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.
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.