Vanderbilt at Notre Dame

The Sports Xchange

September 12, 2018 at 5:13 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
TV: NBC
SERIES: Notre Dame leads 2-0. Notre Dame won the last meeting 14-7 in 1996.
RANKINGS: Notre Dame No. 8

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Commodores

–QB Kyle Shurmur’s accuracy will be key against Notre Dame. The senior has hit 67.3 percent of his 49 throws, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt. More importantly, Shurmur has four touchdowns and no interceptions.

–RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn has emerged as Vandy’s most explosive back, averaging a team-high 6.5 yards per carry. He had a 46-yard touchdown run against Nevada.

–LB Charles Wright continues to draw double teams and awaits his first sack after recording nine last year. Still, Wright is tied for fifth on the team with seven tackles and has a hurry and a forced fumble.

–LB Kenny Hebert has emerged as a pass-rushing force in a reserve role. He leads the team with three sacks and is tied for the team lead with four stops for loss. He also forced and recovered a fumble last week.

Fighting Irish

–RB Jafar Armstrong has rattled off three touchdowns in his first two games of the season, calming fans’ fears about how Notre Dame would replace last year’s terrific ground game led by former RB Josh Adams.

–WR Miles Boykin has big-play ability. Can he keep it up against Vanderbilt? One week ago, the Fighting Irish wideout had three receptions of at least 20 yards. He finished with a career-high six catches for 119 yards.

–TE Alize Mack has started well and could receive more opportunities this week with TE Cole Kmet sidelined with a high-ankle sprain. Mack has three catches for 49 yards so far this season.

–S Jalen Elliott will not go unnoticed on Vanderbilt’s game plan after pulling down two interceptions against Ball State. That made him the first Irish safety to have multiple interceptions in a game since Harrison Smith in 2010.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Notre Dame is looking to start a season 3-0 for the first time since 2015 while Vanderbilt will be looking to duplicate last season’s 3-0 start when they meet Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.

The No. 8 Fighting Irish (2-0) are coming off victories over Michigan and Ball State. Both wins have come by single digits.

“I just want to win games,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “I’ve never been about style points, what they look like, as much as trying to find a way to win a game. I think my entire career has been about if we need to run the football here, even though more points would be better, I don’t want to put us in a position where we could jeopardize winning the football game.

“It’s always been about time and place in the game, how you can win the game more so than what it looks like.”

The unranked Commodores (2-0) are coming off back-to-back, lopsided victories over Middle Tennessee and Nevada. The early returns provide plenty to like, but the team is far from perfect, Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said.

“We made some improvement from Game 1 to Game 2,” said Mason, who is in his fifth season running the program. “It looked like we were balanced on offense. Overall, I thought the offense did a pretty solid job. …

“But we’ve just got to take care of the football and get rid of stalled drives. That’s not who we are, and I don’t want to see it. We’ve got to get it into the end zone.”

That might be easier said than done against Notre Dame’s defense, which has proved to be the strength of the team so far. After giving up an 85-yard scoring drive against Ball State on the Cardinals’ first offensive possession, the Fighting Irish allowed only 36 total yards on the next 19 plays.

Notre Dame has forced eight three-and-outs on 27 defensive series — an impressive 29.6 percent success rate — heading into the third week.

Linebacker Te’Von Coney is coming off a 14-tackle performance and leads the team with 24 stops. Linebacker Drue Tranquill and safety Alohi Gilman are tied for second with 16 tackles apiece.

“I think second-level support has been much better,” Kelly said. “It starts with better tackling at the second level. Drue and Te’von are really good linebackers, as well. A very conscientious group up front. I don’t think you just say the safeties are tackling better. You look at all three levels. All of them have to be part of that.

“(It’s a) conscientious group up front where they’re not out of their gaps, two really good linebackers, in particular Te’von, who is really instinctive. They’re getting the ball on the ground.”

On offense, Notre Dame is led by dual-threat quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who has passed for 467 yards and rushed for 52 yards. Wimbush is coming off a rocky performance against Ball State in which he threw three interceptions. Jafar Armstrong (three touchdowns) and Tony Jones Jr. (two touchdowns) lead the Irish ground game.

Vanderbilt’s leader is senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, whose 44 career touchdown passes rank second in school history to Jay Cutler’s 59. Shurmur has four games with at least 300 yards passing and is No. 5 on the school’s all-time list with 6,163 passing yards.

“Believe me, he could throw it down the field every time if he wanted to,” Mason said. “I think he understands you can’t go broke taking a profit, so he’s going to take whatever there is to be had and be happy. He checked us into some good runs (against Nevada), got rid of the ball, found some targets.”

The Commodores’ defense will rely heavily upon LaDarius Wiley, a safety who returned to the starting lineup last week after missing most of the season opener because of a targeting penalty. Wiley led the team with 88 tackles a year ago and posted five tackles against Nevada.

 

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