The Notre Dame Fighting Irish get the home portion of their 2019 schedule underway with a game that really shouldn’t be much of a challenge with their opponent being the New Mexico Lobos. Unfortunately, former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie won’t be on the sidelines after enduring a health scare in the Lobos’ opener. The one danger in this contest is that the Irish could be more focused on the stiff challenge they face next week when they travel to face the Georgia Bulldogs.
Brian Kelly’s squad is coming off an inconsistent, though winning effort at Louisville on Labor Day. While Notre Dame was able to collect 423 yards of offense on the evening, their defense came close to giving up that same amount. In fairness, a host of new starters had some struggles during the first quarter before eventually settling down and allowing just three points over the final three quarters.
Below are some of the key matchups to watch:
QB Ian Book vs. New Mexico Secondary
Book threw for 193 yards and one touchdown against Louisville, but his performance also saw inconsistencies on his throws and a recurrence of his tendency to bolt from the pocket instead of looking for secondary receivers. That running garnered 81 yards, including a 37-yard dash on the first play of the game and an 11-yard touchdown dash near the end of the first half. However, establishing a solid passing game is imperative, given the currently depleted situation at running back.
If New Mexico’s pass defense has a recurrence of their opening effort against Sam Houston State, then Book will have a field day. That’s because the Lobos were shredded for 443 yards, with two Bearkat quarterbacks finding 11 different receivers during the game. Many of the grabs were intermediate tosses, but the Lobos also allowed a 65-yard scoring pass to a wide-open receiver.
MLB Drew White vs. RB Ahmari Davis
White’s early baptism in this starting role against Louisville was a bumpy one, with the Cardinals racking up plenty of early yardage on the ground. As the night went on, the effort improved, though it was clear that it will take a few games for what was an inexperienced unit to coalesce. He finished with five tackles, including two behind the line and also picked up a sack and deflected a pass. The hope is that he can sharpen his game against Davis and he prepares for an onslaught at Georgia.
Davis was the source of over 30 percent of the Lobos offense during their opener and is a receiving threat who can collect plenty of yardage. His 43-yard scoring run gave New Mexico their first touchdown of the game, with another 51-yard run and a 51-yard pass reception also part of his busy day.
RB Tony Jones vs. MLB Alex Hart
Jafar Armstrong’s groin injury early against Louisville will keep him on the sidelines for the next two months, putting the onus on Jones to primarily pick up the slack. Jones did that in the opener by delivering 110 yards on 15 carries and scoring the first touchdown of the season. While Jahmir Smith scored two touchdowns and gained more yardage than he did for all of 2018, it’s Jones who needs to follow Armstrong’s lead from last year. In that instance, he provided an effective running option during Dexter Williams’ four-game suspension.
Hart returned in the Lobos’ opener after playing just three games last year before tearing his ACL. He picked up where he’d left off by bringing down 10 Sam Houston ballcarriers, having been the team leader at the time of injury. Two years ago, he ended the season with 58 tackles, so he’s likely to be very busy against the Irish. For New Mexico’s sake, the hope is that Hary can find a way to neutralize Jones and the other Notre Dame runners.
DE Julian Okwara vs. OT Teton Saltes
Okwara had a relatively quiet night against Louisville with just two tackles, though he also collected a sack. It’s in that latter department.that he needs to break through in 2019 after picking up eight quarterback takedowns last season, a total that could have been much higher, an assessment based on his team-high 21 hurries.
At 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, Saltes has the requisite size to take on defenders, while also having speed and athleticism within that whole package. He’s not a player that will commit ill-advised mistakes, so Okwara figures to be challenged thoughout the game. However, since Saltes can’t play the entire Lobo line, keeping him occupied may open up other opportunities for other Irish defenders.