SOUTH BEND, Ind. — This was supposed to be a game that marked the return of a former Notre Dame head coach, Bob Davie, to South Bend in the first college football meeting of the New Mexico Lobos and the Fighting Irish.
Instead as he recovers from illness, Davie didn’t make it to the game, a 66-14 Lobos loss that left them — and him — with several questions:
■ Is there an answer at quarterback?
■ What is the 1-1 Lobos’ offensive identity?
■ Is there any solution for a faltering defense?
The No. 7-ranked Fighting Irish squad (2-0) showed few weaknesses after the first quarter on its way to victory in front of a sellout crowd of 77,622 at Notre Dame Stadium and an NBC viewing audience.
Notre Dame led 7-0 when Irish freshman Kyle Fitzgerald intercepted Lobo quarterback Sheriron Jones’ tipped pass for a 34-yard touchdown. That score stood at the first quarter’s end.
Notre Dame had already compiled 305 yards of total offense in the first half and quickly went up 35-0 before the Lobos had any chance to grab any type of momentum after hanging with the Fighting Irish for one period.
“Four turnovers,” UNM acting head coach Saga Tuitele said of what held the Lobos back. “Missed tackles, some missed blocks.”
About those missed tackles. Notre Dame’s Javon McKinley, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound wide receiver, weaved and spun through the Lobo defense for a 65-yard run-after-the-catch touchdown that gave the Irish a 28-0 lead. The Notre Dame crowd responded with counting chants of up to six, the number of missed tackles on the scoring play.
Tuitele said some of the problems were “bad angles,” and before he could say more wanted to watch film.
“We matched up pretty good at times and then we missed a lot of blocks,” Tuitele said. “We fought. Against a team like that it could have gotten uglier.”
It looked ugly enough.
The Lobos avoided a shutout, but Notre Dame scored its most points in a home opener since 1932 when the Irish beat Haskell 73-0.
As for the UNM offense’s identity, Tuitele — regularly the offensive line coach — said it is all about getting players in space and allowing them to make plays.
The Lobos showed some flashes, but could never gain any type of momentum when there were a few early opportunities.
Running back Bryson Carroll provided a highlight for UNM in the second quarter, breaking away for a 47-yard touchdown run. But that made the score 35-7.
Bobby Cole, a UNM running back, scored in the fourth quarter from 37 yards out for the game’s final points.
These were the plays that Tuitele said showed the Lobos didn’t quit.
Jones started at quarterback, but struggled against pressure. He finished 4-for-15 passing for 19 yards with three interceptions. The pick-six was the third of his two-year UNM career.
Tuitele said he wasn’t sure if there was an answer at quarterback.
Tevaka Tuioti, who started the second half, and Trae Hall both played when the game was well out of reach.
“Any time you’re down like that at halftime, it isn’t just Sheriron; it wasn’t all his fault,” Tutiele said. “We felt we needed a change, and get Tevaka in the fold a bit. It was good to get Trae out there too.”
Before game week began, Davie said he didn’t want the game to be about him. He could not make the trip because of health issues stemming from “a serious medical situation” that occurred two weeks ago after the Lobos’ season-opening win over Sam Houston State
The Lobos (1-1) did receive $1.1 million for this historic first contest between the two schools. And they got what Davie wanted — a unique experience of playing in a storied stadium against a program with rich tradition.
There were some positives, particularly in the first quarter. But there turned out to be too many negatives.
New Mexico: The Lobos return home next Saturday afternoon to play New Mexico State in the Rio Grande Rivalry for the 110th time.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish play Georgia for the third time, looking for their first victory.