What The Irish Learned

Vanderbilt: What The Irish Learned

Only two teams in the country have played a Big Ten opponent and a Southeastern Conference foe in the first three weeks of the 2018 season – Notre Dame and Purdue.

Yet the eighth-rated Irish are the one of that duo that remains unbeaten.

As usual, that indicates the Notre Dame schedule is not for the faint of heart.

This week the Irish head on the road for the first time this fall against Wake Forest, a team they defeated 48-37 last November in Notre Dame Stadium.

Consider some leftovers from Notre Dame’s victory over unbeaten Vanderbilt Saturday afternoon:

  1. The Irish are a font of consistency. Notre Dame in three outings has scored 24, 24 and 22 points. Only a missed two-point conversion Saturday against Vanderbilt prevented a trifecta. On defense the Irish have allowed 17, 16 and 17 points. It doesn’t get much more consistent than that. The Notre Dame offense has shown flashes in a variety of areas, but the Irish will work on becoming steadier in their attack. If Brandon Wimbush continues to mature in his dual-purpose play, expect Notre Dame to put more points on the board in the weeks to come – even if head coach Brian Kelly understands a real team identity has yet to be established.
  2. No one said it would be easy. Kelly noted after the game Saturday that the Irish so far are simply not a team that’s going to go out and win 52-3 on a weekly basis. But he likes the physical nature of his squad and the fact his guys have embraced the grind-it-out approach that has been required. Expect more of that blue-collar angle as the season progresses.
  3. Eliminating turnovers is key. It’s not hard to see the difference between Wimbush throwing three interceptions against Ball State and Notre Dame as a team playing turnover-free football versus Vanderbilt. When the Irish play mistake-free football they are tough to beat – and that’s been a noticeable trait of many of the better Notre Dame teams in recent years.
  4. Thank you, Tony Jones Jr. As much as sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong had earned the attention of Irish fans with his touchdown-making skills, there may have been nothing more welcome to see than the all-around play of Tony Jones Jr. against Vanderbilt. Both his running and receiving made a difference against the Commodores. When Kelly after the game talked to his team about toughness, he singled out Jones – and that brought a sustained roar from his teammates. Point made.
  5. One step at a time on defense. Three weeks have proven Notre Dame has play-makers at every level of the defense. Saturday it just happened to be the defensive backs who put themselves in position to make some of the critical plays that made the difference between winning and losing. Kelly tagged his defense as (so far) good but not yet great. The ability to reach more of that potential may be the difference in a good versus great season.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.