Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pick & Prediction
Vanderbilt Commodores (1-0 SU, 1-0 ATS) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1-0 SU, 1-1 ATS)
When: Saturday, September 15th, 2:30 PM
Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, IN
By Mike Mann., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Spread: VANDY +14 / ND -14 (Check Top Sportsbooks For Best Line)
Two of the smartest college football programs in terms of academics meet Saturday in South Bend when Notre Dame hosts Vanderbilt. This will be just the third all-time meeting between these teams with Notre Dame having won the previous two back in 1995-1996.
The Irish come in with a 2-0 record after beating Michigan in week one and then getting past Ball State 24-16 with an uninspired victory last Saturday. They started out the game with a crisp five-play drive that ended in a touchdown but from that point the offense looked completely out of sync and almost unable to get out of its own way. Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans the reason for their lack of success was something they had seen glimpses of last season, and that is major struggles from Brandon Wimbush at the quarterback position. He has never been one for accuracy (Wimbush has completed over 57% of his passes just once in fourteen games), but versus Ball State it was the troubling combination of a complete lack of pocket awareness combined with an inability to complete a pass unless the target was wide open. Granted the play calling didn’t call for many roll outs to use Wimbush’s scrambling ability to their advantage, which just further proved how near useless he can be if running isn’t an option. So far on the season the Irish quarterback has a QB rating of just 41.4 while throwing one touchdown compared to four interceptions, and though they were able to escape Michigan in week one, there is only so much they will be able to accomplish against a schedule including Virginia Tech, USC and Stanford if Wimbush is unable to improve.
Thankfully for Irish fans the remainder of the team was able to step up while Wimbush struggled. Running backs Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong have now each rushed for over 100 yards and at least two touchdowns on the season, while receiving threats Miles Boykin and Alize Mack continue to play at a high level despite the limitations at the quarterback position. The real story on Saturday was the defense, which allowed only just one touchdown on the day despite Ball State running a whopping 97 plays on offense thanks in large part to the three turnovers caused. Defensive back Jalen Elliot had two big interceptions on the day and stalwarts Jerry Tillery and Te’Von Coney continue to anchor a strong Irish front seven.
While Notre Dame struggles with consistency at the quarterback position, Vanderbilt has been near opposite with theirs thanks to Kyle Shurmur. The Commodore QB has completed 67% of his passes while also throwing four touchdowns to go with zero interceptions thus far on the season which has helped sparked the team to 2-0 start with easy wins against MTSU and Nevada to start things off. The team is 8-0 over Shurmur’s career when he has a quarterback rating of 83.0 or higher, including direct splits last year when they went 5-0 when he eclipsed the mark and an unfortunate 0-8 when he went under it.
Shurmur’s favorite target on the offense continues to be receiver Kalija Lipscomb, who has 14 receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns on the season. He has been the clear focal point of the position, hauling in over 40% of the receptions and 75% of the receiving scores through their first two weeks. Thankfully for Commodore fans they also have a decent backfield to rely on, which is led by Ke’Shawn Vaughn and rounded out by Jamauri Wakefield and Khari Blasingame. All three are averaging over 5.5 yards per carry and have scored at least once so far this season.
The Vandy defense has been remarkably improved so far, taking advantage of their lower tier opponents and starting off the season ranked high nationally in scoring (7th), rushing (18th) and yards allowed per game (20th). They have been able to do so thanks to a strong linebacking core in middle consisting of three seniors; Charles Wright, Josh Smith and Jordan Griffin. All three will have their work cut off for them on Saturday in attempting to slow down Notre Dame’s multi-faceted rushing attack.
The biggest question for Vandy entering the game is how they will handle playing on the road in South Bend. They have struggled mightily away from home of late, posting just a 5-16 record in away games under Derek Mason since he arrived in Nashville. Bettors have been feeling the road effects as well, with the Commodores going just 2-7 against the spread in their last nine as an underdog and a disappointing 1-4 versus the number in their last five games as a road dog. Ball State showed last week though that an efficient offensive attack can find holes in the Irish defense, and with Kyle Shurmur at the helm Vanderbilt has the ability to do the same. The issue for Vanderbilt though is how one dimensional their passing offense is, relying primarily on receiver Kalija Lipscomb to carry the weight. This strategy may not work well against a well-rounded Notre Dame defense that certainly has the ability and personnel to control Lipscomb, unlike the Commodores previous opponents in MTSU and Nevada. As much as Brandon Wimbush’s spotty play worries me, I think you can count on Notre Dame to get the job done at home against a Vanderbilt squad that has consistently shown an inability to match points on the road versus quality opponents. Lay the number with confidence in the Irish to rebound well.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Notre Dame -14