Notre Dame football takes on the Vanderbilt Commodores Saturday in South Bend. The Irish look to stay perfect on the season.
Notre Dame football will be taking on the Vanderbilt Commodores this Saturday in South Bend. The Commodores finished 1-7 in SEC play last year and posted a 5-7 record overall for the 2017 campaign. Vanderbilt is 2-0 on the season thus far, however, with two lopsided victories against Middle Tennessee 35-7 and against Nevada 41-10.
The points scored stands out in these contests, but so too do the points against, especially for a Vanderbilt team that gave up 346 points in conference play last year which provided for the worst in SEC history. But with 6 takeaways in two games (they had 9 total in 12 games last season) and 8 sacks (6 against Middle Tennessee alone), there has already been marked improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
The Commodores come into Notre Dame Stadium confident and upset-minded as they look to improve on their poor results last year. Here are the five Vanderbilt players that could give the Irish the most trouble Saturday afternoon.
Kyle Shurmer, Quarterback
Shurmer threw for 2,823 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2017. In his first two games of this season, Shurmer is 33-49 with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. With a completion percentage of 67.3% over the last two games, he seems to have gotten into an early-season groove with his group of receivers. Look for Shurmer to challenge the Notre Dame defense in a similar fashion to Ball State, an offense that chose to checkdown a significant amount as the Notre Dame defenders consistently gave Riley Neal the opportunity to do so by playing yards off the receivers.
Jared Pinkney, Tight End
Speaking of Shurmer’s opportunities to checkdown against the Irish, Pinkney might be his primary target to do so. In 2017, Pinkney had 22 receptions for 279 yards and posted 3 touchdowns. With 7 receptions and 130 yards already in this season, it is evident that Vanderbilt is interested in integrating Pinkney even more into the offense. As stated above, Shurmer will look to checkdown if the Notre Dame defense leaves guys open to do so like they did at times against Michigan and consistently did against Ball State. When Shurmer does checkdown, look for Pinkney to be a primary target. And with an average of 18.5 yards per reception this year, he is not a receiver to ignore.
Kalija Lipscomb, Wide Receiver
Lipscomb had 37 receptions for 610 yards which resulted in 8 touchdowns in 2017. He averaged 16.5 yards per reception, making him a solid mid to deep field threat for the Commodores. In the first two games of this season, Lipscomb has 14 receptions for 145 yards. He has scored 3 touchdowns and is averaging just over a first down per reception at 10.4 yards. Lipscomb will be Shurmer’s primary target on Saturday in a variety of situations. But look for Shurmer to challenge the Notre Dame secondary by taking some deep shots early in the game to Lipscomb who has the ability to cause headaches downfield if he gets loose.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Running Back
Vanderbilt lost their all-time leading rusher in Ralph Webb. But with Vaughn, a transfer from Illinois, the Commodores do not anticipate taking a drastic step back in terms of the running game. Vaughn rushed for 723 yards and 6 touchdowns as a true freshman at Illinois. Against Middle Tennessee and Nevada, Vaughn accumulated 130 yards on the ground, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He reached the end zone twice in his first two games. With an average of 6.5 yards per carry, Vaughn takes a lot of pressure off Shurmer to have to carry the entire offense on his back. Vaughn’s steady ground game allows the offense to open up the playbook with more diversity in short 2nd and 3rd down situations. The Irish defense will have to stop Vaughn in order to force Shurmer into more long-yardage situations.
Josh Smith, Linebacker
Josh Smith only accounted for 21 tackles during the 2017 season. However, his 14 total tackles thus far in the 2018 season puts him at a first-place tie atop the Commodores defense, although he is solely in first place for solo tackles at 12. Smith is the lone leader in sacks for the 2018 squad as well, accumulating 4 over the first two games. Smith accounted for 10 tackles last week against Nevada (a career high), three tackles for loss, and broke up one pass. Even though he was not a defensive leader last year, Smith is shaking out to be the most capable of disrupting opponent backfields early in this season.