SOUTH BEND – On a day when No. 8 Notre Dame’s offense remained a work in progress, the Fighting Irish got another big play from its defense to hold off upset-minded Vanderbilt in a 22-17 victory Saturday.
Safety Jalen Elliott knocked the ball loose from Vanderbilt receiver Kalija Lipscomb with 1:07 remaining to give Notre Dame a fourth-down stop against the Commodores. Last week, Elliott had a pair of interceptions in 3-0 Notre Dame’s win over Ball State.
“I’m proud of the effort and the way we competed,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “We’re trying to find our identity on offense. We’re far from where we want to be on the offensive line and as an offense. Our defense is good but not a great defense yet. But there are a lot of positives to take from this.”
Kyle Shurmur threw for 326 yards and one touchdown for Vanderbilt (2-1), rallying his team back from a 16-3 halftime deficit. His fourth-and-4 pass from the Notre Dame 31 to Lipscomb, who caught a game-high 11 passes for 89 yards, was grabbed by the receiver at the Irish 11.
But Elliott, with some help from the ground, knocked the ball loose and incomplete.
“I threw it a little high to him (Lipscomb) and he had to make a great play, but it just didn’t shake out our way,” Shurmur said.
Vandy managed just a last-play field goal in the first half by Ryley Guay to go into the locker room trailing 16-3.
“Kyle did a great job in the second half,” coach Derek Mason said. “I thought we were going to go down there and win. But the untimely turnovers cost us. For us it was another slow start and missed opportunities.”
Vanderbilt finished with 420 yards to 380 for the Irish, who forced three turnovers. Notre Dame, which entered the game 104th in rushing offense at 124.5 yards per game, finished with 245 on the ground.
“That’s an SEC team and we ran well today,” Kelly added.
Tony Jones Jr. finished with 118 yards on 17 carries for Notre Dame (3-0). He also caught two passes for 56 yards.
“I feel like I’m in high school again, getting a lot of carries,” Jones said.
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who had 297 passing yards but three interceptions in the 24-16 victory against 34½-point underdog Ball State, threw for 122 yards and added 84 yards on the ground, including a 13-yard scramble for a touchdown.
Wimbush was not sacked and did not commit a turnover.
“I think we’re still trying to find our identity,” Wimbush said of offense. “We fought play in and play out.”
Notre Dame got a 2-yard TD pass from backup quarterback Ian Book to tight end Nic Weishar early in the fourth quarter for a 22-10 lead.
“We have to keep our foot on the pedal for all four quarters,” Wimbush added.