Players to watch: Notre Dame vs. Vanderbilt
• Vanderbilt has won its last seven regular-season games against non-SEC teams. The Commodores have defeated Middle Tennessee State (three times), Nevada, Alabama A&M, Kansas State and Western Kentucky during that streak.
• Twelve Commodores made their first career starts in a Vanderbilt uniform in the first two games of the season.
• Three graduate transfers — defensive back Alim Muhammad (Holy Cross), punter Parker Thome (Columbia) and defensive lineman Louis Vecchio (Penn) — have carved out roles.
CB Julian Love
The pass breakups have continued in Love’s junior season. He recorded four in the first two games of the season after setting an Irish record with 20 last season. Love will almost certainly be tested against Vanderbilt’s passing game. Wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb can be a tough cover, and wide receiver Chris Pierce (6-foot-4, 215) has a size advantage. Quarterback Kyle Shurmur has yet to throw an interception this season. Love hasn’t picked off a pass yet either. Maybe those zeros will turn into ones on Saturday.
OT Robert Hainsey
The sophomore hasn’t looked the same in his first season as the full-time starter. No Irish offensive lineman has allowed more pressures on quarterback Brandon Wimbush than Hainsey at right tackle. After he struggled against Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary from Michigan, Hainsey allowed six pressures from Ball State’s pass rushers. The right leg injury that forced Hainsey to miss time in preseason camp appears to have hampered his quickness. Hainsey needs to get back on track to give Notre Dame’s offensive line an anchor on the right side.
QB Kyle Shurmur
Only Jay Cutler has thrown more touchdowns as a Vanderbilt quarterback than Kyle Shurmur. His two touchdown passes against Nevada last week pushed his career total to 44. Shurmur’s right arm powers Vanderbilt’s offense. His fourth season as the starting quarterback began with 428 passing yards and four touchdowns on 33-of-49 passing (67.3 percent) in two victories. The Irish will need to try to limit Shurmur‘s ability to find his favorite targets: wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney.
LB Josh Smith
A week after struggling against Ball State’s linebackers, the Irish will be tested by Smith. The senior outside linebacker can cause chaos in the backfield. He already has tallied four tackles for a loss in the first two games of the season. The 6-foot-4, 242-pound Smith is coming off his best game as a Commodore with 10 tackles, three for a loss against Nevada. Fellow outside linebacker Kenny Hebert has four tackles for a loss too.