SOUTH BEND – An underdog featuring a pro prospect at quarterback and a 3-4 defensive front comes into Notre Dame Stadium and knocks off the Fighting Irish.
That nearly happened last week. That could happen this week.
Oddsmakers listing No. 8 Notre Dame (2-0) as a 14-point favorite against Vanderbilt (2-0) on Saturday must not have been influenced by last week. Ball State, a five-touchdown underdog, came back from an 18-point deficit before losing at Notre Dame 24-16.
Granted, Vanderbilt is no Southeastern Conference power. The Commodores are 6-26 in the SEC under fifth-year coach Derek Mason, and they have had one winning SEC season since 1982.
But this is the SEC, not the Mid-American Conference.
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After chasing Ball State quarterback Riley Neal around for 97 plays, the Irish confront Kyle Shurmur, who is chasing Vanderbilt records held by Jay Cutler. Shurmur, 6-4, 225 pounds, is the son of New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur and could someday join his father in the NFL.
This will be the 31st consecutive start for Shurmur, who has been Vanderbilt’s quarterback since October 2015. He completed 67 percent of his passes for 428 yards and four touchdowns in wins over Middle Tennessee State and Nevada. Last year, he completed 58 percent for 2,823 yards, a school-record 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (seven in two games).
“He knows the offense like the back of his hand,” said NBC analyst Doug Flutie, the former NFL quarterback, in a podcast. “He doesn’t make bad decisions. He’s really sure of what he’s seeing and doing.”
Notre Dame safety Nick Coleman called Shurmur “very smart,” and the quarterback is unlikely to be rattled after playing opponents such as Alabama and Georgia. Flutie said Notre Dame’s defensive front must apply pressure on Shurmur.
“You can’t just let a guy stand there and pick you apart,” Flutie said.
Vanderbilt has an experienced offensive line and a rotation of three running backs. Shurmur’s top targets are Kalija Lipscomb, who caught 10 passes for 85 yards and two TDs against Nevada, and tight end Jared Pinkney, who caught four or 98 yards.
Since the aftermath of Ball State, coach Brian Kelly has said the Irish played poorly because they prepared poorly. Flutie revealed that Kelly brought the team together before a Thursday practice and said anyone who did not know his assignment would not dress for the Ball State game. So the coach sensed a letdown was coming.
It was “definitely a wakeup call,” guard Alex Bars said.
“Let’s be honest. We overlooked Ball State and what they could do,” cornerback Julian Love said. “But they’re a solid team. They put up a good fight. And so I was frustrated with our approach, more than anything. We handled adversity when we realized we were in a battle. I thought defense stepped up, and we played pretty well. We reached some of the numbers we try to reach.”
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Notre Dame had poor rushing numbers against Ball State. Two runs accounted for 73 yards, but otherwise the Irish netted 44 yards on 39 attempts. Kelly said Vanderbilt’s 3-4 defense resembles that of Ball State.
Flutie called this “survival” week. Notre Dame must beat Vanderbilt so there are meaningful games against No. 9 Stanford (Sept. 29) and at No. 11 Virginia Tech (Oct. 6). The Irish have won seven in a row at home since a 20-19 loss to Georgia on Sept. 9, 2017.
Mason, who twice visited here as a Stanford assistant coach, planned to have his team travel from Nashville, Tenn., early so it could do a Friday walkthrough at Notre Dame Stadium.
Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at [email protected] or call (317) 444-6195.
NO. 8 NOTRE DAME VS. VANDERBILT
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m., Saturday, Notre Dame Stadium
TV/Radio: NBC/WXNT-1430 AM.