The Lobos and Irish will meet for the first time when Brian Kelly squares off with Saga Tuitele on Saturday afternoon. Now, some may be wondering why Bob Davie won’t be leading the Lobos into Notre Dame Stadium in what would have been a homecoming for the former Irish head coach. Instead, following a health scare that will keep Davie sidelined indefinitely, Tuitele will take over the head coaching duties for the duration of Davie's absence.
New Mexico's start to the season was far from remarkable as the Lobos pulled out an eight-point win against Sam Houston State of the FCS' Southland Conference. Ahmari Davis was the focal point offensively for New Mexico, eclipsing the century mark on the ground with 107 yards on 16 carries and finishing as the Lobos' second-leading receiver with a pair of catches for 58 yards.
The last two games that New Mexico has played against Power 5 competition have not been extremely friendly as the fans in Albuquerque have watched the Lobos struggle on the road. Against both Texas A&M (2017) and Wisconsin (2018), the Lobos posted just 14 points in each game while allowing 55 and 45 points, respectively. Their record against now-independent in-state rival New Mexico State isn't much better, as the Aggies and Lobos have split the last four meetings.
Despite a win against Louisville in Week 1, Notre Dame likewise didn't start 2019 as many expected, as the Cardinals posted 14 quick points in the first quarter to end the first quarter tied with the Irish. But Clark Lea's defense tightened up the rest of the way — allowing just a single Blanton Creque field goal in the final 45 minutes — while the offense steadily built the lead over the remainder of the game. Ian Book was held under 200 passing yards (14-for-23, 193 yards and a touchdown) but rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown while Tony Jones Jr. led the Irish on the ground with 15 carries for 110 yards and a score.
New Mexico at Notre Dame
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 2:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Notre Dame -35
When New Mexico Has the Ball
New Mexico utilized both Brandt Hughes and Sheriron Jones at quarterback against Sam Houston State, and they'll look to approach their combined 340-yard passing effort after the Irish held Louisville quarterback Jawon Pass to just 134 yards through the air. The two found nine different receivers, with Anu Somoye leading the way with 62 yards and Elijah Lilly equaling Somoye for the team lead in receptions with three apiece.
The ground game was the entirety of what worked for New Mexico when it came to scoring production. Neither quarterback threw for a touchdown though Jones ran for two of them on six carries for 35 yards, with Davis leading the way. The pair ran for an average of 6.5 yards per carry in Week 1, a mark that would certainly be impressive if repeated against the vaunted Irish front.
Speaking of which, Notre Dame's defense got off to a good start, recovering three Louisville fumbles. New starting linebackers Drew White and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah each notched two TFLs, while White, Kurt Hinish and Daelin Hayes each recorded a sack. Though inexperienced at spots, this unit ranks among the nation's best in talent and depth.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Ian Book had far from his best aerial game in an Irish uniform, but his ball security and ground game more than made up for the lack of passing yards. Book was just 14-for-23 passing for 193 yards and a touchdown, but he added 81 yards and an additional score on 14 carries. Even after losing two top-10 draft picks from the 2018 offensive line, this year's unit allowed just two sacks of Book in a confidence-building opener.
Book, however, was not the leading rusher last Monday against Louisville, as that honor went to newly featured back Tony Jones Jr. Taking a substantially larger role after Jafar Armstrong departed with an injury after just three total touches, Jones rushed 15 times for 110 yards and a touchdown. The receiving corps featured an intriguing mix of old and new faces, the former group highlighted by Chase Claypool's 94 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, with the latter group featuring tight end Tommy Tremble (three catches, 49 yards and a touchdown).
Defensively, the Lobos had a difficult time keeping the Bearkats off the scoreboard, allowing 31 points but just eight in the final 15 minutes. Johnny Hernandez and Alex Hart led the Lobos in tackles with 11 and 10, respectively, while Adebayo Soremekun, Jacobi Hearn and Dylan Horton all notched a sack.
While a Davie-Notre Dame matchup would have been intriguing, the Irish hope Saturday is business as usual. They'll enter as favorites by nearly five touchdowns and, while that mark might be tough to cover, it reveals a good barometer for the difference in talent between the two teams.
Prediction: Notre Dame 52, New Mexico 13
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.