Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Irish look to regain its swagger against the Commodores

Photo Credit: Michael Hickey- Getty Images

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

The Vanderbilt Commodores (2-0) head to South Bend to take on the No. 8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0) for their second trip to Notre Dame Stadium in school history. Notre Dame looks to regain its rhythm after a sluggish victory over Ball State, 24-16 on Sept. 8.

“We have an SEC opponent coming into town, good personnel, physical, good quarterback. [Kyle] Shurmur has done a nice job,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “Defensive structure is really solid, sound. As you would expect, personnel that can play with SEC opponents.”

Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason upset many of the Notre Dame faithful during SEC Media Days when asked a question on how the Commodores will prepare for their early season trip to South Bend.

“We play in the SEC,” Mason said. “I don’t worry about going to South Bend.” Without context, Mason’s comments could come off as harsh, but Mason was trying to say that Vanderbilt plays in loud, rambunctious environments weekly as they share the SEC East with the likes of No. 3 Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina.

The Commodores are looking to crack into the Top 25 polls for the first time since the final poll of the 2013 season. Vanderbilt is currently receiving votes in the Coaches’ Poll and a road victory over a Top 10 team would surely boost the team into the rankings.

Te’von Coney is having what is shaping up to be a phenomenal season defensively for Notre Dame. Through two games, Coney has recorded 24 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss— which puts him on pace for 156 tackles this season.  In comparison to another Notre Dame standout, Manti Te’o had 113 tackles and 5.5 tackles for a loss throughout the 2012 season.

Fort the second consecutive year, Vanderbilt starts with back-to-back wins and have forced six turnovers through their first two games, three interceptions and three fumbles. 

Vanderbilt’s offense features a three-headed attack of running backs: Khari Blasingame, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and Jamauri Wakefield. The three backs split the workload for the Commodores and are within five carries of each other and 50 yards gained of each other. Vaughn is the leading rusher of the trio with 133 yards gained and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

Kyle Shurmur is the quarterback for the Commodores, leading the team for the fourth consecutive season. Last season, Shurmur three for 2,823 yards, 26 touchdowns, and just 10 interceptions. Shurmur’s 26 touchdowns set a new-single season record for Vanderbilt, surpassing Whit Taylor’s previous record of 22 set back in 1982.

“I like the backs. Shurmur has been really efficient, throws the ball really well,” Kelly said. “A couple things— First of all, the cohesiveness of the offensive line, a group that’s payed together. I don’t think you can ever feel like a good offensive line that plays together is not a strength of your team. I think that stands out to me.”

Through two games, Vanderbilt has outscored their opponents 76-17 and boasts nearly an extra 300 yards of total offense over their opponents. While Middle Tennessee State and Nevada are not Power Five opponents, Vanderbilt has proven that its offense is plenty explosive.

The Irish defense will have to once again have a chance to show their improvements against a Power Five opponent. The Notre Dame offense will look to show the same power it showed early in the game against Michigan. Thus far, in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame has been outscored by their opponents 17-0.

All-Time Series:

Notre Dame has never lost to Vanderbilt, leading the all-time series 2-0. The two teams played in 1995 in South Bend (ND 41, Vanderbilt 0) and 1996 in Nashville (ND 14, Vanderbilt 7).