Notre Dame came into today’s contest with New Mexico with a few questions following their uneven season-opening win. For the first two or so minutes of today’s game, those questions started to mount. Then the Irish woke up and started pouring on the points. In the end, the Irish blew out the Lobos 66-14 to improve to 2-0 on the season heading into next weekend’s showdown with Georgia.
Get used to hearing the word weird, because I used it a lot in this one since it was an odd game in a lot of ways despite it being a laugher. Here are some overreactions from Notre Dame’s 52 point victory.
Feel-good stories all around for Notre Dame
Avery Davis has been one of the most unselfish football players at Notre Dame over the last few years. He moved from quarterback to running back/receiver to defensive back the previous two years. With injuries in the backfield, he moved back to offense this week and responded with a 59-yard touchdown reception on a touch pass out of the backfield from Book.
Then there was Javon McKinley’s insane, tackling-breaking 65-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. McKinley later added his second career touchdown on a 20-yard catch where Book tossed the ball up and let McKinley win a battle for a contested catch. After McKinley’s off-the-field issues earlier this year, it was great to see him respond with such a monster performance after coming into the game with just one career reception.
I wrote last week about getting McKinley on the field more on the outside so that Finke can play more inside and after today, I am doubling down on that.
Once the backups came in, the feel-good stories kept adding up. C’Bo Flemister recorded the first touchdown of his career in the 4th quarter. Then Brendon Clark and Braden Lenzy connected for the first touchdowns of their careers on a 22-yard 4th quarter score. Lenzy had a 52 yard bomb that was stopped short of the endzone from Phil Jurkovec in the 3rd quarter too.
On defense, Shaun Crawford reminded us all that he is a ball-hawk with his first interception of the year and first since 2017. He nearly got his hands on a second interception later in the game as well.
Kyle Hamilton is really, really good
You all know this already, but Kyle Hamilton is really good. We’ve been waiting for him to get his hands on a football here in the early part of the season and Hamilton delivered. He didn’t even get out of the first quarter of his first home game without recording the first interception of his career. Hamilton then raced into the endzone for the first of what figures to be many touchdowns in his career.
Watch for Hamilton to get more and more playing time as the season progresses. He did have a rough drive in the second quarter where he had a bad run fit and then got turned around in coverage, but his immense talent is undeniable.
Notre Dame couldn’t run the football when it mattered
Notre Dame had 54 yards on 16 carries in the first half and 24 of them came on one Ian Book run at the end of the half. Even more concerning, Notre Dame struggled in short-yardage situations for the second week in a row against a very weak defense. New Mexico’s defense is so bad that it shouldn’t have mattered if they were keying on the run, Notre Dame should have been able to run the ball better.
A prime example of how bad the Notre Dame running game was today came in the 3rd quarter with the Irish up 45-7 and facing a 3rd and 1, Notre Dame got stuffed. Against New Mexico. They eventually converted on 4th and 1, but if they can’t pick up a 3rd and 1 versus New Mexico, what should give anyone any hope that they can pick up 3rd and 1 against Georgia?
The Irish were playing without both Jafar Armstrong and Jahmir Smith, but that does not account for all of their problems. And they will be without Armstrong again next week when they travel to Athens. If they struggle to run the ball like that again next week, it is going to be extremely difficult to score any point.
For all of the points the Irish scored, there are concerns on offense heading into Athens
It feels bizarre saying this after the Irish put up more than 50 points, but there are still some concerns with this offense. I already touched on Notre Dame’s struggles running the football, but aside from that, the Irish struggled to push the ball down the field again this week. A lot of Notre Dame’s success in the pass gaming came on passes that traveled five yards or less.
Ian Book did connect with Chase Claypool down the middle of the field on a play-action in the second quarter for a 39-yard touchdown and then later for a 20-yard touchdown, but so much of the passing game this week was once again horizontal. Is Notre Dame saving the vertical game for Georiga? Wishful thinking perhaps.
Had Notre Dame scored the same amount of points, but been more consistent and ran the ball with authority, everyone would be feeling super confident right now. That isn’t what happened though.
Again, it feels weird typing this, but most of the big plays Notre Dame hit today aren’t going to hit against a defense like Georgia. The home run ball was in full effect, but we haven’t seen too many singles at this point from the Notre Dame offense.
Notre Dame’s defense came up with some huge turnovers
Notre Dame’s defense let New Mexico move the ball a bit at times in the first half but came up with three huge turnovers to squash any drives in their tracks. Hamilton started the party with his first-quarter pick-6 while Jalen Elliott and Shaun Crawford both joined in during the second quarter. Without the turnovers, New Mexico might have had more than the seven points they took into the locker room at half time.
There were chances for more turnovers by the defense as well. Crawford just missed a second pick. Elliott had a potential interception hit him in the face before he got his hands on one later as well.
Notre Dame struggled to rush the passer again this week
With both Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara returning for their senior seasons, a lot was expected of the Irish pass-rushing duo this year. Through two games though, it has been Daelin Hayes who has been the most impressive Notre Dame defensive end without question. Kareem was strong against the run today, but Okwara was almost virtually invisible throughout the game.
Notre Dame is going to need more out of both ends to have a chance next weekend against Georgia. What is concerned though is that last year Okwara was consistently in the backfield even if he wasn’t finishing. This year he has been very surprisingly quiet.
Hayes on the other hand, has been very disruptive.
That was just a weird, weird blowout
Notre Dame did what they were supposed to against New Mexico, but watching the game didn’t exactly instill a ton of confidence heading into next weekend. Weird, right? Notre Dame won big. Backups played a lot of snaps. No one got hurt. That was the recipe we were all looking for this week, yet somehow it left most wanting more. That could be a product of raised expectations for this team. It could be cause for concern. At this point, I don’t think we’re going to know until things kickoff next Saturday night in Athens.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot to be happy about in this one, but the lack of pass rush and inability to run the ball have to have Kelly and his staff at least a little concerned at this point. And yes, I am very aware that a lot of the overreactions this week aren’t the most positive despite a 52-point win, but hey, isn’t that why they’re called overreactions in the first place?
The good news is that we don’t have to wait much longer to know just what this team has. After next week there will be doubt either way. For today, everyone should be able to enjoy a blowout 66-14.