SOUTH BEND, Ind. – After nine receivers made catches in the season opener, the University of New Mexico’s football team is confident it can move the ball Saturday against No. 7 Notre Dame.
Just ask senior wide receiver Anu Somoye.
“This is just the start for us,” said Somoye, who caught a career-high three passes for a career-high 63 yards in the Lobos’ 39-31 win over FCS Sam Houston State. “We know what we can do. We left some plays out there, but we want to let everyone know that this is just the start.”
Somoye also knows the receivers have much improvement to make at Notre Dame Stadium. The Lobos went 1 for 15 on third down against Sam Houston State.
However, Somoye believes the Lobos will rise to the occasion of playing on NBC against a ranked team – which also is one of the iconic brands in sports, not just college football.
It’s the first time New Mexico will face Notre Dame in football. UNM receives a $1.1 million payday for the game. It is 1-0 Notre Dame’s home opener and the game is a sellout at Notre Dame Stadium (capacity 77,622).
“We can do something special in South Bend,” Somoye said. “We’re just trying to stay focused and have the will to do it.”
An upset win over the Irish, 34½-point favorites as of late Friday, would certainly be special. UNM’s goal appears overwhelmingly daunting, not just because of the opponent, but the Lobos will be without their head coach (Bob Davie), their Game 1 starting quarterback (Brandt Hughes) and a key defensive player (Aaron Blackwell), who is a team captain.
Davie, a former Notre Dame coach, did not make the trip to South Bend as he continues to recover from a “serious medical condition” that occurred after the Lobos beat Sam Houston State in their season opener. He is listed as “week to week.”
Hughes suffered a right shoulder injury in the first half against the Bearkats and is out. Blackwell is a vocal leader for the Lobos and he’s been known as a menacing presence on the defensive line.
“It’s a big loss for us,” UNM acting head coach Saga Tuitele said of Blackwell. “He’s a team captain. He’s an emotional leader for us. He’s going to be missed. We’re so deep at the defensive line now. We’ll move some guys around. We’re pretty flexible.”
Tuitele is doing his best to have the Lobos ready for the Fighting Irish amid the adversity.
Davie advised Tuitele, normally the offensive line coach, to simply have fun.
“We can’t be over our heads on anything,” said Tuitele, who will turn 40 on Sunday. “We know how special this game is and how much it means to the university, to the Davie family. But we can’t be in too much awe. I know it’s cliche but we have to take one play at a time.”
Tuitele used Friday as a time for the Lobos to take it all in and appreciate the opportunity to play against the Fighting Irish.
Upon arriving Friday via charter flight in South Bend, the Lobos went to Notre Dame Stadium to walk on the field.
Notre Dame, like New Mexico, is coming off a bye week. The Irish had a lackluster 35-17 opening win at Louisville and 12 days to prepare for UNM – though the Irish have a date next week at No. 3 Georgia looming.
But 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,” coach Brian Kelly said. “It was about living up to a standard. We tackled. We scrimmaged.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.