Beyond the Box Score: Notre Dame Barely Hangs On Over Vandy

A collective array of white knuckles might be a description of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish faithful after a much-too-dramatic win over the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday. That’s because a 16-0 lead during the first half dropped to five at 22-17 midway through the final period and had Vandy at midfield with just under four minutes left in the game.

A costly pass interference on fourth down kept that drive alive before Notre Dame finally shut the door. Even then, Irish fans likely gulped after it originally appeared that Vanderbilt’s Kalija Lipscomb hauled in a pass at the Notre Dame 10 with 1:07 left. However, Lipscomb couldn’t hold on after hitting the ground.

The win keeps the Irish record spotless at 3-0 and completes a perfect homestand. Looking at this contest more closely offers a number of different insights. These include:

Dodging First Half Bullets

The scoreboard at halftime showed Notre Dame ahead 16-3 and with over 200 yards worth of offense to their credit. That might suggest to those taking a casual look at the numbers that the Irish were in control. In reality, Brian Kelly was likely breathing a sigh of relief that it wasn’t a 16-14 game.

That’s because a Commodore pass caught at the Notre Dame one by Donavan Tennyson turned into a touchback. The came about after Alohi Gilman stripped the ball and a Vanderbilt lineman failed to grab the ball in the end zone, allowing Julian Love to make the recovery. Then, a subsequent drive by Vandy ended with a field goal after Tennyson’s dropped pass at the goal line. If that wasn’t enough luck for the Irish, three penalties against the Commodores were part of a trio of Notre Dame scoring drives.

The Jones Factor

In the first two Notre Dame wins, Jafar Armstrong served as the most consistent presence in the team’s running game. Tony Jones Jr. also contributed against Ball State, but he took center stage against Vanderbilt and was a major part of the team’s first half success.

During those first two quarters, he collected five runs of more than 10 yards and went into intermission having gained 91 yards on 11 carries. In the first Notre Dame drive, which ended with a field goal, he set the table by picking up 41 of those yards. He quieted down after the break, but still finished 118 yards for the day and also added 56 yards on a pair of receptions.

The Shurmur Barrage

Commodore quarterback Kyle Shurmur lit up the Irish pass defense for 326 yards, completing 26 of 43 passes on the day. As previously noted, he was victimized by some bad luck along the way, but he still managed to tamp down the excitement after two strong games by Notre Dame defenders.

The bulk of those 23 catches went to just two receivers, Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. Lipscomb snagged 11 on the day for 89 yards and was the victim of Gilman’s clutch strip, while Pinkney grabbed five for 111 yards and accounted for Vanderbilt’s final score of the game.

Wimbush Regression

The 2018 season was expected to show how much Brandon Wimbush had improved as a passer after getting his feet wet last season. Some early promise has given rise to concern that he isn’t progressing as expected. While he ended the day completing 13 of 23, he only managed to throw for 122 yards. The signal caller did manage to run for 84 yards, but Ian Book ended up tossing the lone Notre Dame touchdown toss for the day.

Special Teams Contributions

The Irish offense stalled out on multiple occasions during the game, which brought Justin Yoon on to try to add on an additional three points. He managed to convert on three occasions in the first half to put himself into the school record book. One blot on this achievement was his late fourth quarter miss from 32 yards out that no doubt helped to add some gray hairs to Kelly’s head.

On the punting front, Tyler Newsome was launching his boots all afternoon, each over 50 yards. Three of those were better than 60 yards, with his final one being the most important. That’s because it went 63 yards and pinned Vandy at their own 10 with just five seconds to play.

Next Up for Notre Dame

The Irish will take their second straight ugly win and head to Winston-Salem, North Carolina for an early Saturday matchup next week against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons enter the game with 2-1 record and a couple of extra days of rest after losing to Boston College by a 41-34 score on Thursday night. Those two victories came against the likes of Tulane and Towson.

These two teams have met four previous times, all of those clashes taking place since 2011. Notre Dame has won all four, including the first matchup in 2011, the only other game that took place at Wake. Last season, they came away with a wild 48-37 victory in South Bend.

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  1. Well, let’s enjoy some good news before Stanford brings its day of reckoning to South Bend. Wake Forest has a freshman QB who has talent but can be pressured into a bad play. Wake has one legitimate threat – wide receiver and special teams standout Greg Dortch. Contain him and you stop Wake. It’s that simple. This is a game that Ian Book should start – see what he can do before Stanford comes to town. But he won’t.

  2. Wimbush has completed better than 50% of his passes in every game this season. So even when struggling — and I agree he’s struggled so far this season for the most part — he’s “better than 50% completion.”

  3. I was at the game. It is so painfully obvious in person just how inaccurate BW is. Please coaches, never ever run the quick screens. It is so painful to watch him sidearm skid those passes to receivers who have no clue if or where the ball will arrive. Brutal. And the locking on of one blanketed receiver and throwing it anyway cannot continue. The Irish were so lucky BW didn’t have 4-5 INT’s today.
    I would also disagree with a previous post regarding play calling. Why can’t we just continueto pound when we have success? The line was blowing huge holes on the quick up the middle stuff (view from the end zone sees it well).
    I love it that ND is 3-0 but cannot shake the feeling that a reckoning is coming. Talk me down boys.

    1. I wish I could talk you down, but I am in need of being talked down myself. Why not give Book a series here or there when the offense stalls and he is coming in when they are in the red zone anyway. It wouldn’t hurt to see what he has when they have a lot of field to work with and let him rip it when Wimbush and the offense are just treading water in the 3rd quarter anyway.

      1. A few days later and I feel the exact same. Thanks for the support lads. I sure hope I am wrong but I think the Irish go to WF and pound them pretty good before coming home to get torched by Stanford. I would like nothing better than to beat that smug David Shaw but see no reason to believe that will happen. Hopefully I can proudly eat these words in a few weeks because I don’t even want to think about what might occur in Blacksburg in a few weeks.

  4. Typical BK coached game. Offense looks great for 3 to 4 drives. Then, nothing burger. This team is just not top 10 material. Wimbush will never be better than 50% completion. Have to break down every O play to see where ND is getting beat. Defense gave up too much through the air. Head scratching why the talent can’t be dominating.

    1. Wimbush will never be better than a 50% completion? That’s a very strange comment, even by the standards of this site.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. 50% pass completion rate. Yes, this is a football site. Sorry for the confusion. Perhaps you thought I was referring to Wimbush’s 3 point shooting accuracy.

  5. Not to look in the rearview mirror, but Indiana whipped Ball State. BW can run like a deer but unfortunately he throws like one too.

  6. THREE. Strange game. Offensive line and BW were both much improved over last week. The running backs were improved. Alize had a good day. The coaches called a better offensive game. Yet our point total was lower. Part of that was Yoon kicking field goals rather than our “O” completing drives with TDs. Part of it was too many “three and outs” after establishing our usual first quarter lead.
    Special teams were much better in this game, including a 50 yard return of a kickoff at a crucial time (which our offense did NOTHING with at all). So how did we come so close to losing this game with better “O” play and better special teams play? ANSWER: Our defense kept forgetting to cover two of their receivers who were WIDE open again, again, and again. Shades of past losses to Stanford, no doubt. The next time we pull a stunt like that, we will lose.
    The pollsters left us where we were last week after a BuFu performance against Ball State. They should leave us where we are again, despite losses by some of the pretenders ranked ahead of us, who will be dropping (but probably not as far as they should). Let LSU and Penn State jump us. They are worthy; at this point we should be worthy, but we are not. I think Damian has it right when he wonders how many more years we need to wait for ND to play a complete game. I’m beginning to wonder myself.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. ND doesn’t know how to win. They’ve won so far due due to raw talent. WR play this week was poor. If Finke catches ball on 3rd down in the red zone, it’s a TD and the score is 20-3. Thus far, ND does not have a “Floyd/Tate” game on offense. That is a guy who can just dominate.

      1. DONT know how to win but there 3-0 !! BRILLIANT OBSERVATION!! What raw talent do they have no speed at WR no true RB with speed and a QB that cant pass!! What team are you watching, a defense that’s above average and that’s it!! OH yeah and a fg kicker that misses at least 1 big kick a game!! Seems they have figured out a way to win with an offense that’s lacking any real talent!! And that wont last for very long!!

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