The 2019 home opener on the Notre Dame football schedule brings an unfamiliar opponent in the New Mexico Lobos. However, the man serving as their head coach needs no introduction to the Irish faithful since it’s none other than former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie, who’s starting his eighth season at the helm with New Mexico.
Davie has had a couple of winning seasons during his time in Albuquerque, but is coming off back-to-back 3-9 seasons. In 2018, the Lobos won three of their first five contests before then dropping their final seven matchups. Defensive woes served as the key reason for that slide, with New Mexico allowing more than 38 points per game during that collapse.
Note: This year we are going to be doing our opponent previews in order of difficulty – starting with the least difficult opponent of the year. So as we roll these out, know that the order isn’t sequential but rather based on difficulty. Follow along with our countdown!
New Mexico Offense: Guessing Games
A quartet of Lobo players will battle it out in training camp, with Tevaka Tuioti leading the parade after playing just three games before injuries ended his 2018 season. He was replaced by Sheriron Jones, who threw for over 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns, but also tossed 12 picks. Also competing are junior college transfer Brandt Highs and redshirt freshman Trae Hall.
The New Mexico running game offers a limited track record, with three returnees combining for just over 400 yards. Daevon Vigilant has the highest potential among the trio, while Bryson Davis offers veteran leadership. There’s also Bryson Carroll, but all three may end up being overshadowed by Kentrail Moran, who missed the 2018 season because of a knee injury.
There’s plenty of speed among New Mexico’s wideouts, but like the running game, there’s been little production in their backgrounds. Elijah Lilly and Anselem Umeh combined for just 37 grabs, with one of them possibly getting replaced by Q’ Drennan. who returns from a dislocated hip in the 2018 season opener. There’s also a stable of JUCO prospects arriving.
On the line, the Lobos have a pair of good-sized tackles in Javon Mosley and Teton Saltes, but the inside is a question mark. One of the chief goals in this area is to replace All- Conference guard Aaron Jenkins.
New Mexico Defense: Too Many Holes
Davie established his coaching reputation as a defensive tutor, but last season, the Lobos gave up over 36 points per game. Expecting to fix that in the early weeks of the 2019 campaign is unlikely.
The New Mexico defensive line is a veteran one and infused with some JUCO transfers, but the numbers likely won’t inspire a great deal of confidence against a team like Notre Dame. At one end, Nahje Flowers had 5.5 tackles-for-loss among his 26 stops, while nose tackle Aaron Blackwell contributed 29 tackles and four stops behind the line.
At linebacker, Alex Hart returns in the middle for what he and the Lobos hope will be the entire season. In 2018, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, limiting him to just 19 tackles and no big plays on the year. He figures to be pushed by junior Brandon Shook, who took over and finished with 40 tackles, including a pair of sacks.
Manning one wing will be Alexander Vainkolo, who closed out his season last year with 33 tackles, including a pair of stops behind the line. On the other side, sophomore Dylan Horton hopes to deliver a bigger impact than his 13 tackles and one sack last season. He brings good size, but could get pushed for playing time by Devin Sanders.
On the corners, New Mexico has senior Willie Hobdy on one side, a player who saw action in only seven games last year. He ended the year with just 10 tackles, but he delivers speed and he did force a pair of fumbles. His partner at this position, fellow senior Blair Manly only had three stops in 2018 and might have to hold off junior Corey Hightower to keep his starting slot.
New Mexico Special Teams: Average All Around
Sophomore Andrew Shelley ended last year with five missed extra points, but connected on all but one of his eight field goal attempts. One Lobo who got plenty of action was punter Tyson Dyer, who launched 74 punts and averaged 44.3 yards on his boots.
The key player in the kick return area will be Elijah Lilly, who got plenty of practice last season, but only averaged 17.6 yards on his returns. When it comes to returning punts, Drennan is seen as the likely candidate to earn this spot.
The Last Time Notre Dame Played New Mexico
This first-time matchup on the Notre Dame football schedule serves as Davie’s homecoming after his five-year tenure ended following the 2001 season. Davie finished with a 35-25 record, with a pair of 9-3 campaigns followed by losing seasons. His departure led to the hiring debacle involving George O’Leary.