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Notre Dame, Vanderbilt Square Off in Battle of Unbeatens

After a tougher-than-expected win last week against Ball State, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will look for a more comfortable victory Saturday afternoon when they host the Vanderbilt Commodores in a battle of 2-0 teams. Despite being five-touchdown favorites over the Cardinals in Week 2, the Irish needed a pair of interceptions by junior strong safety Jalen Elliott to pull out a 24-16 victory in which Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush threw three interceptions and was sacked four times. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is coming off a convincing 41-10 home win over Nevada, holding the Wolfpack rushing attack to just 1.4 yards per attempt. Notre Dame is a 15-point favorite to hand Vandy its first loss of 2018, and the total has been set at 52.

SHARK BITES
  • Vanderbilt is 15-6 ATS in its last 21 games on the road in September.
  • Notre Dame is 7-0 SU in its last seven games at home (average winning margin of 17.1).
  • The total has gone OVER in five of Vanderbilt’s last seven games on the road against teams with winning records.

Vanderbilt vs Notre Dame Game Center

FIGHTING IRISH STRUGGLING TO RUN THE FOOTBALL

The Irish may have a perfect 2-0 mark so far, but things are far from perfect when it comes to the Notre Dame offense. Going into Week 3, the Fighting Irish rank 92nd in the nation in points scored, 95th in total yards and an alarming 106th in rushing yards. After striking for two quick touchdowns in its opening game against Michigan, Notre Dame scored just 10 points in the final 53 minutes. And if you take away two running plays for 73 yards last week against Ball State, the Irish ran for just 44 yards on 39 attempts.

It’ll be a challenge for Notre Dame to get that ground game back on track this weekend. Vanderbilt comes into this game with the 18th-best rush defense in the country, allowing just 75 yards per contest. Without a strong run game to rely on, Notre Dame may have a difficult time running out the clock with a lead, opening the door for Vandy to backdoor the point spread with a late score.

COMMODORES IMPRESSIVE IN FIRST TWO VICTORIES

Not much was expected this season of the Commodores, whose season win total for 2018 was listed at 4.5. But after starting 2-0 with victories over Middle Tennessee and Nevada, Vanderbilt earned three votes in this week’s USA Today Amway Coaches Poll.

A perfect start through two weeks isn’t totally surprising for Vanderbilt, which was a 3-point favorite in the opener against MTSU and laid 10 points last week at home to Nevada. However, the way the Commodores have won those two games has been enough to catch people’s attention. Vanderbilt’s average margin of victory so far in 2018 is 29.5 points, thanks to a multi-pronged running attack (three players have already rushed for 80-plus yards this season) and an opportunistic defence (six turnovers forced in two games).

This visit to South Bend will easily be Vanderbilt’s most difficult test of the young season, kicking off a four-game stretch in which the Commodores also face South Carolina and Georgia. But it also may be the point of the year at which Vandy’s confidence is at its highest.

WHY THE UNDER MAKES SENSE

Both of these teams are 2-0 to the UNDER so far this season, and there are a couple of reasons I’m expecting that trend to continue in Week 3.

Although Notre Dame has struggled to run the ball effectively through two games, head coach Brian Kelly knows his team will need to get the ground game figured out if his team is going to go anywhere in 2018. Look for the Irish offense to be even more committed to rushing the ball here, even if it doesn’t enjoy immediate success against this stout Vanderbilt run defense. Meanwhile, the Commodores should be happy to play a conservative style of offense once again, running the ball with regularity in hopes of keeping things close and generating a couple of turnovers on defense.

All of those rushing attempts should lead to long, methodical drives by both offenses, and keep the clock moving.