Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 32 of 55 SEPT. 17, 2018 33 insist they'll take more risks. Tarv- er's a good one, but the question is whether Vanderbilt has the horses." Last season Vanderbilt allowed 198.5 yards per game on the ground to rank 100th nationally. With teams having such success running the ball, the Commodores only surrendered 194.6 yards per game through the air to rank 26th in the country. Both Alabama and Georgia rushed for more than 400 yards, while SEC foes overall averaged 259.9 yards per contest on the ground against the Commodores. That will be the top concern when Vanderbilt travels to South Bend. "What Alabama and Georgia did to Vanderbilt in the run game ex- posed a blueprint," Lee explained. "The Irish still have all kinds of tal- ented offensive linemen, even with last year's losses, so I would expect Notre Dame to run fairly well." Up front in the projected starting unit of the team's 3-4 scheme, the Commodores return three players with experience in senior end Dare Odeyingbo, who registered 6.5 sacks in 2017, junior defensive tackle Cameron Tidd and sophomore end Dayo Odey- ingbo. The latter Odeyingbo brother is the player to watch in Lee's eyes. "Dayo Odeyingbo can be a star," Lee stated. "He has a hand injury, so I'm not certain we'll see him against Notre Dame. He had a three-yard fumble return touchdown in a 35-7 week one win over Middle Tennes- see State and is a 6-5, 270-pound ath- lete who can really move. Vanderbilt rarely gets players with his ability. "Also watch for Penn transfer [de- fensive lineman] Louis Vecchio, who is a two-time All-Ivy League pick. I thought he was excellent against Middle Tennessee State." Fifth-year senior Charles Wright is likely the star of the defense and was ranked by Lindy's Sports as the No. 5 draft-eligible outside linebacker heading into the season after leading the team with nine sacks a year ago during a second-team All-SEC (As- sociated Press) campaign. Although listed as an outside line- backer, Wright spends much of his time rushing the passer standing up off the edge in Mason's scheme. The Commodores will likely spread the playing time wealth at the position behind their star senior. "It would have been more had he not played half the year hurt," Lee explained of Wright's sack numbers last year. "He received Vanderbilt's highest grade from Pro Football Fo- cus for week one and will probably see double-teams a lot this year. "Senior inside linebacker Jordan Griffin had eight tackles and was good in week one as well. Sopho- mores Colin Anderson and Dimitri Moore, and freshman Alston Orji all have potential. Vanderbilt will likely rotate a lot here." Senior safety LaDarius Wiley led Vanderbilt in tackles in 2017 and re- turns for a fifth year. However, out- side of junior cornerback Joejuan Williams, who was second in the team with 10 passes defended a year ago, the group remains a little bit of a mystery until more games are played. "Sophomore safety/nickel Tae Daley graded well in week one, as did junior safety Frank Coppet, which was a surprise," Lee noted. "Williams is the best player. "He's not a playmaker, but he's a physical corner whom teams throw away from a lot. Williams could have played anywhere in the country out of high school and should make an NFL roster one day. "But, no doubt, it's still a question. Donovan Sheffield, a senior, made his first start at cornerback in the opener. It remains to be seen what they have aside Wiley in terms of consistent production." Offense has been the root of the program's struggles for much of Ma- son's four years in Nashville. The unit has not ranked higher than 102nd nationally in yards per game under Mason. But with some questions on defense and more re- turning starters, the unit may be counted on a little more in 2018 to take a step forward and become con- sistently productive. It all starts with quarterback Kyle Shurmur. The senior threw for 2,823 yards and a single-season school-record 26 touchdowns last year along with 10 interceptions. He returns aiming to lead the Commodores offense to new heights under Mason. "I think this time next year, he'll be on an NFL roster, albeit probably as a third quarterback," Lee said of Shurmur. "He's got a strong enough arm and a good feel for the game. He plays his best in hurry-up situa- tions, though Vanderbilt rarely runs them. "He's not a runner and his accu- racy sometimes struggles, but his 26 touchdown passes last year were a school record. He's good enough to win with, for sure." There are question marks around Shurmur, however. Ralph Webb — the team's leading rusher in 2017 with 831 yards and 11 touchdowns — departed. That leaves senior Khari Blasingame as the top back in terms of returning production (147 yards on 45 carries). Blasingame is joined by senior Ke'Shawn Vaughn and junior Jam- auri Wakefield. The trio combined for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries in the opener versus the Blue Raiders. GAME PREVIEW: VANDERBILT Facts & Figures VANDERBILT AT NOTRE DAME Game Info Date: Sept. 15, 2018. Site: Notre Dame Stadium (77,622). Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. ET. Television: NBC. Radio: This broadcast can be heard live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio (channel 129) and on Notre Dame's IMG affiliates. Series Facts: This will be the third meeting all time between the two programs with Notre Dame win- ning the first two in 1995 (41-0) and 1996 (14-7). Head Coaches: Vanderbilt — Derek Mason (20-31, fifth season); Notre Dame — Brian Kelly (71-34, eighth season). Noting Vanderbilt: The Commodores have beaten just one Power Five non-conference opponent under Mason … In program history, Vanderbilt has just two wins over a ranked non-SEC team — Kansas State in 2017 (14-7) and North Carolina State in 1946 (7-0) … The Commodores have won eight straight games and 10 of their last 12 versus non-SEC foes … Since 2011, the Dores are 27-6 against non-SEC competition, including 2-2 in bowl games.

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