Vanderbilt went into Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday with a 2-0 record and still questions about whether the team could stand up to a top-tier opponent. Even after a 22-17 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, though, Vanderbilt could feel like it had proven itself capable going into next week’s SEC opener.
Saturday began inauspiciously for the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish took the opening kickoff and promptly marched 80 yards in seven plays, setting up a first-and-goal at the Vanderbilt 2; it felt like a massive win to hold the Irish to a field goal. Vanderbilt’s first drive of the game gained a couple of first downs, but ended with a punt; Notre Dame then proceeded on a 15-play, 94-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown run by Brandon Wimbush to make it 10-0.
Vanderbilt’s defense then settled in for a bit: Notre Dame’s next two drives resulted in three-and-outs. The problem was that, well, Vanderbilt’s next three drives went three-and-out as well. Notre Dame took advantage of a couple of big runs by Tony Jones Jr. to set up another field goal, making the score 13-0 in the second quarter. Vanderbilt’s offense showed some fight, with Khari Blasingame converting a 3rd-and-1 to the Notre Dame 21… and then, well, the most Vanderbilt thing ever happened.
So… yeah. Notre Dame managed to take advantage of that to drive down and kick another field goal. A two-minute drill ended with a Ryley Guay field goal to end the first half and take Vanderbilt into the locker room down 16-3, the first time that Vanderbilt had ever scored points in Notre Dame Stadium.
The third quarter got off to a good start for the Commodores: Kyle Shurmur marched the team down the field, but a patented three-yard completion on 3rd and 15 set up a 43-yard field goal attempt, which Guay missed. Another promising drive for the Commodores ended with a woefully-underthrown deep ball, which Notre Dame’s Troy Pride picked off in the end zone to end the threat. (Vanderbilt did get some good fortune, though, when Pride attempted to bring the ball out of the end zone and then took a knee at the 1.)
But while the offense was misfiring, the defense was stepping up its game in a big way, holding the Irish to a total of 25 yards on their first two drives of the second half. The second punt — following a drive that started at the 1 and failed to gain a first down — gave Vanderbilt great field position, and finally the Commodores took advantage. Kyle Shurmur completed a 30-yard pass to C.J. Bolar on the first play of the drive, and four plays later, Ke’Shawn Vaughn punched in Vanderbilt’s first touchdown of the game from three yards out, cutting Notre Dame’s advantage to 16-10.
Notre Dame responded with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but their two-point conversion attempt failed leaving the score 22-10. But Vanderbilt wasn’t done. Vanderbilt opened the ensuing drive with a 14-yard run by Khari Blasingame, followed by an 18-yard pass to Sam Dobbs to bring the Commodores to the Notre Dame 41. The drive appeared to stall there with two straight incompletions, and Mason elected to go for it on 4th-and-8 at the Notre Dame 39 — and Vanderbilt got bailed out when Troy Pride was called for pass interference. On 3rd-and-2, Shurmur hit Jared Pinkney, who rumbled through multiple Irish defenders to get into the end zone and cut the score to 22-17.
But things looked bleak for the Commodores after Notre Dame’s Michael Young took the ensuing kickoff out to midfield, and the Irish needed just three plays to drive the ball down to the Vanderbilt 23. In what’s become a pattern for Derek Mason’s defenses, though, the Irish couldn’t get another first down, and settled for a 32-yard field goal attempt…
…which missed wide right, giving Vanderbilt the ball back down 5 with 3:39 left in the game. Kyle Shurmur completed a big pass to Pinkney out to midfield, but three straight incompletions put Vanderbilt on the brink — and then ANOTHER pass interference call extended Vanderbilt’s drive. But the Commodores’ desperation drive when Kalija Lipscomb couldn’t hold onto a fourth-down pass from Shurmur.
Kyle Shurmur ended the day 26-of-43 for 326 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn only had nine carries but gained 54 yards and a touchdown. For the game, the Commodores outgained the Fighting Irish, 420-380. Vanderbilt will return home to play South Carolina next Saturday.