Head to head: Vanderbilt
Observer Staff Report | Friday, September 14, 2018
While senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush registered a career-high with 297 passing yards against Ball State, he also threw three interceptions and had trouble consistently sustaining drives through the air. Talent-wise, Notre Dame seems to have the edge in this matchup, as the trio of receivers — sophomore Chase Claypool and seniors Miles Boykin and Chris Finke — and the tight ends all present various matchup problems, but the unit is still working through growing pains, and inconsistent play at quarterback and offensive line has hurt the potential of this unit thus far. Vanderbilt has a couple studs in its secondary in junior cornerback Joejuan Williams and fifth-year safety LaDarius Wiley, who led the team with 88 tackles last season. Until there’s consistency from the Irish passing attack, the matchup could swing either way, so this should be considered a draw.
This Notre Dame team, especially with Wimbush at quarterback, has always known its strength lies in the run game, and that hasn’t changed through two games. With their lone fumble — coming last week against Ball State — being quickly recovered, compared to the four interceptions Wimbush has thrown on the season, there’s certainly more security for the Irish in keeping the ball out of the air. Although Wimbush can create out of the pocket, and junior Tony Jones, Jr., and sophomore Jafar Armstrong have consistently run the ball well, totaling just over 100 yards each on the season, none of them are yet to have a breakout performance. However, against a relatively untested Vanderbilt defensive line that’s allowed 5.18 yards per carry, this could be the game for these three to make a statement and run the Commodores out of Notre Dame Stadium.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Irish Offensive Coaching
Whereas Chip Long and Co. seemed to masterfully outcoach Jim Harbaugh and his staff in week one, the Irish offense looked dazed, confused and out-of-order against a far inferior Ball State defense in week two. Of course, much of this drop off is a result of individual play on offense, but Long surely takes blame as well. If the Chip Long and staff of week one come out with that week-one fire, they should have no problem handling a Vanderbilt defense that ranked No. 67 in the S&P+ last year. There is no doubt the Irish have the personnel to outplay and outcoach this Vanderbilt defense, and so long as last week was a deviation from the standard, the Irish have a nice advantage here against new Vanderbilt coordinator Jason Tarver.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Irish Offensive Special Teams
Notre Dame’s special teams play last weekend was a mixed bag at best. While freshman running back C’Bo Flemister flashed ability on kickoff duty, Finke’s comfortability with fair catches on punt duty gives the Irish a sure set of hands, but not the chance for big plays. The one concern remains kicker Justin Yoon’s ability to consistently deliver for the Irish. The senior missed his first field goal of the season against Ball State on Saturday, and has struggled to prove he can get back to his freshman season consistency, in which he finished 15-of-17 on the year. Consider this area of the field a draw.
Behind senior Kyle Shurmur under center, the Commodores are in good shape. The son of an NFL head coach, Shurmur is in his fourth season as Vanderbilt’s starting quarterback and has done a fantastic job at the position, averaging 214 yards over the last two games and 235 yards throughout the 2017 season. However, the Irish defense is also a force to be reckoned with, proving itself against both Michigan and Ball State. The defensive line is deep and the secondary has made progress, especially in the safety position, as junior Jalen Elliott recorded the position’s first interception in a year last week and added a second for good measure. This is a matchup of strength vs. strength.
With all-time leading rusher Ralph Webb gone, the Commodores will aim to spread around the touches to replace his production. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, a transfer from Illinois who has rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns this season, is set to be the home-run hitter for the Commodores and should be supplemented by a trio of supporting backs. However, Notre Dame has been stout against the run in its first two games, limiting opponents to 2.84 yards per carry. Notre Dame had a bit of trouble setting the edge against Ball State, but if they can contain and funnel everything inside to limit the big play, senior linebacker Te’von Coney and the Irish run defense should hold the advantage.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Commodores Offensive Coaching
It’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions about the Commodore offense this early in the season with their only opponents being Middle Tennessee and Nevada, but they’ve certainly made a show of those two matchups, something Notre Dame can’t say so confidently. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has built a program that’s managed to consistently post 20-plus-point performances against an SEC schedule, so they certainly won’t be intimidated by the Irish. The Commodores have shown a relatively balanced offensive scheme so far, but Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea and his veteran squad should be prepared for whatever looks are thrown their direction, having already held both Michigan and Ball State to under 20 points.
EDGE: Notre Dame
Commodores Offensive Special Teams
Both squads struggle on special teams in this matchup. Vanderbilt’s special teams statistics from last season are less than encouraging. The Commodores were last in the SEC in average field position and No. 128 in special teams in the FEI rating. Sophomore running back Jamauri Wakefield will be back returning for the Commodores this year, and although he has shown some stretches of promise, overall he hasn’t been a reliable force. All of this said, Notre Dame has looked no better this season on kickoffs, having already given up one for a touchdown against Michigan. As far as special teams go, it appears this matchup will go to whichever team can limit the mistakes. It’s weakness vs. weakness, so consider it a draw.