The Journal Gazette
Saturday, September 14, 2019 6:20 pm

Notre Dame beats New Mexico, 66-14

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette


How it Happened

Notre Dame's Lawrence Keys III returned the opening kickoff all the way to midfield, but the Irish squandered the opportunity with some sloppy offense. Ian Book missed a deep throw to Chase Claypool that should have been a big gain and Notre Dame had to punt from the New Mexico 38. Jay Bramblett pinned the Lobos inside their 5-yard line, though, giving the Irish defense a chance to step up.

New Mexico got a couple of first downs, but on third-and-8 from the 30, one of Notre Dame's youngest defenders made a play. Quarterback Sheriron Jones tried to throw left for the first down, but the pass was tipped by defensive end Daelin Hayes and safety Kyle Hamilton adjusted to the fluttering pass and pulled it out of the air. Hamilton, a true freshman, had nothing but green in front of him and sprinted 32 yards for a touchdown, putting the Irish up 7-0. It was a terrific play by Hamilton, who jumped the route and might have intercepted the ball even if it hadn't been tipped. 

It remained a one-score game until early in the second quarter as the Irish struggled to pull away. Late in the first quarter, however, Chris Finke returned a line-drive punt 17 yards to give Notre Dame the ball in New Mexico territory. A 20-yard completion to Claypool along the sideline moved the ball into the red zone and a couple of nice scrambles by Book put the ball inside the 5. The Irish had trouble punching it in, but on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Book snuck up the middle. He was going to be short, which could have been a deflating turn of events, but fullback Brock Wright rode to the rescue, shoving Book from behind and propelling him over the line for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

That touchdown opened the floodgates for the Irish, who dominated the rest of the half. They got interceptions from safety Jalen Elliot and cornerback Shaun Crawford, both of them outstanding plays on which the defensive back turned around at the last possible moment to make the play. Crucially, the Irish made both of those turnovers count, scoring touchdowns off both of them. The first came on a jet sweep to running back Avery Davis, who went around the right side and found a huge hole, racing 59 yards for a touchdown. Three possessions later, following Crawford's interception, Book hooked up with Claypool for gains of 17 and 37 yards, the latter a beautifully-thrown touchdown pass over the middle to the big wideout. It was another quick-strike score for the Irish, who went up 35-0 with the score.

In between those two turnover-inspired touchdowns, Book completed an 8-yard drag route to Javon McKinley over the middle. McKinley got to the outside and broke three tackles en route to a 65-yard touchdown, his first career score, and a 28-0 lead. The play included some terrific running from McKinley and some sloppy tackling by the Lobos. It was part of a theme of some players from lower on the Notre Dame depth chart making plays in the first half.

The Lobos broke the shutout with a 47-yard touchdown run from Bryson Carroll late in the second quarter, but Notre Dame drove again and added a Jonathan Doerer field goal on the final play of the half to go into halftime up 38-7. The Irish scored 31 points in the second quarter.

If there was any doubt the game was over at halftime, the Irish ended it immediately in the second half. Notre Dame forced a three-and-out on the first New Mexico possession and then on the second play of its opening drive in the third quarter used another shovel pass for a big play. This time it was to Chris Finke, who took the ball behind the line of scrimmage, went around the left side and broke into open space, racing untouched 54 yards for a touchdown in a near mirror image of Davis's 59-yard score. The play put the Irish in front 45-7.

The Irish starters capped their day on the ensuing possession with one more touchdown. They converted a fourth-and-inches play at midfield on a nice run from Tony Jones Jr. and Book followed that with a strong throw on a deep out to tight end Tommy Tremble, a 29-yard gain that moved the ball into the red zone. On the next play, Book looked for McKinley on a fade to the end zone. The defender had good position, but McKinley turned his head, located the ball and pulled it in with the defensive back draped all over him for a 20-yard touchdown catch. 

Player of the Game: Javon McKinley

McKinley had two catches for 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the first two scores of his career. Both of the touchdowns were spectacular plays and the senior might have played his way into significantly more reps going forward. Notre Dame has been searching for a consistent third receiver behind Claypool and Finke and McKinley staked his claim to that title today.

Facts and Figures

The Irish have won 14 consecutive regular season games. They've also won 12 straight at home, the third-longest streak since Notre Dame Stadium opened in 1930. ... This is the most points the Irish have scored in a home opener since 1932, when they Haskell University 73-0. ... New Mexico coach Bob Davie was the head coach of the Irish from 1997 to 2001, during which he had a 35-25 record. He did not make the trip to South Bend after suffering chest pains in New Mexico's Week 1 win, for which he was hospitalized. Saga Tuitele led the Lobos today. ... Five Notre Dame players (McKinley, Hamilton, Flemister, Davis and Braden Lenzy scored their first career touchdowns). ... The Irish have held their opponents to 30 points or fewer for 16 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the country. ... Notre Dame running backs have gone 588 carries (including 17 today) without a fumble, the longest active streak among FBS teams. ... Book went 15 for 24 for 360 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, though those numbers are inflated by the two jet sweeps for scores. ... Crawford's interception was his first since Sept. 16, 2017, when he had two. ... Asmar Bilal and Daelin Hayes had two TFLs apiece for Notre Dame, while Elliott had two pass breakups in addition to his interception. ... Former Notre Dame quarterback Johnny Lujack, the 1947 Heisman Trophy winner, was in attendance at the game. He is 94 years old. 

What's Next?

The Irish face one of their toughest tests of the season in Week 4, when they travel to Athens, Georgia, to take on No. 3 Georgia (3-0) at Sanford Stadium. The game will kick off at 8 p.m. on Saturday and will be broadcast on CBS. College Gameday will likely be in town for the game, which is one of the best matchups of the week. The Bulldogs are coming off easy wins over Vanderbilt, Murray State and Arkansas State and beat Notre Dame 20-19 in South Bend in the teams' most recent meeting, on Sept. 9, 2017.

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