SOUTH BEND — After a 12-day layoff, the No. 7 Notre Dame football team resumes its season with its home opener Saturday against New Mexico (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
Notre Dame last played on Labor Day, Sept. 2, defeating Louisville, 35-17, to cap off the opening weekend of the college football season. The Fighting Irish then had week two off, which is one of two bye weeks Notre Dame will have in the 2019 season.
Just because they didn’t play a game, though, means the Irish sat around all week. Head coach Brian Kelly had his team scrimmage last Saturday in order to keep his team fresh. Assistant coaches didn’t leave town to go recruiting either, as Kelly wanted his staff to focus on improving from the week one win.
“I didn’t want to go a full week without contact and tackling,” Kelly said. “We tackled. We scrimmaged. We didn’t have a 50-play scrimmage. We got some live tackling in there with our (starters), our key backups. We worked on special situations that I didn’t think that we were quite up to snuff in, and really spent a lot of time on those in particular.
“And they were long practices. It was a physically demanding and mentally demanding week for our team.”
Kelly said redshirt senior running back Tony Jones looked strong in the scrimmage, and he’s going to be needed for the Irish as they play the next 4-6 weeks without starting redshirt sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong.
“I felt like it was an opportunity to grow as a player and to help move up and stay up for a bye week,” Jones said.
The Irish didn’t look as crisp as many expected them to look against Louisville. Senior wide receiver Chase Claypool, who had five catches for 94 yards in the week one victory, said the past 12 days have helped fix some of the mistakes that happened against the Cardinals.
“I think we know what we have to work on, and these two weeks have been letting us do just that,” Claypool said. “So, I think we’re trying to tighten everything up so we can be perfect the next time out.”
Notre Dame now turns its attention to a New Mexico team that defeated Sam Houston State, 39-31, in week one. Like the Irish, the Lobos also had last week off, giving them two weeks to prepare for 7th-ranked Notre Dame.
The bye week also allowed New Mexico more time to prepare without head coach Bob Davie. The former Notre Dame coach won’t be making his first trip back to South Bend because of a “serious medical incident” that occurred following the Sam Houston State game. Davie was rushed to the hospital following the contest. He was released shortly after and is expected to make a full recovery, however he has decided not to make the trip as a precaution.
Sage Tuitele will serve as the interim coach for the Lobos.
“Certainly, we will miss (Davie) here,” Kelly said. “We’re pulling for him, and hoping for a speedy recovery. It seems like he’s moving in that direction, and we hope for him to be back on the sidelines quickly.”
Notre Dame enters the game as an overwhelming 35-point favorite over New Mexico. The Irish are trying to prevent another game two letdown, which they had in 2018. After defeating Michigan in week one, Notre Dame struggled against Ball State, ultimately pulling out a 24-16 victory.
Kelly took ownership for not preparing his team well for the Cardinals last year and vowed this week will be different.
“I didn’t prepare our team very well,” Kelly said. “I thought our team prepared the way I laid it out to them. I learned from that. It didn’t happen this week and won’t happen this week.”
Claypool said the mindset heading into this week’s game is different than against Ball State a year ago. With a matchup against No. 3 Georgia in Athens looming next week as well, the senior knows they have to take care of business this weekend first before thinking about the Bulldogs.
“We’re not really focused on the opponent,” Claypool explained. “We’re not looking at what they have. I think we’re looking at them like they’re national champions and we have to come out and play against them like they just won a championship.”
“We haven’t been talking about trying to get everyone on the field like we did last year in Ball State, where we said we’re trying to get everyone on the field. I think we’re trying to just say, ‘Let’s win this game and then look on to Georgia.’”