Football is finally coming back to South Bend as the seventh ranked Fighting Irish will be hosting the New Mexico Lobos for the first time in both programs’ histories this Saturday September 14th. With the Irish jumping up one spot in this week’s AP poll, Notre Dame will look to show the nation they are deserving of their ranking in this week’s matchup.
After an odd start to the season with the first game being Labor Day Monday and having an early bye last week, the Irish look to work out the kinks, shake off the jitters, and hopefully put up some big numbers agains the Lobos. New Mexico is coming off back to back 3-9 seasons and gave up over 550 yards of offense in their first and only game of the season to Sam Houston State. As this matchup was supposed to feature the return of former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie back to South Bend, Coach Davie has been battling some health issues and unfortunately will not be making the trip. New Mexico’s offensive line coach, Sage Tuitele, is expected to take Davie’s spot this week while he is still recovering.
As seven of Notre Dame’s twelve opponents have scheduled bye weeks leading up to their battles with the Irish, New Mexico will be coming off a full two weeks of rest and preparation for their trip to South Bend. Coach Kelly in his weekly press conference spoke about the idea of needing to prepare for potentially three different quarterbacks that the Irish could have to defend, as well as the experience that the Lobos’ offensive line is returning. Behind the experienced offensive line, Ahmari Davis lead the Lobos’ rushing attack in week one finishing the game with 107 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries. Duel threat quarterback Sheriron Jones tacked on another two rushing touchdowns and will be one of the three quarterbacks that the Irish defense will look to contain. With New Mexico being a more run focused team, the Irish defensive line and linebackers will need to prove their ability to get off blocks and fill the holes to contain the Lobos’ rushing attack. I expect a pretty heavy rotation of Irish defenders to see playing time this week allowing game reps and experience for the younger players as well as to keep the veterans healthy and fresh for the battle coming up against Georgia. I don’t expect the New Mexico offensive line to be any substantial challenge and hope to see Irish veterans, Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem in the backfield early and often.
Looking at the offensive side of the ball, we still don’t really know what to expect from the play calling of Chip Long for this game. This should be a time used to work out the kinks found in the Louisville matchup and rely more heavily on the passing game with multiple Irish running backs sustaining injuries. Starting running back, Jafar Armstrong’s injury seems to be more significant than what was initially reported. Reports are saying that Armstrong suffered an abdominal tear in which he has already undergone surgery to repair, however the time table for his return looks to be between five and eight weeks down the road. Jahmir Smith who carried the ball eight times for 24 yards agains the Cardinals also suffered a sprained toe during practice this past week, but has continued practicing and should be able to play this upcoming weekend. With the Irish backfield taking these hits, Coach Kelly has also moved the junior “jack of all trades” Avery Davis back to running back. Davis, who was initially recruited as a quarterback, spent time at running back during the 2018 season, was moved to cornerback in the Spring, and is now back to the offensive side of the ball to round out the Irish depth chart at running back this week.
On a more positive side of the injury bug, Irish tight end Cole Kmet – and noted extremely fast healer – should be cleared to play against New Mexico after suffering a broken collar bone just over one month ago. Kmet was seen at practice catching passes just two weeks after this injury, which to me sounds absurd! Although he will be cleared to play this week, I am hoping that he sees very limited (maybe even no) playing time. As this should not be an opponent that Notre Dame should struggle with, I would rather give Kmet an extra week to heal up and make sure that everything is in line for the Georgia game.
Coming in to Saturday’s matchup, Notre Dame opened up as a 30+ point favorite; the line has fluctuated anywhere from 35.5 to 38.5. This is only the fourth time since 2005 that Notre Dame has been favored by over 30 points and has yet to cover the spread in those matchups. I do not think that this will be a repeat of last year’s week two trap where the Irish squeaked out a win against Ball State. That game was played on the heels of an extremely emotional win over Michigan in the season opener, and I think the Irish are coming in with a different perspective after the first game of the 2019 season. In this weeks press conference, the players emphasized the focus on this game, the fact that they don’t want to overlook their opponents, and the importance of playing one week at a time. I expect the Irish to be able to do what they want both offensively and defensively in this game and should not struggle to take care of business. I am hoping that Book can execute a very efficient offensive scheme, go through the necessary reads, and look more confident in the pocket than what we last saw against Louisville. If he is able to do this, backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec should be able to get some valuable game reps – hopefully coming towards the end of the third quarter and all of the fourth quarter. With that being said, I do expect New Mexico to put up some points towards the end of the game while the younger Irish players are on the field, but again that will be valuable game experience and teaching material that will benefit the Irish in the long run. I think Notre Dame will be able to come away with a convincing 45-13 victory with the majority of New Mexico’s points coming later in the game.
As the Irish kick off the home season at 2:30pm on Saturday, the players and fans will be excited to finally see the team at home. Home openers are always a very exciting atmosphere at Notre Dame stadium and I don’t expect anything less this year. Go Irish. Beat Lobos.
A look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Louisville: 1-1, beat Eastern Kentucky 42-0
New Mexico: 1-0, coming off bye week, beat Sam Houston State in week one 39-31
Georgia: 2-0, currently ranked #3, beat Murray State 63-17
Virginia: 2-0, currently ranked #25, beat William and Mary 52-17
Bowling Green: 1-1, lost to Kansas State 52-0
USC: 2-0, currently ranked #24, beat Stanford 45-20
Michigan: 2-0, currently ranked #10, beat Army 24-21 in 2OT
Virginia Tech: 1-1, beat Old Dominion 31-17
Duke: 1-1, beat North Carolina A&T 45-13
Navy: 1-0, beat Holy Cross 45-7 in week one
Boston College: 2-0, beat Richmond 45-13
Stanford: 1-1, lost to USC 45-20