crowd at South Bend.

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  1. This Irish team will forever go nowhere under the tutelage of Brian Kelly. If we (the fans) want to see great results from every aspect of the game from this team Swarbutt and company need to run Brian Kelly out of town on the first train that’ll take him!

  2. Notredame has 4 starters back on the online All of them 4 stars or better.I believe the problem is more in the coaching play calling scheme .Long and Kelly need to tailor the offense to the talent they have.I per dccon addkelly think their better off addition book.Also I would g effect Jurkovic acc look too. e

  3. Vandy’s coach had said that with an SEC schedule he wasn’t concerned about the Irish. He was laughed at, and we wondered what great bulletin board material that would make. Now, we’re bracing ourselves and hoping for a change of course in O line and QB play.

    I would not expose Brandon Wimbush to 20 hits a game. If he were sharing run responsibilities with our four other runners as well as the slot back, Wimbush would have 12-15 touches a game and prepare himself for his likely pro career. Everyone agrees he is not a pocket passer. There is no current NFL prototype for a non-pocket passer. If he is going to play pro ball, he has to make the adjustment now, just like Drue Tranquill moving from rover to insider linebacker.

  4. It’s still a game primarily about blocking and tackling and ND only does one of those well enough. Let me be one not to pile on Wimbush; Michigan and Ball State have done enough of that. For those who call for a different QB, with Wimbush getting hit 20 times a game, be careful what you wish for. Is the porous pass protection a matter of ability or poor coaching and preparation? The OL arrived as 4 stars but don’t execute that way on game day. Questions persist about their game day preparation. The OL seems tentative and unaggressive – slow to react to different stunts. Short passes, a moving pocket, and NDs athletic mobile QB rolling out with the open field to run to might be a better O’ strategy than a pocket that breaks down more often than not. A different game plan other than score early and hold on (0 points so far in the 4th quarter) and playing to score instead of playing offense not to lose might be in order. Unfortunately, you can’t be among the elite without an effective OL.

    1. Michael the Archangel, somebody (Merv Johnson? maybe?) designed a rolling pocket for Joe Montana one year. It worked well enough, and there was a power run game to go with it eventually. I don’t see Brandon as significantly more or less accurate throwing on the move than from a stationary type pocket. So we could try it, if we have the thing, or something like it, but it has to be practiced before it’s rolled out NPI.

      The big thing is to challenge with the run…between the tackles, on the edge and with a wide game…throw the ball, but always challenge with the run…balance.

      BGC ’77 ’82

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