New Mexico Preview

After winning at Louisville on Labor Day, and after what’s felt like another entire offseason to wait between games, the Irish are back home against an opponent that won one (1) more game than the 2018 Cardinals.

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What’s Their Deal?

Their deal is consecutive 3-9 seasons, all at the feet of frenemy/former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie. Things are bleak in Albuquerque. They’re breaking in new coordinators on both sides of the ball, and took double-digit JUCO transfers in a desperation heave to inject some life into the program. Wins are few and far in between, but if they do beat you, they’ll do it with scheme…because the talent isn’t really there. Namely, that scheme means a unique spread-option playbook on offense that can be mildly tricky to prepare for, especially because the emphasis on spread or option seems to depend on which/how many quarterbacks are available. As new offensive coordinator Joe Dailey put it:

It’s a hybrid spread; it’s not just a spread offense…There’s option; there’s speed option; triple option; all types of double option; RPO. There’s so much built into it that it makes it very difficult for people to defend you week in and week out because you just don’t know what’s going to be the flavor of the week when you play us.

Unfortunately for the Lobos, they haven’t historically been able to find a balance that’s led to any real positive results to speak of. Last year, when multiple QB injuries necessitated more spread than option, both the rushing and passing games were equally abysmal, respectively ranking 103 and 104 in SP+. Surely things weren’t so bad on the defensive side, you say, wrongly. Run/pass defense ranked # 108 and 120 nationally. They also lost ten of their top eleven tacklers. Like I said, things are bleak. (One positive note: they play their home games at Dreamstyle Stadium, which is an insanely cool name for a sports venue.)

One Scary Man: Ahmari Davis, RB

Not to be too overconfident, but it wasn’t easy to find a standout to be particularly scared of this week. That being said, senior running back Ahmari Davis had a bit of a breakout performance in game one, rushing for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns on 16 attempts, in addition to 58 receiving yards. I say breakout because last year he only managed 3.6 YPA, which is, well, subpar. But check the embedded video to the right here and you’ll see that he hits the hole nicely, cuts to make a tackler miss, and finishes the play by outrunning everyone. Something to keep an eye on after the Irish defense wasn’t able to stop the run in the early-goings against Louisville.

A Few Things I Hate About You

  • I guess our Bob Davie-related vitriol should be a bit muted, seeing as he’s recovering from a pretty serious medical condition and won’t be traveling to South Bend for the game. Doesn’t change the fact that he was a bad hire and made seven-year-old me swear off Notre Dame football indefinitely after this debacle (clearly that didn’t take), but it seems like he’s well, and that’s good news.
  • Not to kick the guy while he’s down, but recent misconduct bears mentioning. Davie was suspended for 30 days last year after allegations of physically assaulting players, obstructing a rape investigation, and making racist comments. Excuse me, but…a month suspension for all that??? Even without hard proof, I can’t imagine going to bat for someone who’s setting such a toxic culture for the program. At best, Davie violated ethical and compliance clauses in his contract. A quick suspension feels like a very weak middle ground between exoneration and termination. Make up your mind! (They also won six games in two years…just cut him loose, right?)
  • On a lighter note, their current logo does absolutely nothing for me. It feels most akin to the generic FCS team logos in the NCAA football video games of yesteryear. Go back to the licking lobo, you cowards! And also incorporate some turquoise into your color scheme, you’re New Mexico for crying out loud.

What to Expect

First off, don’t expect this one to do away with every worry that popped up in week one, and definitely don’t expect it to reset your confidence enough to expect a win against Georgia. But don’t expect a close game. Not that there won’t be a few frustrating moments, most likely due to that wonky hybrid offense that could see multiple quarterbacks getting snaps (game one starter Brandt Hughes is hurt; dual-threat Sheriron Jones stepped in capably in week one; probable best option Tevaka Tuioti missed most of camp due to an illness in the family).

I’m interested to see how Clark Lea has the Irish defense prepared right out of the gate after the early hiccups against Louisville, but the talent gap here is real. Not unlike week one, it could actually be a decent test for the Irish secondary if the quarterback can reliably deliver the ball, as they do have some speed at wide receiver. All nine players who logged a catch in the win over Sam Houston State averaged at least 9 YPC, and four averaged over 20 YPC, so there’s enough talent there to break a few big plays.

For the Irish offense, the name of the game is pocket presence. Ian Book has reportedly focused on being more “technically sound” in practice this week, and if he doesn’t show out against this genuinely terrible UNM defense I’m gonna spend most of Georgia week gnashing my teeth and just generally muttering curse words under my breath. The offensive line should give him plenty of time to read the defense and go through his progressions this week, and Ian needs to take advantage of that. The Lobos gave up 558 yards and 31 points to an FCS opponent in their opener. Under Davie, they haven’t finished even in double digit national SP+ rankings. Ever. Their starting nose tackle who (apparently) went micro-viral for squatting 675 pounds, and who arguably was their best defensive player, is out for the year. They lost their top seven defensive backs over the offseason. It’s time for the Irish offense to shred (and to get Phil Jurkovec and the reserves a lot of playing time).

Prediction

This won’t be like Ball State last year, because it can’t be. Not when it’s the last tune up before the Irish face their highest ranked regular season opponent since #2 Florida State in 2014. Ian Book rebounds enough to make hanging with the Bulldogs plausible, if not probable. Despite a few missteps, the defense plays a more complete game than in week one. Irish in a cakewalk, 48-10.

Play ’em Out

The Shins got their start in Albuquerque and have grown into an indie-rock staple. This is sort of a deep cut but oooh boy when that first chorus kicks in at 1:16. Yes please!

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