Running Backs vs. Linebackers
These are both positions that Notre Dame and Vanderbilt have similarities in. Notre Dame is relatively young and inexperienced in the running back position, rotating between converted wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, Tony Jones Jr. and converted quarterback Avery Davis. Additionally, they are replacing the lost production of Josh Adams who left for the NFL last season.
Vanderbilt is floating in a similar boat. Having lost a linebacker in three straight NFL Drafts — most recently Oren Burks to the Packers — they are constantly trying to replace lost NFL production. Senior Jordan Griffin is their best inside linebacker with the most experience, racking up 62 tackles last year. Senior and converted safety Andrew Rector has seen action in 20 games throughout his career and will join Griffin on the inside.
Both starting outside linebackers are returning for Vandy — Charles Wright and Caleb Peart. Wright finished 2017 with nine sacks and will be one of the better players leading the Commodore defense. Peart started two games in 2017, and might split time with senior Josh Smith, who played in all 12 games last year and finished with 21 tackles.
The Irish running back-by-committee format hasn’t been an issue thus far. We know the type of athlete Jafar Armstrong is and the mismatch he can create in the passing game lining up in the slot. Tony Jones Jr. found the endzone twice last week, and Avery Davis is an athlete that can provide quality touches.
This matchup of inexperience and part-time starters from a season ago could be an x-factor this week. Outside of forcing missed tackles and mismatches in the passing game, the ability of Notre Dame’s running backs to provide quality pass protection when needed will be an area to watch. Keeping Vanderbilt’s linebackers from disrupting the passing game on blitzes will be huge. It is an area the Irish struggled in last week.