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Notre Dame vs. Vanderbilt: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?

Notre Dame's Brian Kelly talks about gains in the Fighting Irish passing game and the team's need to continue improving.

WHO? No. 8 Notre Dame (2-0) vs.Vanderbilt (2-0).

WHAT? A chance to give reason to forget about the egg the Irish laid against Ball State a week ago, despite managing a 24-16 victory. While Notre Dame winning was never truly in doubt, last Saturday did not feature the blowout widely-expected. Having notably less trouble with an SEC opponent, even one from the SEC’s cellars, would mark last week’s struggles an aberration, rather than a precursor.

WHEN? 2:30 p.m. ET. That is not a typo. This game kicks off an hour earlier than usual afternoon games do at home.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.

NBC will have the national broadcast, with the game streaming online here.

As always, NBC Sports Gold is available to international fans.

WHY? Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick has made it a scheduling emphasis to include “data points” against at least four of the Power Five conferences each season. Notre Dame’s partial membership with the ACC both helps and inhibits the intent, checking off one conference but filling five weekends. The Pac-12 portion is easy, thanks to Stanford and USC. More years than not include a regional Big Ten foe, most notably Michigan this year and next.

At that point, Swarbrick has to find an SEC or Big 12 opponent each season. This year it is Vanderbilt. Not every year can feature a powerhouse like Georgia, as both 2017 was and 2019 will be. Not every year should, either.

In addition to the Bulldogs, Arkansas (2020, 2025) and Texas A&M (2024, 2025) both hold future dates. With home-and-home series against Oklahoma (2012, 2013) and Texas (2015, 2016) recently in the books, no future Big 12 games are scheduled at the moment, though a gap in this intention does exist from 2021 to 2023. Looking even further down the line, the Irish are slated to meet Alabama in 2028 and 2029.

BY HOW MUCH? Vanderbilt is not Ball State. That cuts a few ways. One of them is that the Commodores are more talented, simply speaking. An effect of that is they will be less willing to take what the Notre Dame defense offers. When the Cardinals ran 97 plays a week ago, it came as a direct result of averaging 3.6 yards per play. It was not an up-tempo approach; it was a mind-numbingly methodical scheme acceptance of the Irish focusing on avoiding a costly mistake.

As far as Notre Dame’s defense should be concerned, that worked.

It will not this week. Vanderbilt senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur is too good and too experienced to be given that leeway. Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea — a Commodores fan growing up as well as an alum — knows as much, and thus will not take the same approach. That should create both turnovers and a few Vanderbilt big plays. (Context: Ball State had a total of one play gaining more than 20 yards.)

Those turnovers could give Notre Dame’s offense a short field, a valuable commodity for a team struggling to find its rhythm. Those big plays should, naturally, bring the Commodores closer to the end zone, if not actually into it.

In other words, the over/under of 51 total points may be a bit low, unless factoring in Notre Dame’s red-zone defense, while the spread favoring the Irish by 13.5 is a tough one to shade either direction.

Notre Dame 34, Vanderbilt 16.
(2-0 in pick; 1-1 against the spread, 2-0 point total.)

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