A convincing 66-14 victory over the New Mexico Lobos is exactly what the Irish needed in their second game of the season and first game in front of the Notre Dame faithful in South Bend this weekend. For the first time in the program’s history, the Irish were able to cover a 30+ point spread and took care of business, moving to 2-0 on the season. After a shaky performance against Louisville in the opening game, Notre Dame was able to address a lot of the lingering questions from week one and build confidence going into Georgia week.
For only the second time in the Brian Kelly era the Fighting Irish put up over 60 points in a game – the only other time coming in 2015 in a 62-27 home victory against UMass. A slow and sputtering start for quarterback Ian Book and the offense turned into a walloping as the game progressed. This was finally a game where Notre Dame was able to beat a team like they were supposed to – scoring efficiently, and putting up a lot of offensive numbers. Book finished the completing 15 of his 24 pass attempts for 360 yards and five touchdowns while tacking on nine rushes for another 46 yards and one touchdown. These impressive numbers came in about two and a half quarters of play as Book was able to help the Irish jump out to a significant lead and allow for meaningful reps to be taken by backup quarterbacks Phil Jurkovec and Brendon Clark. Jurkovec’s first completion for 52 yards to Braden Lenzy looked more like the Jurkovec that Irish fans were expecting rather than the performance they were given during the Spring Game. I thought that Book looked a lot more comfortable in the pocket than he did against the Cardinals in game one although it is still concerning that it took the offense a quarter to get going.
The Irish finished the first quarter with only 45 yards of total offense – looking far from what a playoff contending offense should look like. Needless to say, this was relatively masked by the explosive numbers put up through the remaining three quarters of the game, however it is something that could prove to be extremely troublesome against more formidable opponents. With the only first quarter points coming on a Kyle Hamilton pick six – his first interception and touchdown of his young Notre Dame career, Book and the offense went off for 31 points in the second quarter alone. Chase Claypool lead the Irish receivers with 96 yards on four catches, one of which going for a touchdown. Javon McKinley added another two receiving touchdowns while Braden Lenzy, Avery Davis, and Chris Finke were all on the receiving end of a touchdown pass as well. With the Irish still battling key injuries at tight end, receiver, and running back, it was great to see that Avery Davis and Javon McKinley – who were relative unknowns coming into Saturday’s game – were able to step in and make impactful plays at the receiver and running back positions. With that being said, the Notre Dame offensive line, a position that I did not think would be the cause of much concern, still remains as a big question mark after another subpar performance on Saturday. The right side of the line, particularly Robert Hainsey and Liam Eichenberg have been playing like the veterans that they are, but I have not been impressed by the play of the rest of the line through the first two games. The Irish rushing attack is yet to see a big hole opened up by the line and if Notre Dame expects to have any sort of success against these higher ranked teams, running the ball is going to need to be a more significant part of the offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Asmar Bilal lead the Irish attack with seven tackles while Jalen Elliott, Shaun Crawford, and Kyle Hamilton each came up with an interception (all coming in the first half). As mentioned above, Hamilton’s pick six came with the help of senior defensive end Daelin Hayes who was able to get a hand on the pass and deflect it enough to allow Hamilton to make a play. In my opinion, Hayes doesn’t get enough credit for his versatility and value to the Notre Dame defense, however, it speaks volumes when an athlete like Hayes is considered a “back up” – showing the Irish depth at defensive end. There were also multiple instances where the Irish were in the Lobos backfield but didn’t seem to be able to make the tackles for loss. This is going to need to be a major area of improvement if we hope to compete with Georgia this upcoming weekend. Sticking on the defensive side of the ball, I thought not only in the Notre Dame game, but in games across the college football landscape, there were way too many “ticky-tack” pass interference calls this weekend. Yes, the Irish defenders need to clean up their play and not be put into these situations to begin with, but penalties like those are what could swing a closer game in the future and need to be avoided.
This is another game where, looking at the box score, it is very hard to complain. I think this game shows that the Irish are taking another step in the right direction. Last year the team seemed to overlook more inferior opponents like Ball State in week two, which turned the game into a much closer outcome than what it should have been. By being able to handle business easily this shows that both the players and the coaching staff were not overlooking New Mexico in preparation for the week three matchup with Georgia. As the Irish backups were able to get meaningful game reps, I think it would have been feasible for Notre Dame to put up 75+ points this weekend if they really wanted to. A blowout like this should not be looked at as disrespectful towards New Mexico – it was imperative that the Irish backups, especially quarterbacks, got legitimate reps and a chance to run actual plays rather than coming in at the end of the game and running multiple handoffs in a row to run out the clock. This was a the confidence-inspiring win that the Irish needed before heading on the road to Athens and it officially marking the start of Georgia week.