FOOTBALL

Five keys for Notre Dame against New Mexico: Blowout should provide opportunity for Irish

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Here are five keys for No. 7 Notre Dame (1-0) when it faces New Mexico (1-0) this Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT on NBC).

NO CLOWNING AROUND

UNM has no business making this game close. The Lobos will be without head coach Bob Davie, starting quarterback Brandt Hughes and senior captain nose tackle Aaron Blackwell. UNM finished 3-9 in each of the past two seasons and has not defeated a Power Five opponent since 2008. The Irish should jump out to a commanding lead by the second quarter. Doing so could help ND answer some questions at a few positions, rest starters and evaluate young players.

PUSH THE BALL DEEP

Quarterback Ian Book will need to be the best version of himself at No. 3 Georgia next Saturday. That won’t happen if he doesn’t start testing his deep ball. Against Louisville, the senior attempted just three on-target throws beyond 10 yards and zero beyond 20. Book can afford to take risks against the Lobos. UNM’s shoddy secondary surrendered 443 passing yards to lowly Sam Houston State last week. By testing himself, Book will be able to understand any of his potential shortcomings and how they can be corrected before Georgia.

EXPERIMENT WITH LINEBACKERS

Defensive coordinator Clark Lea provided playing time for six different linebackers against the Cardinals: mike Drew White, mike/buck Shayne Simon, bucks Asmar Bilal and Jordan Genmark Heath, rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and buck Jack Lamb for the passing down dime package. Owusu-Koramoah as the starting rover was the only constant for the three different linebacker combinations Lea used. White and Bilal did not exactly cement themselves as starters after game one. Tinkering and learning more about which combinations work is attainable if a blowout occurs.

TEST RUNNING BACKS

The speed and workload void left by sidelined starter Jafar Armstrong (abdominal injury) thinned ND’s running backs group. The Irish know what they’re getting out of senior Tony Jones Jr. His backups are another story. Freshman Kyren Williams saw early action in game one but did not return after dropping an easy pass. Sophomore Jahmir Smith’s capabilities beyond a short yardage niche role remains to be seen. Sophomore C’Bo Flemister entered the UL game during garbage time. Junior Avery Davis moved back to the position after he switched to defensive back during spring football. The Irish need backups to emerge before next week.

DEEP ROTATIONS

The Irish can’t afford to lose another starter after injuries sidelined Armstrong, tight end Cole Kmet and wide receiver Michael Young before week two of the season. ND can prevent further damage if it takes a commanding lead early and establishes a deep rotation. In non-special teams snaps against UL, only three Irish freshmen saw the field: running back Kyren Williams, safety Kyle Hamilton and nose guard Jacob Lacey. Seeing that number increase and an appearance from backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec by the third quarter would likely mean the Irish are in control.

Notre Dame junior Avery Davis (right) moved back to running back after switching to defensive back during spring football.

NOTRE DAME (1-0) vs. New Mexico (1-0)

At Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, IN

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. EDT

TV: NBC

Series history: First matchup

Betting line: Notre Dame by 34.5