SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Brian Kelly decided to be proactive before No. 7 Notre Dame gets more than a wakeup call.
After viewing film of his team’s lackluster 35-17 victory at Louisville and with 12 days to prepare for Saturday’s home opener against New Mexico, the Fighting Irish coach decided he wasn’t going to make things easy for his players with such an early bye week. The Irish got physical last Friday and Saturday.
“When you have a week off, you look at yourself and what you need to do to continue to build,” Kelly said. “It was about living up to a standard. We tackled. We scrimmaged. It was a physically demanding and mentally demanding week for our team.”
The Irish, who trailed 14-7 after Louisville’s first two possessions, scored 21 unanswered points to take command of the game and finished with a 423-383 advantage in total yards despite being outrushed 249-230. Senior quarterback Ian Book passed for 193 yards, rushed for 81 more and accounted for two touchdowns, but he also was sacked three times and fumbled twice, losing one. Notre Dame converted only five of its 12 on third-down conversions against a team that had one of the worst defenses in the country a year ago.
There was plenty to clean up before welcoming the Lobos, who opened with a 39-31 victory against FCS power Sam Houston State.
“I think we’re going to be more calm, cool and collected,” senior wide receiver Chase Claypool said.
The first meeting between the two schools will not include a homecoming for New Mexico coach Bob Davie, who was fired by Notre Dame in 2001.
The 64-year-old Davie collapsed in the locker room following New Mexico’s victory over Sam Houston State from a “severe medical incident” and will remain in Albuquerque as offensive line coach Saga Tuitele handles Davie’s duties on the sideline Saturday.
“This game, quite honestly, was never about me coming back to Notre Dame,” Davie said this week. “The key for us is to improve.”
The Lobos are approaching it as a fun business trip.
“We will do enough on Friday when we get there to get all the awe out of our players, out of their heads and out of their minds,” Tuitele said. “Then it’s back to football. It’s about winning your one-on-one matchups and executing your game plan.”
New Mexico will receive $1.1 million from Notre Dame for the visit.
Book may have fumbled twice and lost one against Louisville, but the Irish running back corps has good hands. Notre Dame’s running backs have gone 571 carries since their last fumble, the longest active streak among FBS teams.
MAKING THEIR POINTS QUICKLY
New Mexico, which got 107 yards on 16 carries from senior running back Ahmari Davis, had four lightning-fast touchdown drives against Sam Houston State. They took 1:57, 0:59, 0:41 and 0:23.
Notre Dame running back Jafar Armstrong is out for several weeks after surgery on an abdominal muscle. Tony Jones Jr. (110 yards, TD vs. Louisville), Jahmir Smith (2 TDs), Kyren Williams, C’Bo Flemister and Avery Davis could all see time. Smith has been limited by a sprained toe. Tight end Cole Kmet could also play after recovering from a broken right collarbone
New Mexico lost starting QB Brandt Hughes with a shoulder injury in the first half of its opener. Senior Sheriron Jones, who replaced Hughes and threw for 122 yards and ran for two scores, battled sophomore Tekava Tuioti and freshman Trae Hall during practice this week.
The Lobos won’t have senior nose tackle Aaron Blackwell, who was lost for the season with an ACL injury.
“Aaron is a big loss for us, being the captain and emotional leader for us,” Tuitele said. “But we’re deep at the d-line right now — we can move some guys in and out of different spots.”
HE SAID IT
“They balled out.” — Notre Dame running back Tony Jones Jr. on the Irish offensive line after he piled up nearly half the team’s 230 rushing yards against Louisville.