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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, September 14, 2019 1:00 am

Irish not planning on playing down to Lobos

Huge favorites to win home opener week before No. 3 Georgia

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame vs. New Mexico

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

When: 2:30 p.m. today

Records: Notre Dame (1-0), New Mexico (1-0)

TV: NBC

Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM

3 Storylines

• Notre Dame linebackers vs. Ahmari Davis: Davis, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound sophomore running back, was terrific in New Mexico's Week 1 win over Sam Houston State, rushing for 107 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries and adding two catches for 58 yards. The revamped Irish linebacker corps, including Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Drew White, left some big holes early against Louisville before settling down. New Mexico can hang around if Davis breaks some big runs.

• Who's playing quarterback: The Lobos had three quarterbacks ready to take snaps heading into their Week 1 matchup against Sam Houston State. Junior college transfer Brandt Hughes saw most of the action in the first half before exiting with a shoulder injury. That leaves Sheriron Jones, a transfer from Tennessee, as the likely starter, with Tevaka Tuioti also ready to go. Preparing for multiple quarterbacks makes this a more complicated game plan for the Irish.

• Notre Dame running back depth: The Irish have battled some attrition in the backfield already this season. Starter Jafar Armstrong suffered a "rectus abdominis" injury against Louisville and is out at least a month. Third-stringer Jahmir Smith injured his toe in a scrimmage during the bye week and will probably be limited against New Mexico. That leaves Tony Jones Jr. as the workhorse back, with C'Bo Flemister, Kyren Williams and Avery Davis as depth pieces. Jones could be in for a big game after running for 110 yards in Week 1.

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame will face No. 3 Georgia, arguably the toughest opponent on its schedule this season, one week from today. The week of preparation for the Bulldogs will likely be intense, as the Irish will have a chance to prove they belong on the big stage with an elite program.

First, Notre Dame has to beat New Mexico this afternoon.

The No. 7 Irish face the Lobos in the 2019 home opener at Notre Dame Stadium, trying to remain undefeated before they go on the road to face the Bulldogs.

Notre Dame is a 341/2-point favorite against its foes from the Mountain West Conference and will have to avoid looking ahead to their high-profile Week 4 matchup.

Coach Brian Kelly insisted the Irish (1-0) don't plan on playing down to their opponents. 

“We play to our standards, we talk about day to day, and that's how we've done it here at Notre Dame,” Kelly said.

“So we have so many big games on our schedule, if that's the way we operated here, we wouldn't be able to win games. So it is just business as usual for us.”

The Irish had a couple of similar early-season matchups in 2018, against Ball State and Vanderbilt. Notre Dame was the heavy favorite in those games but let both teams hang around longer than the Irish would have liked before squeaking out wins. 

Part of the reason for those close games was the Irish were trying to build depth early in the season and give some players lower on the depth chart extra snaps. That won't be the case this season.

“We haven't been talking at all about trying to get everyone on the field like we did last year (against) Ball State,” wide receiver Chase Claypool said. “We're just saying, 'Let's win this game and then look on to Georgia.'”

This was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts for New Mexico coach Bob Davie, who coached the Irish from 1997 to 2001, succeeding Lou Holtz and compiling a 35-25 record.

He won't be on the sideline today, however, after being hospitalized with chest pains in New Mexico's Week 1 win. 

Interim coach Saga Tuitele will lead the Lobos today.

The Irish looked sluggish early in their Week 1 matchup at Louisville before pulling away to win 35-17. They've had 12 days to fix the mistakes they made against the Cardinals and find a better mindset going into a game they should win.

Notre Dame was off in Week 2, an early bye that Kelly said benefited the team by giving it a chance to really drill down on areas that needed improvement after the season opener. Kelly expects his team to be sharper and more focused against the Lobos.

“We got a little bit outside of ourselves (against Louisville),” Kelly said. “(We're) getting back to what's most important, and that is six seconds, trusting our technique, and really that being the focus. Not 'I've got to make plays,' but 'I've got to do these things that are going to help us win.'

“Don't worry about winning. Focus much more on how you can be the best player you can be through your technique, and trusting it.”

dsinn@jg.net