SOUTH BEND, Ind.
– Vanderbilt's performance in Saturday's 22-17 loss at No. 8 Notre Dame
might instill confidence in a casual viewer of college football.
But to Commodores head coach Derek Mason
, the ultimate determining factor – the final scoreboard – failed to meet his expectations in South Bend.
"There are no moral victories in this game," Mason said. "You win and you lose, that's it. Let's not try to sugarcoat it with, 'We had a chance.' That's not what you're looking for. You're looking to win."
Indeed, Vanderbilt didn't get the win against the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish. Despite clawing back from a 16-0 deficit and facing a shot at a fourth-quarter, go-ahead drive, the Dores failed to reach the end zone and instead returned to Nashville with their first loss of the season.
None of the black-and-gold faithful – including Mason – were satisfied with the final outcome at Notre Dame. But the Commodores' film review on Sunday will still offer two separate but equally important facts: Vanderbilt lost the football game, but it looked like a gutsy, determined team in overcoming adversity.
"That's the team that we are," safety LaDarius Wiley
said. "Our confidence is very high."
The first half was a tale of another slow start for the Dores. The Fighting Irish ran the ball seemingly at will in building an early 10-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, wide receiver Donaven Tennyson
coughed up a catch at the 1-yard line that was fumbled into the end zone. Notre Dame, which lead 13-0 at the time, recovered for a touchback and turned it into a field goal for a 16-0 lead.
Vanderbilt found a way to recalibrate after halftime. Running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn
capped a 47-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run that made it 16-10 at the end of the third quarter. After Notre Dame responded with a touchdown to make it 22-10, Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur
tossed an 18-yard scoring pass to tight end Jared Pinkney
on the ensuing drive to cut the Irish lead to five, 22-17.
Notre Dame next whiffed on a field goal to give Vanderbilt life on the other end. With 3:39 to play and down five, Shurmur and the Commodores drove downfield eyeing the game-tying touchdown. But Shurmur's fourth-and-4 pass from the Notre Dame 31 to Lipscomb bounced out of the receiver's hands thanks to strong defense by Irish safety Jalen Elliott. That turned the ball over to Notre Dame with 1:07 left.
"I threw it a little high for him and he had to make a great play," Shurmur said. "It just didn't shake out our way."
The matchup didn't shake out Vanderbilt's way thanks, in part, to Vanderbilt's own miscues. It committed three turnovers, including two inside 5-yard line. The Dores also allowed Notre Dame to rush for 245 yards on 48 carries.
But for the third straight week, Vanderbilt came out in the second half a resurgent team. It limited Notre Dame to just six points after intermission; the Irish began the game 4-5 on third down and finished 1-10. And the Commodores stayed the course in a historic environment in South Bend, one featuring a packed house of 77,722 Notre Dame loyalists and yet another national TV audience.
Saturday wasn't a moral victory. But it was a sign of things to come, Mason said.
"I thought this team showed a lot of fight, when it's all said and done," Mason said. "These guys weren't out of the fight. We just had to make something happen."
Now the Commodores must take the next step as they open SEC play next Saturday against South Carolina in Nashville (3 p.m. CT SEC Network). Their 2-1 start equates to 0-0 in SEC play, which means a clean slate is on the docket next week. But no matter Vanderbilt's record, Mason said the Dores are tired of coming up short when it counts. It's time to take what's theirs.
"At some point in time, your culture has got to grow up," Mason said. "The idea of just being in ballgames, man, it ain't good enough. We play in the SEC, and with that being said, we're going to win. I think our guys are going to take it."
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.