Vandy's Jared Pinkney: 'We showed we were the better team'

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Following a close defeat at Notre Dame last week, Ball State coach Mike Neu said there are no moral victories — but with a smirk on his face before lauding his team’s performance.

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason on Saturday? Not so much. He said what he meant.

“Yeah, we’re past that,” said Mason on moral victories. “At some point in time your culture has to grow up. The idea of just being involved ain’t good enough.”

No. 8 Notre Dame (3-0) knocked Vanderbilt to 20-32 under Mason with the 22-17 win, and 2-13 against ranked teams. Missed opportunities, especially in Irish territory, filled the Commodores with regret.

“We were supposed to win that game. We showed that we were the better team,” said Jared Pinkney, Vandy’s junior tight end. “We had too many red zone opportunities and too many opportunities near the goal line that we didn’t capitalize.”

The Commodores (2-1) crossed the 50-yard line on seven consecutive drives but managed 17 points. Vandy fumbled and threw an interception at the goal line, missed a 43-yard field goal and turned it over on downs at the Notre Dame 31-yard line.

Junior Donaven Tennyson nearly brought Vandy its first points of the afternoon, hauling in a 20-yard catch by the goal line. But as cornerback Tony Pride Jr. halted Tennyson’s momentum, safety Alohi Gillman ripped out the football. Notre Dame’s Julian Love recovered it in the back of the end zone, in a chaotic touchback scrum in the second quarter.

Senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur reenergized the Commodore offense in the second half, but his interception concluded a promising 6-play, 51-yard drive. On third-and-8 from the Notre Dame 41 in the third, Pride picked off a 50-50 heave to the end zone.

A slightly misfired pass to Kalija Lipscomb on fourth-and-8 also cost Shurmur. This time, it came when Vandy marched to the Notre Dame 31, trailing 22-17 with 2:09 remaining. Lipscomb almost hauled in Shurmur’s high throw by the sideline. He had it momentarily, but couldn’t control it.

“I feel like it went a little high for him, and he had to make a great play,” Shurmur said. “It just didn’t shake out our way.”

Shurmur found a groove in the final two and a half quarters. He finished with 326 yards, one touchdown and an interception on 26-of-43 passing. Shurmur excelled with his deep ball, completing 10 passes of 15 yards or more. Six Vandy receivers caught a pass of at least 18 yards.

“Our matchups on the outside were much better,” Mason said. “I thought we could have thrown for 600 in this ballgame. I just liked the matchups.”

Lipscomb, as usual, emerged as Shurmur’s favorite target. The junior recorded 11 catches and 89 yards on a game-high 18 targets. Pinkney eclipsed the 100-yard mark on just five catches, tallying 111 yards and scoring a touchdown.

“Again, I thought instead of just sitting there and trying to take shots, man, we let (Shurmur) run the offense,” Mason said. “When he runs the offense, he’ll pick you apart. I don’t care who you’re going against. The pressure can’t get there fast enough. He has a quick release.

“I thought he released the ball fast, got it out. Put pressure on Notre Dame to get pressure on him. That’s why they started pressuring him. It opened the game up and we were able to take advantage of matchups. Thought they did a good job outside.”

The Irish took advantage of poor first half tackling to revamp their running game. Notre Dame passed last week’s rushing total against Ball State (117) on its first six drives (142). Offensive coordinator Chip Long abandoned his previously conservative strategy, running quarterback Brandon Wimbush 19 times for 84 yards.

A more open offense gifted the Irish their first 100-yard rusher on the season. Junior running back Tony Jones Jr. amassed 148 yards on 17 carries and added two catches for 56 yards. Notre Dame finished with 45 carries for 245 yards — good for 5.1 yards per carry.

Irish coach Brian Kelly took the blame for last week’s unimpressive game plan. But this time, he pinned Notre Dame’s struggles on not being a finished product by week three.

“So if anyone wants to write that greatness column, I would tap the brakes,” Kelly said.

Which explains Vandy conveying the same message on a different tune compared to Ball State. The Commodores refused to take solace from hanging with the nation’s eighth-ranked club. They felt like the better team.

Even with a resurgence as impressive as Jones’, Vandy was not about to offer credit.

“I don’t think he caused any issues,” said senior safety LaDarius Wiley on Jones. “I think it was us, the lack of tackling and the lack of wrapping up. That’s on us. I feel like we got in our own heads and didn’t do what we needed to do.”

Vanderbilt’s Jared Pinkney against Notre Dame Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.