No. 8 Notre Dame will look to open the season with a 3-0 record for the first time since 2015 when it hosts Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.
The Fighting Irish (2-0) are coming off victories over Michigan and Ball State. Both wins have come by single digits.
“I just want to win games,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “I’ve never been about style points, what they look like, as much as trying to find a way to win a game. I think my entire career has been about if we need to run the football here, even though more points would be better, I don’t want to put us in a position where we could jeopardize winning the football game.
“It’s always been about time and place in the game, how you can win the game more so than what it looks like.”
Vanderbilt (2-0) would love to spoil Notre Dame’s successful September. The Commodores are coming off back-to-back, lopsided victories over Middle Tennessee and Nevada as they look to go 3-0 for the second year in a row.
The early returns provide plenty to like but the team is far from perfect, Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said to reporters.
“We made some improvement from Game 1 to Game 2,” said Mason, who is in his fifth season running the program. “It looked like we were balanced on offense. Overall, I thought the offense did a pretty solid job. …
“But we’ve just got to take care of the football and get rid of stalled drives. That’s not who we are, and I don’t want to see it. We’ve got to get it into the end zone.”
That might be easier said than done against Notre Dame’s defense, which has proved to be the strength of the team so far. After giving up an 85-yard scoring drive against Ball State on the Cardinals’ first offensive possession, the Fighting Irish allowed only 36 total yards on the next 19 plays.
Notre Dame has forced eight three-and-outs on 27 defensive series – an impressive 29.6 percent success rate – heading into the third week.
Linebacker Te’Von Coney is coming off a 14-tackle performance and leads the team with 24 stops, while linebacker Drue Tranquill and safety Alohi Gilman are tied for second with 16 tackles apiece.
“I think second-level support has been much better,” Kelly said. “It starts with better tackling at the second level. Drue and Te’von are really good linebackers, as well. A very conscientious group up front. I don’t think you just say the safeties are tackling better. You look at all three levels. All of them have to be part of that.
“(It’s a) conscientious group up front where they’re not out of their gaps (and) two really good linebackers, in particular Te’von, who is really instinctive. They’re getting the ball on the ground.”
On offense, Notre Dame is led by dual-threat quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who has passed for 467 yards and rushed for 52 yards. Wimbush is coming off a rocky performance against Ball State in which he threw three interceptions. The Fighting Irish ground game is led by Jafar Armstrong (three touchdowns) and Tony Jones Jr. (two touchdowns).
Vanderbilt’s leader is senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, whose 44 career touchdown passes rank second in school history to Jay Cutler (59). Shurmur has four games with at least 300 yards passing and is No. 5 on the school’s all-time list with 6,163 passing yards.
“Believe me, he could throw it down the field every time if he wanted to,” Mason said. “I think he understands you can’t go broke taking a profit, so he’s going to take whatever there is to be had and be happy. He checked us into some good runs (against Nevada), got rid of the ball, found some targets.”
The Commodores’ defense will rely heavily upon LaDarius Wiley, a safety who returned to the starting lineup last week after missing most of the season opener because of a targeting penalty. Wiley led the team with 88 tackles a year ago and posted five tackles against Nevada.
This marks the third all-time meeting between the schools. Notre Dame won the first two contests in a home-and-home set in 1995 and 1996.