Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 24, 2018

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

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26 SEPT. 24, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED THE IRISH OFFENSE BOUNCES BACK Most would admit that Notre Dame's offensive performance against Ball State Sept. 8 left much to be desired. The Irish rushed for just 117 yards on 41 attempts (2.9 yards per carry), and senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush threw three interceptions in the 24-16 victory. It wasn't a flawless performance against Vanderbilt a week later, but both Wimbush and the Irish offen- sive line took steps forward. Wimbush finished with 206 yards of total offense (122 passing and 84 on the ground) and scored his first rushing touchdown of the season. Most importantly for head coach Brian Kelly and company, the start- ing signal-caller had zero turnovers. Notre Dame did not allow a single sack and permitted four tackles for loss, which was quite the improve- ment from the four sacks and 10 tack- les for loss the group allowed against the Cardinals the previous week. The Irish also found some con- sistency with their ground attack, amassing 245 yards and one touch- down on 48 attempts (5.1 yards per carry). In the first two games, Notre Dame averaged just 124.5 yards and 2.8 yards per rush. The total versus Vanderbilt was only four yards short of the 249 the Irish gained in the first two weeks combined. "We had a tough week last week, and a lot of it fell on me," Kelly said. "I did a poor job preparing our foot- ball team. There was a lot of move- ment, a lot of stunting, things that I wish that I did a better job. That's behind us. "We saw some things today — we were running today much better. We saw our cuts, and we were fitting much better. … We had two really good opponents that have tested us, and I think you're going to start to see that there's much more of a con- fidence level starting to emerge with that group that they can be effective all year." Junior running back Tony Jones Jr. led the way with a career-high 118 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries. Wimbush led the team in car- ries with 19, but it wasn't necessarily a concerted effort to get the senior more involved on the ground. "Brandon is part of our running game," Kelly noted. "We want to fo- cus on the things that he does well, and he runs the football. He also throws it. He also is a good leader, and he's a great competitor. "… We all should just kind of get used to the fact that he's going to be part of our running game each and every week. Some weeks he may get more carries than others, but he's cer- tainly part of it." IRISH UNABLE TO SUSTAIN FAST STARTS For the third straight game this season, Notre Dame began put points on the board on its opening possession. The Irish didn't get the ball into the end zone against Vanderbilt the way they did against Michigan and Ball State, but they were knocking on the door with a goal-to-go situation before settling for a 26-yard field goal to take an early lead. The Irish have outscored op- ponents 51-19 in the first half this season and 31-3 in the first quarter, but have been outscored in two of the three second halves. A 10-10 tie against Ball State in the final 30 min- utes is the outlier. After taking a 16-3 lead into half- time, the Fighting Irish mustered just six second-half points while the Commodores turned it into a much closer contest with a pair of touchdowns. Notre Dame has led by an average of 10.7 points heading into intermis- sion, but its average margin of vic- tory is just 6.7 points per game after three weeks. Head coach Brian Kelly noted that the quick starts are not the result of opening games with a set script of plays, but did say his team could learn from its early successes. VANDERBILT GAME NOTES BY COREY BODDEN After Notre Dame managed just 124.5 rushing yards per game and 2.8 yards per attempt in its first two contests, the offensive line paved the way for 245 yards and 5.1 yards per carry against Vanderbilt. PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL MISCELLANEOUS NOTES • Notre Dame's nine passes broken up were the most in a game since it registered 10 against Michigan State on Sept. 17, 2011. • Sophomore tight end Brock Wright and freshman wide receiver Kevin Austin both caught their first career passes in the win. Wright's went for nine yards, while Austin's resulted in a four-yard gain. • In 13 of Notre Dame's last 16 games, the Irish have forced a punt or a turnover on an opponent's opening drive of a game, including against the Commodores. • In Notre Dame's last five victories, oppo- nents have failed to score 20 points or more. • Junior safety Alohi Gilman's strip of Vanderbilt junior wide receiver Donaven Ten- nyson in the second quarter near the goal line was his first forced fumble in an Irish uniform. • Junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. registered his second career interception late in the third quarter.

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