Below are players to watch in Notre Dame’s home opener against New Mexico on Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC).
QB IAN BOOK, Notre Dame
Not attempting a pass beyond 20 yards and attempting just three on-target throws of at least 10 yards was not what quarterback Ian Book had hoped to accomplish in his season opener. The junior knows he must play better, especially with starting running back Jafar Armstrong now out for an extended period of time. Book has an opportunity to accrue confidence and take more chances against New Mexico’s questionable secondary. UNM allowed 443 passing yards in its Aug. 31 season-opening victory over Sam Houston State. Irish wide receiver Chase Claypool should frequently hear his name called against the Lobos.
LB ASMAR BILAL, Notre Dame
Buck linebacker Asmar Bilal seemed to be missing the big-play element that mike linebacker Drew White and rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah flashed against the Cardinals. That might explain why defensive coordinator Clark Lea has not closed the door on his buck rotation. He played Shayne Simon and Jordan Genmark Heath at buck against Louisville following Bilal’s shaky first couple drives. The anticipated blowout may help Lea experiment with buck more against the Lobos. Bilal has the traits and experience to prove his worth as the starter, but that will have to begin against the Lobos.
RB AHMARI DAVIS, New Mexico
The Irish linebackers played a role in yielding 249 rushing yards to UL, including 19 carries for 122 yards from former two-star recruit in Javian Hawkins (Rivals). Davis will look to emulate Hawkins’ success after enjoying a breakout performance against SHSU. The JUCO transfer rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries in the 39-31 victory. The Lobos may look to challenge the Irish linebackers early with Davis before the game gets out of hand.
LB ALEX HART, New Mexico
Favored by 35 points, ND would likely resort to its ground game after obtaining a comfortable lead. It may be up to mike linebacker Alex Hart to stop the bleeding. Hart returned for his fifth season after suffering a torn ACL in his knee in game three of last year. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder led the Lobos with 19 tackles before going down. He tallied 10 tackles against SHSU. Senior captain nose tackle Aaron Blackwell went down with a season-ending ACL injury, which only increased Hart’s responsibilities.