Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2018

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

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Page 34 of 55 SEPT. 17, 2018 35 BY BRYAN DRISKELL VANDERBILT RUNNING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME RUN DEFENSE The Commodores struggled to the run the foot- ball last season, ranking 120th in the country in yards per game (107.2) and 106th in yards per at- tempt (3.7). And that was with Ralph Webb at run- ning back, the program's all-time leading rusher. Webb is now on the practice squad of the New England Patriots, and a trio of backs will be tasked with replacing him. Senior Khari Blasingame, junior Ke'Shawn Vaughn and sophomore Jamauri Wake- field combined for 145 yards and averaged 5.2 per carry in Vanderbilt's 35-7 season opening victory over Middle Tennessee Sept. 1. Vanderbilt made an early statement in the win, ripping off a 30-yard touchdown run on the first drive of the game to convert a fourth-and-one. The return of all five starters from last season's offensive line — including 6-6, 318-pound senior left tackle Justin Skule — certainly helps matters, and the Commodores did end the 2017 season with 246 yards on the ground in a 42-24 win over Tennessee. In fact, after rushing for more than 100 yards just once in the first six games, Vanderbilt had at least 174 yards in three of the final six games and had four games with more than 100 yards. Notre Dame ranked just 56th in run defense a season ago, but the Irish return five starters from the front seven, and they showed flashes of being stout against the run last fall. The Fighting Irish definitely kicked the 2018 season off well, limiting the Wolverines to just 58 rushing yards (1.8 yards per carry). The return of senior defensive tackle Jerry Til- lery and senior linebackers Te'von Coney and Drue Tranquill adds to the optimism about the Irish ground defense this season. That trio combined for 20 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in the win over Michigan, but it was the emergence of junior defensive end Khalid Kareem (eight tackles, 1.5 stops for loss and one sack) that could take the ground defense to the next level. Kareem was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week after the Michigan victory. Advantage: Notre Dame VANDERBILT PASSING GAME VS. NOTRE DAME PASS DEFENSE Senior Kyle Shurmur is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. He entered Vanderbilt's matchup with Nevada need- ing just 2,962 passing yards and 20 touchdown tosses to become the program's all-time leader in those categories. Shurmur, the son of New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, passed for 2,823 yards and a single-season school-record 26 scores last fall while throwing just 10 interceptions. His top two pass catchers from a season ago are gone, but Shurmur will have plenty of weapons. Junior Kalija Lipscomb returns after hauling in 37 passes for 610 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns in 2017. Shurmur will also have junior Jared Pinkney back in the lineup after the 6-4, 255-pound tight end caught 22 passes for 279 yards and three scores last season. Vanderbilt did not run the football well last fall, but the offensive line did an excellent job protecting Shurmur when he dropped back to throw the foot- ball. Shurmur and the Commodore quarterbacks threw 403 passes last season and were sacked just 19 times, which ranked 28th in the nation. On PaPer Senior left tackle Justin Skule — who checks in at 6-6, 318 pounds — is one of five returning starters along Vanderbilt's offensive line, which allowed just 19 sacks in 2017 (28th nationally). PHOTO COURTESY VANDERBILT ATHLETICS GAME PREVIEW: VANDERBILT

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