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And In That Corner: New Mexico and former Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie, recovering

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The convenient narrative around No. 7 Notre Dame’s visit from New Mexico this weekend (2:30 ET; NBC) centered around former Irish head coach Bob Davie. However, the Lobos head coach will no longer be making the trip to South Bend. For more on Davie’s health and that of the entire New Mexico program, let’s turn to Steve Virgen

DF: I appreciate you taking some time to chat about New Mexico. Coming into the season you had to expect it to be an interesting one, but not in this regard. Before getting into the sensitive conversation around Lobos head coach Bob Davie’s health, let me ask, how long have you been covering New Mexico for the Albuquerque Journal?

SV: This is my second season covering Lobo football for the Journal. I started on the beat July of 2018.

As we all know by now, Davie had a “serious medical incident” after New Mexico’s opener. Now that Davie is apparently in the clear, what can you tell us about what happened last Saturday night?

Davie was seen several times clutching his torso while on the sidelines during the Lobos’ season opener on Aug. 31. He said he was sweating profusely and feeling great discomfort. After the game, he went to the locker room and when he was walking to head upstairs for the post-game press conference he collapsed. He did not say what was the health condition, but he is extremely grateful that the New Mexico athletic training staff was there and he was rushed to the hospital. He continues to recover.

And am I correct in understanding Davie is expected to make a full recovery? What is expected from him the rest of the season, as far as hands-on coaching goes? I realize this is all a difficult topic to discuss, so feel free to be as vague as need be.

Davie is expected to make a full recovery. He said he will take the doctors’ advice to determine how much his role will increase and will return as head coach in a regular capacity soon. He is taking that decision week-by-week based on his health and doctors’ advice, but remains involved in practices and speaks with acting coach/offensive line coach Saga Tuitele daily.

FROM VIRGEN: Davie hopeful for recovery— for himself and for UNM program

Sticking with the former Irish head coach, what excitement was there around the program and from Davie in particular about his return to Notre Dame? How much disappointment is there now that he will not be making the trip?

Davie has done his best to say that this game isn’t about him. But the New Mexico players really want to represent the school well in this game for Davie. The Lobos are basically playing this game for him. Davie has expressed that he is OK missing this game, but he was excited to make the trip back to South Bend. He still holds Notre Dame in high regard. Always will.

I do not mean to shift from well-meaning questions to a harsh one, but this does need to be asked: What are Davie’s chances of keeping this job past this year, his eighth leading New Mexico? Back-to-back 3-9 seasons are only part of the reasoning behind rampant speculation. Controversy has also followed Davie for the last few years.

If the Lobos finish 3-9 again this season, it will be difficult for him to retain his job. But Lobos athletic director Eddie Nunez also believes the program’s culture and morale are important factors. Yet, it’s hard to believe Davie would return after another 3-9 season or even four wins.

Lobos sophomore quarterback Tevaka Tuioti missed much of preseason practices while spending time with his ailing grandfather. Back with the team now, he should see his first action of the year against No. 7 Notre Dame on Saturday. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

This season is at least off to a 1-0 start, albeit a tough 39-31 win against FCS-level Sam Houston State. After some talk of the Lobos using up to four quarterbacks in that game, only two did play. Senior Sheriron Jones went 6-of-11 for 122 yards, adding two touchdowns and 35 yards on six rushes, while junior college transfer Brandt Hughes went 12-of-29 for 218 yards. Neither was particularly efficient. Who should Notre Dame be preparing for? What strengths does he (or them, if it will still be a timeshare) bring?

Hughes suffered a right shoulder injury against Sam Houston State and is out for this game. A lot of people are expecting Jones to start on Saturday because he showed he can be effective as a dual-threat, but I think Tevaka Tuioti will start. He is the Lobos’ most dynamic player and the offense runs on a higher level when he’s in control. Tuioti is also a dual-threat and the up-tempo offense with frequent run-pass option meshes well with his skill set.

Davie brought in two new coordinators — another reason he is presumably on the hot seat. Offensively, Joe Dailey came from high-octane Liberty, supposedly to implement a “spread option” of sorts. What exactly is a spread option, aside from an awkward marriage, perhaps a la peanut butter-and-ketchup?

What we saw in the season opener was more of a spread offense that the Lobos ran. Up-tempo, no-huddle and an emphasis on passes to the receivers. The Lobos’ wide receivers feature a handful of playmakers with nine different receivers making catches. I didn’t see much of the traditional option plays, but as I said, Jones was effective as a runner once he found a rhythm in the second half.

After making four tackles for loss among 29 tackles last season, New Mexico was set to rely upon senior nose tackle Aaron Blackwell in 2019 until he tore his ACL after the first game. (Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Jordan Peterson has to replace nine starters from a defense that gave up 473 yards per game last season. In the opener, Peterson’s defense gave up 558 yards to Sam Houston State (who outgained New Mexico by 73 yards). Are there any strengths on that side of the ball?

Their “strength” was on the defensive line. The Lobos believe they have depth, speed and strength there. They’ll need the depth. Senior nose tackle Aaron Blackwell, a team captain, is out for the season after suffering an ACL injury to his right knee in the season opener. This is a huge loss. They are expecting Erin Austin, Adebayo Soremekun and Trent Sellers to be among those who step up. Cornerback De’John Rogers is a playmaker on defense, and he also excels as a punt returner.

I realize this got pessimistic rather quickly. I suppose that is how it looks from the outside. What do you expect Saturday afternoon?

I expect the Lobos to put up a good fight but lose. We can’t underestimate the emotion they will have in playing for their coach.

I’d expect them to put up some points, but they have way too many problems on defense to be able to make this a competitive game. We would have to see a remarkable improvement from the season opener for that to happen.