A picture perfect late summer day at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN was the backdrop for game three of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football schedule versus the Vanderbilt Commodores of the SEC.
For the third straight game the Irish came out firing on offense. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush hit wide receiver Chase Claypool for an early 17 yard gain. Running back Tony Jones, JR and Wimbush led the rushing attack as the opening drive stalled at the Vanderbilt 8 yard line. Kicker Justin Yoon connected on a 26 yard field goal to put the Irish on the board 3-0. The opening drive covered 74 yards on 10 plays.
The Commodores are led by senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, Shurmur is the son of New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur. Vandy’s first offensive series was stymied and were forced to punt. Vandy pinned the Irish at their own 6 yard line to start the next drive.
The second Irish drive was run heavy as Jones, Jr and Wimbush carried the load and controlled the clock as the offense drove down to the Vandy 12 yard line. Wimbush took the next snap and dashed to the right and dove into the end zone for a 12 yard touchdown run. Soon added the extra point to give the Irish a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter.
The second quarter the teams traded 3 and outs for the next five possessions until the Irish put together a short drive that was enhanced by a Commodores personal foul penalty that put the Irish deep into Vandy territory. A couple incomplete passes put the ball on the Vandy 16 yard line for a 33 yard Yoon Field Goal and a 13-0 Irish lead midway through the 2nd quarter.
Vandy took the next drive and marched 75 yards downfield on the Irish in 7 plays as Shurmur completed 3 of 4 passes. The turning point of the game came as Shurmur found Donaven Tennyson at the goal line as Irish defensive back Julian Love forced the ball out of Tennyson’s hands and up in the air that ended up as a rugby scrum in the end zone as Love recovered it in the end zone for a touchback and a huge momentum swing for Notre Dame.
The Irish marched down field on the next drive for a 10 play, 51 yard drive that culminated with a Yoon 46 yard field goal and a commanding 16-0 lead. Vanderbilt countered with their own drive that covered 72 yards on 8 plays that finally got the Commodores on the board as Ryley Guay hit a 21 yard field goal to go into halftime down 16-3.
The Commodores first drive of the second half covered 50 yards on 10 plays in which Guay missed a 43 yard field goal attempt wide left. After a punt from Tyler Newsome, Vandy quickly moved the ball down to the Irish 36. Shurmer then threw his worst pass of the day as he turned it over in the end zone as Irish safety Troy Pride, Jr snagged the interception in the end zone. The next drive the Irish went three and out to give the ball back to the Commodores.
Shurmer drove his quad down the field on the Irish behind the legs of running back Ke”Shawn Vaughn as Vaughn put the first touchdown on the board for Vandy and cutting the Irish lead to 6 with a 16-10 score.
Head coach Brian Kelly’s squad answered the Commodores as the offense marched 75 yards on 11 plays as Kelly used both Wimbush and Ian Book at the helm during the drive. Book connected with wide open Nic Weishar for a 2 yard TD in the corner of the end zone. Kelly went for a 2 point conversion to try and put the Irish up by 14 points but the attempt failed giving the Irish a 22-10 lead early in the 4th quarter.
Vandy’s offense was clicking on all cylinders in the second half and showed no slowing down as the Commodores covered 75 yards on 11 plays as Shurmur found receiver Jared Pinkney darting towards the end zone and barreled through 3 defenders for a touchdown. The extra point was good and the score was now 22-17 in favor of the Irish.
Notre Dame’s next drive ended as the usually reliable Yoon missed a 32 yard field goal wide right to keep the score at 22-17 with just under 4 minutes remaining. Vandy took the ball and moved 49 yards downfield in mere minutes. With a 4th down and 4 yards to go from the Irish 31 Shurmur’s pass attempt to Kalija Lipscomb fell short.
Vandy had 2 timeouts remaining and used them wisely during the Irish’s attempt to run out the clock. A quick 3 and out was going to give the ball back to the Commodores with time remaining and a last shot at trying to take the game. Punter Newsome nailed the boot of the day as he boomed a 63 yard punt that held up in the air for nearly 7 seconds down to the Vanderbilt 10 and 5 seconds remaining on the clock. Vandy tried a pitch and catch and then attempted a handful of laterals to no avail. The ball dropped to the ground and Irish DB Love pounced on the loose ball to seal the game with a final of 22-17 and giving the Irish a 3-0 record to start for the first time since 2015.
The offense was led by running back Tony Jones Jr and his 119 yards on 17 carries and Wimbush added 95 yards on 19 carries. Wimbush finished the game completing 13 of his 23 passes for 122 yards. Book at quarterback was a perfect 3 for 3 for 13 yards and one TD.
Shurmur for Vandy completed 26 of his 43 passes for 326 yards and 1 TD and 1 INT.
The Irish have started quickly in all three games this year and have faltered in the second half of all three contests as well giving up leads and points and losing big leads. The Irish need to pick up the pace in the second halves if they want to make a move up the rankings in the next few weeks. The offense needs to show more and move the ball and the defense needs to show their moxie and keep their opponents from moving the ball at will downfield.
With their first away game coming this week against Wake Forest, Kelly’s squad needs to tighten things up on all facets before #7 Stanford Cardinal comes rolling in to South Bend in 2 weeks.
Game Photos by: Evan J. Thomas