Saturday: New Mexico at No. 7 Notre Dame
Time: 12:30 p.m.
Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
Radio: KKOB (94.5 FM, 770 AM)
Line: Notre Dame favored by 35
By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
Not a whole lot has happened since time expired on the University of New Mexico football team’s season-opening, 39-31 victory over Sam Houston State at Dreamstyle Stadium. …
As the Lobos (1-0) get ready for their second game of the 2019 season — a trip to No. 7 Notre Dame (1-0) on Saturday for one of the biggest challenges in program history — they’ve already lost:
One defensive captain.
One starting quarterback.
One head coach.
See? Nothing much has happened since Game 1.
UNM is traveling to South Bend, Ind., without head coach Bob Davie, who suffered “a serious medical condition” after the Aug. 31 as he was getting ready to address the media in a postgame news conference.
During the school’s weekly news conference Tuesday, Davie declined to elaborate on the incident, keeping rampant speculation alive among Lobo fans about his medical episode.
Offensive line coach Saga Tuitele will serve as acting head coach on Saturday, to allow New Mexico offensive coordinator Joe Dailey and defensive coordinator Jordan Peterson to focus on their respective units.
“I’ve got tremendous confidence in our coaches, and I mean that sincerely,” Davie said during the weekly news conference. “I don’t need to be there. We have a great coaching staff. I’ve been involved in what’s going on this week. Let these guys go coach, and let these guys go play without any other kind of distraction.”
Meanwhile, UNM reported that senior nose tackle Aaron Blackwell suffered a torn ACL against Sam Houston State and is out for the season.
Junior college transfer quarterback Brandt Hughes, who started the opener for the Lobos, also suffered a labrum injury that will keep him out of Saturday’s game against the Irish.
Senior Sheriron Jones played the second half of the opener against the Bearkats and guided the Lobo victory. But sophomore Tevaka Tuioti, who missed much of preseason practice because of his ailing grandfather who ultimately passed away, now has had two weeks to prepare for Notre Dame, should get the start.
UNM completely abandoned the triple-option against Sam Houston State in favor of the spread-option. Tuioti has demonstrated himself to be the most accurate passer on the roster, and he also provides a credible rushing threat.
Because of Tuioti’s own injury history, look for Dailey to be prudent about using Tuioti as a runner.
For the Lobos to have any hopes of staying close, Tuioti will have to harken the offense to the days of the triple-option — at least as far as time of possession is concerned.
UNM used to dominate time of possession when it used a triple-option offense. The Lobos, however, scored eight times against the Bearkats, and their most time-consuming drive took 2 minutes, 59 seconds.
The Irish did allow Louisville to rush for 249 yards in Notre Dame’s 35-17 win in that opener. New Mexico, outside of a pair of Ahmari Davis runs of 53 and 51 yards, struggled to run the ball against Sam Houston State.
UNM’s defense, meanwhile, must contend with the Irish’s three-headed monster in the running game. Running back Tony Jones Jr. rushed for 110 yards and a score against the Cardinals. Quarterback Ian Book ran for 93 yards and a score, and running back Jahmir Smith rushed for two touchdowns among his eight carries.
Book was an efficient 14 of 23 for 196 yards with a touchdown, and wide receiver Chase Claypool had five receptions for 93 yards in the win over Louisville.
The Lobos had trouble with Sam Houston State’s passing attack, giving up 443 yards through the air — albeit on 60 pass attempts (35 completions). The Bearkats had 558 total yards on 95 plays, highlighting the need for UNM to try to control the clock better against Notre Dame.
The Cherry and Silver also have to demonstrate more pressure on defense than they did against SHSU in which they had three sacks and six quarterback hurries.
One bright spot for the Lobos is that VegasInsider.com picked the UNM-Notre Dame game as one in which the underdogs could cover the point spread, partly based on the fact that the Irish face No. 3 Georgia next week.
Then again, the article went on to call UNM, the “Aggies.”
The primary goal for the “Lobos” should be to get out of South Bend alive and cash their $1.1 million paycheck, although Tuitele said otherwise.
“Offense, we can improve on third down — we were 1 of 15 (against SHSU),” Tuitele said. “Obviously on defense, get off the field and all those things. So the concrete goal is ultimately to win.”
The Lobos have very little to lose on Saturday — especially considering how much they already lost after a Week 1 win.