University of New Mexico head football coach Bob Davie won’t be making the trip to South Bend, Indiana to see the first-ever meeting between the Lobos and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
However, Davie made himself available to the media during Tuesday’s press conference to voice his confidence in the coaching staff and thank the first responders, nurses and doctors whom he credited for saving his life — something he and his family will always be grateful for.
"I think I absolutely saw the very best of UNM," Davie said. "I think we should be so grateful — I know I am — to have a hospital like that and the kind of care I received."
The head coach did not elaborate on the specifics of the episode that led to his hospitalization following the team’s 39-31 win over Sam Houston State in the season opener. Davie generically referred to the event as a “serious medical situation” — divulging that the problem has been alleviated and he expects to make a full recovery and return to coaching when he feels like he is back at 100%.
When Saturday’s matchup was scheduled approximately four years ago, the narrative would have been largely about Davie’s return to South Bend — squaring off against the school he once coached. Or perhaps it would have focused on the $1.1M payday UNM will receive for playing the game.
"Obviously, this isn’t the script that we envisioned," Davie said. "But I really don’t want this to be about me."
His desire to avoid being the center of attention is apparently one of the reasons he isn’t making the trip, and Davie expressed that things should be about the players and coaches who will be there.
Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, those players, coaches, family members and fans will have a unique opportunity to see UNM compete at one of the most recognizable, historic venues in North American sports history.
Non-Power Five schools have pulled off major upsets, especially in recent history. Troy University earned a healthy paycheck en route to beating LSU in 2017, while 28-point underdog Old Dominion won by two touchdowns over Virginia Tech last season.
But New Mexico will be an even heavier underdog against the No. 7 team in the country on Saturday, and not having its head coach on the sideline is just the tip of the iceberg of problems the team will be presented with.
The team will be without quarterback Brandt Hughes, who started in the season opener, due to an injured labrum he apparently suffered in week one.
Aaron Blackwell, a team captain and one of the most talented players on defense, will also miss the rest of the season after sustaining an ACL injury.
Still, Davie said he is confident in his coaching staff and their ability to get the job done without him being present — noting the ability of offensive line coach Saga Tuitele, who will fill the role of head coach on Saturday.
"Saga (Tuitele) is a unique guy," Davie said. "His first year here, we won nine games and led the entire nation in rushing offense."
Tuitele said he was honored to get the nod for coaching duties and feels honored to play against Notre Dame and some of the other prominent programs — such as Wisconsin and Texas A&M — that UNM has faced in recent seasons.
He reiterated Davie’s sentiments about the abilities of the coaching staff, but also seemed to recognize the difficult task at hand.
"We know how special this game is and what it means to the Davie family, but they can’t be in over their heads," Tuitele said.
The interim head coach mentioned his concern regarding Notre Dame’s defensive front and said one of the key things for New Mexico players will be to narrow the focus going into Saturday’s match up — a mantra that has been drilled into their heads since last January.
One area Tuitele referenced that needs to improve is third down efficiency. The team converted just 1-of-15 opportunities against Sam Houston State and will have to do much better in that department in order to control the time of possession.
On the flip side, the Lobos converted on all five of their red zone scoring chances in week one against the Bearkats — a trend the team would likely wants to see duplicated.
As for a starting quarterback, Tuitele is still juggling his options.
Tuitele said there are three more guys who are competing for the opportunity to start, and he is "not sure yet" who will get the nod.
Sheriron Jones came on in relief of Hughes in week one and went 6-of-11 for 122 yards passing. He did not throw a touchdown, but did rush for two of them while picking up another 37 yards on the ground.
It is possible that Jones’ performance in the opener may have earned him the right to start behind center, but Tevaka Tuioti, last year’s starter, could be poised to make a comeback.
Saturday’s game is slated for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff, and the game will be televised nationally on NBC. It will also be broadcast on the Lobo Radio Network.
Robert Maler is Co-Sports Editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler