Notre Dame Faces Unexpected, Early Gut Check vs. Vanderbilt

We are going to know what kind of football team Notre Dame is going to be very early on Saturday afternoon.  And not just because of the earlier than normal kickoff (it kicks off at 2:30 instead of the normal 3:30 home start).  After last week’s let down and near disaster against Ball State, the 2018 Notre Dame Fighting Irish have their backs against the wall at an early season juncture no one quite anticipated.  How they respond will give us a good indication of what kind of team the Irish have.

A week ago at this time Notre Dame was sky high coming off a huge win over then #14 Michigan to open the season.  The Notre Dame defense shut down highly touted transfer Shea Patterson and the Michigan offense while the Irish offense showed signs of life against the vaunted Wolverine defense.

What a difference a week can make.

As Notre Dame prepares for their week three contest against Vanderbilt – a game that just a week ago appeared to be a tune up and opportunity to prepare for a late September showdown with Stanford – a lot has changed.  Fresh off perhaps the most disappointing victory of the Brian Kelly era, many questions loom large as Notre Dame searches for an identity.  The same Fighting Irish who just a week ago were getting hyped as a playoff contender, now face an unexpected, early season gut check with Vanderbilt coming to town.

How a team responds to such adversity reveals a lot about its character.  With that in mind, it won’t take long for us to see that revelation – one way or another this Saturday.  Will the Irish come out inspired and fired up after last week?  Or will they still be feeling sorry for themselves and let Ball State, who nearly defeated them a week ago, get the job done this week because the Vanderbilt team coming offers a much tougher challenge.

Brian Kelly’s teams have been a mixed bag when it comes to responding to such situations.  In 2010 Notre Dame got embarrassed by Navy in the Meadowlands and let that defeat carry over into the next week when they got upset at home to Tulsa.  A week later the Irish beat a top 10 Utah opponent on Senior Day.  In 2014 and 2016 seasons spiraled out of control with the Irish unable to rebound once things started to go south.

Now, Notre Dame didn’t lose last weekend, but you couldn’t tell as much from the reaction of the players and coaching staff.  The Notre Dame sideline somber and locker room was a place last Saturday as the clock ticked away with the Irish clinging to an eight point victory after Drue Tranquill iced the game by recovering an onside kick.

The beauty in all of this, of course, is that Notre Dame did not lose.  Despite turning in an underwhelming to say the least performance, Notre Dame still sits at #8 in the polls and sports a 2-0 record.  If they respond and turn things around, no one will care in November that the Irish almost lost to Ball State if that goose egg is still in the L column.

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The first step in responding comes this weekend though when Vanderbilt comes to town for the first time since 1996.  The Commodores have not been a particularly strong program under Derek Mason but they have taken care of business against weak opponents so far this year.  They opened the season with a 35-7 win over Middle Tennessee State and followed that up with a 41-10 victory over Nevada last weekend.  They are a solid team, but not the kind of team that should be able to hang with Notre Dame for 60 minutes if we see the same Irish we saw week 1.

To get back to the Notre Dame team we all thought the Irish could be after week one,  Notre Dame has to get a few things in together in hurry.  First, Brian Kelly and Chip Long have to stop calling games for the kind of quarterback they wish they had and start calling games for the quarterback they have.

Brandon Wimbush isn’t a pocket passer.  That much should be abundantly clear by now.  You couldn’t have told that from the game plan Kelly and Long deployed last week though.  Every game in which Wimbush shines he breaks open a big run early.  It seems to settle him down and get him going.  They have to embrace that let him loose this weekend.  Let him utilize the skills he has that makes him such a dangerous weapon when used properly.

Jeff Quinn has to figure out the Irish offensive line this week as well.  Vanderbilt might not be their SEC brethren Alabama or Georgia, but they have a better defensive front than the Ball State front that just pushed Notre Dame around.  Brian Kelly has said that they won’t shuffle the lineup this week.  Fine.  If that is the case, make whatever adjustments you need to get the line anywhere close to the line the Irish had last year.

Lastly, the Irish need to look inside and decide to come out fired up and inspired this weekend.  They didn’t last week.  They treated last Saturday against Ball State like it was spring practice #2 before the pads come on.  That can’t happen again if Notre Dame wants to ascend to where it appeared they were heading just a week ago.

Ball State neatly beat Notre Dame a week ago, but they didn’t.  If Notre Dame lets the effects of last week linger into this weekend and beyond, though, Ball State will finish what they started eventually.  They just won’t get the official credit for it.  Notre Dame can prevent that from happening, but it has to start this weekend and continue from there.

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For all the doom and gloom hovering over the Irish right now, they still have everything left to play for.  Hopefully last week was the wake up call they needed to remind them of that before someone else did.  It’s definitely gut check time for this team though and we’ll know shortly into Saturday’s contest which way this thing is headed.

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33 comments

  1. Bob Rader 1 week ago

    The idea of Notre Dame coming back off of last week’s embarrassment with a solid win assumes that the near loss against Ball State was simply a mental let-down after a great win over Michigan. It was not. It was the result of fundamental and serious mistakes in the play of the offensive line, a poor starting defensive scheme that spotted Ball State a TD on their first drive, and a game plan that treated Ball State like a scrimmage for Wimbush to warm up his passing game, and an absolutely mystifying continuation of special teams problems. Each of these issues must be corrected if we expect Notre Dame to win, much less win big.

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  2. pete calco 2 weeks ago

    I don’t think Kelly’s going to wait much longer to pull Wimbush and play Book.Also seeing how many young quarterbacks are starting around the country of I’m Kelly I would give Jurkovic a shot.

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    1. david 2 weeks ago

      It’s Wimbush until it is not. And then he’ll get thrown (cruelly and deeply) under the bus.
      Kelly 101.

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    2. jeff 1 week ago

      Kelly ruins Quaterbacks. Crist, Rees, Hendrix, Golson, Zaire, and Kizer. Next up Wimbush

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  3. EP 2 weeks ago

    Vandy 34 – ND 16

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  4. Fitz 2 weeks ago

    ND dodged a bullet last week in not being dropped from the top 10. The pollsters will be watching more closely against Vandy. As other top rated team pore it all against weaker opponents, the Irish need to crush The Dores. Big time. 30 +. Wimbush is our best runner. Let him run more.

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    1. Bob Rodes 2 weeks ago

      I’d say Notre Dame “dodged a blank” rather than a bullet by not dropping in the polls, personally. I’ll be concerned about the polls when the one that matters comes out.

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    2. david 2 weeks ago

      Doesn’t matter. They’ll just drop more once than they would have in two moves.

      This is like the Oscars….ND is an attractive seat filler while the real stars arrive fashionably late.

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    3. david 2 weeks ago

      As far as Wimbush being the ‘best runner’…you’ll never know, because RBs don’t get the ball enough to judge.

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      1. Fitz 2 weeks ago

        It’s a simple matter of Wimbush being a more effective runner than the ones who have played thus far. We desperately need Williams back.

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      2. david 2 weeks ago

        Give someone else the ball….you’ll surprise the defense, and maybe even yourself.

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  5. Bob Rader 2 weeks ago

    If Brandon Wimbush is not a pocket passer, as Frank says, then why is he the QB? Name one starting QB in the top 20 who is not a pocket passer. Brandon can contribute as a slot receiver and running back, two positions that fit his undoubted talents. Book IS a pocket passer, and he can scramble adequately when he needs to. This is not a knock on Brandon Wimbush, who is a fine young man and excellent athlete, but as Frank correctly says, he is being asked to do something he cannot do.

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  6. Bradford Redding II 2 weeks ago

    I thought that the ND defense played outstanding…they are the true heros from last week’s game. Offense…hmmm. I have to agree with everyone else that you tailor your offense around the strengths of the quarterback. Don’t try to be cute and attempt to do something that the quarterback isn’t built to do. Trust in your quarterback, he’ll do the right thing. When the game takes an unexpected turn, use the other quarterback.

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  7. Matt 2 weeks ago

    Agree with the article but want to highlight two main points that I don’t think are receiving enough attention. 1) BK cannot manage multiple quarterbacks, history is repeating itself. Regardless of BW’s development, he should have been pulled in the second half for Ian Book or Phil Jurk…. 2) Right now Ian Book gives the team the best opportunity to win. He can beat you with his arm, and runs well enough to run the spread effectively. If the offensive approach against Ball State is the game plan BK and Chip Long want to run, Book is the guy. Guaranteed we will see more of the same this week. Vandy will load the box, pinning their ears back and dare BW to beat them with his arm, which I don’t think he can. Hope BK is willing to go to Book earlier rather than later. Go IRISH!

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  8. Brad Sinclair 2 weeks ago

    More of the same : 1) show some intestinal fortitude and quit getting pushed around at the line of scrimmage – in your own house!!!, 2) do not take any team for granted, I.e., every team that comes to Notre Dame Stadium gets up for the game because…. they are playing in Notre Dame Stadium – one of the most historic houses of American football. Can’t the home team do the same?!! 3) I would love to see a running back put his head down and push would be tacklers back a few yards. Instead it seems to me we see running backs getting cute and trying to break outside for a big gain. Sure they get them once in a while but the bread and butter should be in the 5-8 yard range. If you do that 20 times a game the big runs will open up. And finally 4) I think the defense has been playing well but they don’t seem to dictate to the opposition what they will allow. Not sure if this makes sense but what I mean is that seem way to reactive. Don’t react – dictate!!!

    Hoping they play to their potential this week. I will be out of the country but following the game on line the best I can so, Go Irish!!!!

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    1. Bruce G Curme 2 weeks ago

      They have “dictated” when it counts most…on the last possession. That started in the Citrus Bowl. The defense is not broke. Let’s not “fix it”.

      BGC ’77 ’82

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      1. Damian 2 weeks ago

        I get what Brad was saying. I don’t think anything needs to be ‘fixed’ necessarily on the defense. Just do more of what they are good at. I loved that the defense stays aggressive toward the end though. The Citrus bowl was a perfect example. They didn’t go into prevent when the game seemed in hand. They continued to attack and made sure the game was really over. The same the last 2 weeks.

        But I do think they can set the tone more. Make the opposing team adjust to them more, instead of vice versa. This defense can be elite, I think, if they just take what they do well and do it more. I actually think they can outshine the 2012 defense if they just take it to the next level. They’re that good IMO.

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    2. Bob Rodes 2 weeks ago

      To your question “Can’t the home team do the same?”: not to disagree with your main point, but if you have a birthday party every week, cake and ice cream just isn’t quite the same. Human nature and all that.

      All the same, a championship team is fully motivated at all times, no matter what the surroundings. The goal of “defending your house” by definition is inferior to the goal of “defending your record.” Away losses aren’t better than home losses, if you are a championship team.

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  9. Shaun Donaldson 2 weeks ago

    Should have hired the BC OL coach instead of another one of Kelly’s retread cronies.

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    1. Bob Rodes 2 weeks ago

      Too early to tell IMO. Quinn has had his share of first-round draft picks as well.

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  10. Greg Kelly 2 weeks ago

    The ol’ Notre Dame will emerge this weekend. They will have had a full week getting ready. There was nothing to celebrate after last weeks letdown after marvelous performance in week one. They will make a statement and solidify their appearance in top ten. Last week the green out was missing. This week it will be “ play your guts out”

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    1. Bob Rodes 2 weeks ago

      That’s the spirit, as my dad used to say. 🙂

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    2. david 2 weeks ago

      Yes…a week will fix everything.
      Kelly is just still waiting for the right week.

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  11. Damian 2 weeks ago

    You know, I read this article and feel like I’ve read it before in some form or another. In the BK era we’ve seen this sort of get their act together before. I wonder, will it ever happen under BK. They have an experienced starting QB. Why are we trying experimenting with him now? They should know what works with him and what doesn’t. Hell, we know it, you’d think paid coaches would know it.

    The only thing that makes me feel better about the whole situation is unlike in the past, they did manage to win, and they didn’t even take a poll in the hits. Basically it’s almost like last week never happened. The Irish should take advantage of that good fortune to put Ball State behind them. Learn from the mistakes, yes, and correct them. But don’t dwell on the game. No one outside of ND nation is. Learn and move on.

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    1. Damian 2 weeks ago

      Ok, I shouldn’t post this early, I meant they didn’t even take a hit in the polls.

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      1. Bob Rodes 2 weeks ago

        Sigmund Freud just popped in and asked me to share a comment: “Interesting. ‘Poll in ze hits’ has precisely ze same rhytma as ‘kick in ze nuts.’ In ze hypnagochic state vere ideas like zese run togeder, perhaps you both vanted to say zis und didn’t vant to be coarse.”

        Oh yeah, I forgot to say that I see dead people.

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    2. sebastian 2 weeks ago

      Brian kelly is VERY overrated! can hardly wait for the belk bowl this year. He needs to go!

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      1. Bob Rodes 2 weeks ago

        :FLICK: unsticking record

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      2. david 2 weeks ago

        Kelly deserves derision. The Belk Bowl does not.

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  12. Bruce G Curme 2 weeks ago

    Assuming that BW is going to start again this weekend, I have one important piece of advice for him, and it’s this: Brandon, whoever is telling you to never give up on a play (whether fans, teammates, or some coach) STOP LISTENING TO THAT SILLY CARP!!! Rather than trying to do a bad Fran Tarkington imitation while being chased by 4 or 5 unblocked defenders, simply get pissed, throw the ball far far away, go back and huddle, and tell your “blockers” off in no uncertain terms. Be a quarterback.

    BGC ’77 ’82

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    1. Bob Rodes 2 weeks ago

      Even Fran Tarkenton knew when to eat the ball.

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      1. Bruce G Curme 2 weeks ago

        That’s why it was “a bad imitation”!

        BGC ’77 ’82

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    2. ndcrazymike 2 weeks ago

      IF the success of this team comes down to Wimbush passing and staying in the pocket there in deep trouble!! This weeks game will give us a pretty good idea where this offense is headed! Move the pocket roll him out, delayed QB draw and yes throw the dam ball away not up for grabs!!!

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