Opponent: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Date and Time: September 15, 1:30 PM CT, in South Bend, Indiana. Like all Notre Dame home games, this will be televised on NBC.
All-time series record: Notre Dame leads, 2-0. In our defense, Rod Dowhower sucked.
Last meeting: September 5, 1996, in Nashville. Notre Dame won, 14-7.
Last year’s record: 10-3, 13th in S&P+
Head coach: Brian Kelly (69-34, 9th year)
We’ve been wondering for a while why Vanderbilt scheduled a one-off road game at Notre Dame for this season, and Jesse Johnson of 247 Sports gave us something of an answer a while back:
Negogiations for the ND game actually began while he was at Vanderbilt after the 2012 season. The game was originally pitched to take place in Italy & some of us on the VU beat knew about the game as early as the winter of 2013. Its been that long in the making.— Jesse Johnson (@JWJohnsonVU247) May 26, 2018
So, we were trying to play Notre Dame in Florence or Rome or Milan, and instead we’re playing them in South Bend? Cool.
In any case, in 2012 or 2013, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame scheduling a game for some date in the future seemed like a decent idea. Then James Franklin left, then there was the dumpster fire of 2014, and last year there was the defense that surrendered 43 ppg in SEC play, and now Vanderbilt has basically signed up to be roadkill. S&P+ gives Vanderbilt an 8 percent chance of winning this game, which... cool?
The Commodores should be 2-0 when they go to South Bend on September 15. I say “should” even though last week I tried to talk myself into how Middle Tennessee and Nevada could be competitive, but those are games that Vanderbilt should win. This is not. Notre Dame went 10-3 last year, beat LSU in the Citrus Bowl, finished 11th in the AP poll, They held opponents to 21.5 ppg on average last year, and they return basically everybody off that defense.
That defense should allow Notre Dame some time to work out the kinks on offense. The Irish lost top RB Josh Adams and top WR Equanimeous St. Brown to the NFL, and has to replace its two starting tackles as well. QB Brandon Wimbush is back, though he’s much more advanced as a runner than a passer.
I talked myself into the high-powered offenses of Middle Tennessee and Nevada providing a challenge for Vanderbilt’s retooled defense, but in reality, this is the bigger early test: MTSU and Nevada are both air-raid teams with inferior talent. Notre Dame is a run-heavy team that averaged 34.2 ppg in 2017. That’s more like what Vanderbilt will see in the SEC. Slowing down Notre Dame’s offense would be a real sign of progress.
Either way, Vanderbilt will probably be 2-1 after the third game of the season (if they’re worse than that, again, we’re probably done here.) But there will be a considerable difference between losing 45-10 at Notre Dame and losing something like 28-14.