The University of Notre Dame plays host to Temple University at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday. The inaugural meeting between the Fighting Irish and the Temple Owls is scheduled for 3:30 EST and is televised by NBC with the team of Dan Hicks calling the action and Mike Meyock providing commentary.
In case one didn’t know, Hicks is the husband of Notre Dame alumnus Hanna Storm. NBC has also added a pre-game show that will begin at 3:00 EST with Liam McHugh as the host along with Doug Flutie and Hines Ward. This will only be on NBC this week and will be found on NBCSN the rest of the season. The weather, as of this writing, is supposed to be hot at 89 degrees, humid, and carry a 20% chance of rain
The Owls will be led by Temple’s 26th head coach Matt Rhule (pronounced Rule). Coach Rhule (pictured) played linebacker at Penn State for four years from 1994 to 1997. He graduated from the University of Buffalo in 2003 while being employed in his fourth coaching job at Western Carolina. Rhule has coached both sides of the ball as a position coach and has been an offensive coordinator at Temple. He also spent last year in the NFL under Tom Coughlin as an assistant offensive line coach before taking over the Temple Owls as the head coach. This is Rhule‘s first head coaching job.
Rhule brings his pass happy offense to the Owls, a change from last season’s grind it out offense. The Owls return 54 letterman and 14 starters. Last year the Owls were 4-7 and finished in sixth place in their lame duck year in the old Big East. This year Temple joins nine other teams in the newly formed American Athletic Conference that sprung from the demise of the Big East and several teams from Conference USA.
Ruhle reintroduced the single digit number system to the Owls in fall camp. The toughest players on the team get those single digit numbers by their on the field actions during camp. One number, #3, was voted to a player, backup quarterback Clinton Granger, by his fellow players. Toughness to Rhule isn’t only being physical. It’s also about effort and mental toughness. As you watch the game Saturday the best Temple players, aside from the offensive linemen, should be wearing a single digit jersey. (Once again the big guys get no love in the recognition department.)
It’s more than tough to evaluate another team based on highlight reels, without having game films to watch, so this preview won’t be as in depth as is the norm. With a lack of film I did more reading than I normally would about an opponent. The internet search wowed me at times. It’s amazing how many other “previews” get the name and positions of players wrong. I also found news items that called for follow ups, but never found them online anywhere. As I hit a particular Temple You Tube site looking for game film I heard the Who’s rendition of Atomic Wasteland. It was the appropriate tune concerning some of my searches on Temple.
The Owls finished 107th in total offense last year under Boston College’s new coach, Steve Addazio with 322 yards per game. They were 31st in rushing with 201 yards per game and 116h in passing with 120 yards per game. Temple averaged 25 points a game, but failed to reach beyond 21 points in five games.
The Owls were ranked 38th in committing 19 turnovers, 13 fumbles and 6 interceptions. The offensive line permitted 20 sacks in their eleven games to rank 54th. As an offense the Owls converted 57 of 152 third downs to rank 80th.
In the Red Zone Temple was a respectable 13th in the nation as they scored on 28 of 31 trips inside the opponent’s twenty. That broke down to 12 rushing touchdowns, 8 passing touchdowns, and 8 field goals.
There were two big losses offensively for Temple due to graduation. One was halfback Montel Harris who took with him his 1087 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. The other was kicker Brandon McManus who was 14 of 17 in field goal kicking, 32 of 33 in extra points, and 9th in the nation in punting averaging 45 yards per kick. McManus also did the kicking off and had 40 touchbacks out of 56 kickoffs.
Temple Projected Starting Offense
QB #12 Connor Reilly 6-3, 215, red shirt junior, 3 games, 0 starts (11 games as a holder)
TB #20 Kenny Harper, 6-0, 225, junior, 24 games, 3 starts
TE #84 Romond Deloatch, 6-4, 225, sophomore, 8 games, 2 starts
TE/HB #10 Chris Coyer, 6-3, 230, fifth year senior, 22 games, 13 starts (all at QB)
WR #7 John Christopher, 5-10, 185, redshirt sophomore, 11 games, 4 starts
WR #4 Ryan Alderman, 5-9, 175, fifth year senior, 36 games, 2 starts
WR #5 Jalen Fitzpatrick, 5-11, 180, junior, 22 games, 4 starts
LT #76 Cody Booth, 6-5, 285, fifth year senior, 28 games, 15 starts
LG #50 Jeff Whittingham, 6-2, 305, fifth year senior, 14 games, 11 starts
C #79 Kyle Friend, 6-2, 300, sophomore, 11 games, 9 starts
RG #63 Pete White, 6-4, 330, fifth year senior, 23 games, 7 starts (Maryland transfer)
RT # 54 Zach Hooks, 6-6, 300, red shirt sophomore, 11 games, 11 starts
Chris Coyer #10, who is a left handed passer, started thirteen games in a row at quarterback over the past two years giving way to his backup the last two games of 2012. His career stats as a quarterback are 116-224-4 for 52% and 14 touchdown passes. I’d be totally surprised if he doesn’t throw one this week and I’d especially look for a backward pass to him and a deep toss off of it. Coyer did a lot of sprint out and roll out passing last year so I’d be telling DBs to stay at home until he gets to the LOS.
Wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick #87 tossed a 13 yard pass last year and could throw again this year. Plus, when a team has two receivers that can throw it sets up a double reverse, a pass off of that reverse, and both can really stress an unprepared secondary.
There are of course reverses by receivers and the jet sweep off of motion and Temple runs those, but last year a Temple quarterback caught a pass so the possibility of a throwback is there too.
Temple will start red shirt junior Connor Reilly who won the battle with last year’s late season starter despite never starting himself and fighting an ankle problem through fall camp. Reilly has yet to throw one pass as a collegian having only held for extra points in 2012 and handing the ball off in three games in 2011. Last year the Owl’s passing game averaged a mediocre 120 yards per game besting only New Mexico and the service academies. Ruhle’s offense has the potential of getting that many yards in a quarter.
Reilly is athletic and starts on the Temple baseball team. He beat out two quarterbacks that were starters from last year and one has been moved to H-back. In high school he ran for a career 17 touchdowns and threw for 41 touchdowns. His spring game statistics are 21-45 for 366 yards and four touchdowns of 65, 33, 11, and 8 yards. Much of his success came against Temple’s starting corners. Reilly has a strong enough arm, but nothing spectacular. His 65 yard touchdown was against a blown coverage. As a runner I refer back to his athleticism as Riley will pull it down and he did rip off a 24 yarder in the Temple spring game.
Riley’s backup should he get injured, into trouble, or have big game jitters is #3 Clinton “Juice” Grangers. In the spring game he was 26-44-1 for 302 yards and 3 touchdowns. This junior college veteran has started two games at Temple while playing in nine games. His career statistics are 31-55-2 for 56%, 2 touchdowns, and a long of 45 yards. As a runner he has averaged 4.9 yards per carry, had a longest run of 30 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Only two running backs out of the four deep halfback depth chart have carried the ball for Temple in a college game. Gone is the top 2012 rusher, BC transfer Montel Harris, and his 1087 yards and twelve rushing touchdowns. Returning are #20 Kenny Harper, the listed starter, and #26 Jamie Gilmore who’s combined 2012 total was 159 yards. The good news is they combined for a 4.8 yard per carry average. Of the two returnees Harper is the bruiser at 225 pounds and Gilmore is less so at 190 pounds.
Harper is an excellent receiver who had 13 receptions, a long of 40 yard, and 1 touchdown in limited action last season. He’ll definitely be in the pattern in this offense quite a lot.
Others in the four deep at halfback are a pair of 200 pound rookies, a red shirt freshman and a true freshman, #23 Zaire Williams and #22 Avery Williams respectively.
The receiving corps of Temple caught 116 passes all season in 2012. By comparison Irish receivers caught 226 passes. In the Cherry and White Spring Game Temple receivers caught 52 passes on 87 attempts. True, it was a spring game and some time was probably stretched, but 87 passes compared to 43 rushes tells where Ruhle’s mindset is on offense. It’s a fair bet that baring injuries the Owl offense will break the Temple season record of 265 receptions in a season.
WR Jalen Fitzpatrick #5 was last year’s leading receiver in a run first offense and is this season’s quick score threat for Temple. Fitzpatrick hauled in 30 receptions for a 12.1 yard average, a long of 35 yards, and two touchdowns. From the little highlight reels I’ve seen Fitzpatrick has good speed and is capable of being very dangerous after the catch. His quick feet and shake and bake moves can leave a defender grabbing air. He also ran a reverse in the spring game for 39 yards and has passed off of a reverse in 2012 and completed the pass for 13 yards..
WR John Christopher #7 was the fifth leading receiver in 2012 with 9 receptions, a 13.6 yard average, a long of 33 yards, and 1 touchdown. In the spring game he had 4 receptions for 45 yards with a long of 18 yards.
WR Ryan Alderman #4 was a distant eighth with 5 catches for a 10.2 yard average, a long of 16 yards, and no touchdowns. Alderman is one of those small overachievers with a lot of desire that coaches and fans love. He had 5 catches for 90 yards in the spring game, a long of 34 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Tight end Romondo Deloatch #84 had 4 receptions, a 10.5 yard average, a long of 17 yards, and no touchdowns. Deloatch played the spring game on the side of the backup QB, but he caught 13 passes for 87 yards, a long of 16 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Tight end/H-back Chris Coyer #10, last year’s starting quarterback through week nine has apparently made a good transition to the H-back position. In the spring game he had 3 receptions, a long of 52 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He also rushed once for 10 yards. Coyer is physical as a runner and has experience running in traffic.
Temple’s offensive line returns four starters and three of them are fifth year seniors. The concern is that they are more suited to run blocking than pass blocking. Temple’s offensive line got their backs a team average of 4.7 yards per carry last season. The major concern is pass blocking after allowing a sack for every 11 pass attempts last year, far below Notre Dame’s average of allowing a sack every 21 attempts. In the spring game the offensive line and their relief gave up 10 touch sacks which are hard to correlate to full go sacks, but not something that Temple’s staff wants to see.
Last year Temple was ranked 90th nationally in total defense allowing 437 yards per game. They were 100th nationally against the run yielding 199.8 yards per game and 4.7 yards per rush. They weren’t much better against the pass allowing 237 yards per game to rank 66th. The Owls gave up 31 points a game to rank 86th.
They ranked 95th in turnovers gained, 13 fumbles and a meager 6 interceptions. The Owls recorded 25 sacks to rank 45th. Temple allowed opponents to convert 66 of 151 third downs a 44% average that placed the Owls 90th.
In the Red Zone Temple ranked 89th and allowed opponents to score on 38 of 44 trips inside their twenty. The breakdown was 20 rushing touchdowns, 8 passing touchdowns, and 10 field goals.
Temple Projected Starting Defense
DE #1 Sean Daniels, 6-3, 230, senior, 27 games, 1 start
DE #91 Shahbaz Ahmed, 6-3, 255, sophomore, 6 games, 0 starts
DT #93 Kamal Johnson, 6-4, 310, fifth year senior, 27 games, 5 starts
NT #9 Levi Brown, 6-2, 300, fifth year senior, 24 games, 20 starts
WLB #8 Tyler Matakevich, 6-1, 230, sophomore, 11 games, 8 starts
MLB #14 Jarred Alwan, 6-1, 230, freshman, 0 games, 0 starts
SLB #6 Blaze Caponegro, 6-1, 225, fifth year senior, 22 games, 15 starts
LC #25 Tavon Young, 5-10, 160, sophomore, 10 games, 2 starts
RC #2 Anthony Robey, 5-10, 190, junior, 20 games, 16 starts
SS #29 Stephaun Marshall, 5-11, 190, red shirt freshman, 0 games, 0 starts
FS #21 Abdul Smith, 6-0, 205, fifth year senior, 14 games, 2 starts
Temple returns only one starter from their 2013 defensive line, #9 Levi Brown, but they also have #93 Kamal Johnson who would have started all of 2012 except for legal problems. Brown, a 2012 Big East third teamer, is the only returning starter. Brown was the first Owl to earn a single digit jersey in fall camp. He’s the leader of the front four and perhaps the defense as well.
This unit is led by Big East Defensive Rookie of the Year, #8 Tyler Matakevich at the weakside linebacker. He had 101 tackles last year as a freshman while playing middle linebacker. Matakevich is being pressured by the staff to make plays at the LOS versus down field. His cohort, strongside linebacker, #6 Blaze Capognegro had 30 tackles and 2 sacks last year and will be in his third year as a starter. The middle linebacker #14 Jarred Alwan is a true freshman.
Temple returns an experienced starting corner from 2012, #2 Anthony Robey. Problem is he started every game last year and didn’t get one interception. The other corner #25 Tavon Young has taken the place of banged up #11 Zamel Johnson who has 22 starts. Not having Johnson could hurt the corner play, but corner is still the strength of the Owl secondary. After those three the Owl depth chart registers a lot of youth and a lot of inexperience. The strong safety position’s two deep have no college game experience at all. The free safety position starter has 2 starts and only 9 career tackles. His backups are both without college game experience.
Temple plays their spring game in their football practice field facility and the crowd that attended was only 3,530. That’s no misprint. Less than 4,000 people attended. So Reilly will be taking his first meaningful game snap and throwing his first college pass facing the veteran Notre Dame defense before over 80,000 people, mostly Irish fans. It’s not that he can’t be successful, but there’s a big difference between a practice field spring game of less than 4,000 and an actual college game with 80,000 plus.
The Irish have to be chomping at the bit as their last game was the debacle with Alabama and because of the off season incidents. All that adversity needs to be swept aside. It’s time to play football. Notre Dame should be primed for a maximum effort.
Then again the opponent is ranked by many pre-season experts as being well below Notre Dame, often being ranked more than 100 teams below Notre Dame. That can cause complacency on the Irish sideline.
The Notre Dame staff has been intact for a longer time period than Temple’s staff. That helps tremendously.
The Irish Defense vs. the Owls Offense – Advantage Irish
Bob Diaco and his defensive staff will have looked at former coach Steve Addazio’s 2012 Temple offense, but they would only get some handle on the personnel due to the new offensive philosophy by Coach Ruhle. So, I’ll wager that Diaco and company went back to the 2008-2010 Temple seasons when Ruhle was the Owl’s offensive coordinator and quarterback coach to get a better picture of Ruhle’s offense.
Even with the Owls being a veteran offensive line and a presence running the ball last year I can’t see them running on the Irish front and as a consequence they’ll take to the air.
That being said the Irish could be a little vanilla and feel out the Owls early on. That could allow Temple some early success and build their confidence. For that reason I think Diaco lets loose the dogs and the Irish come after the Owls aggressively and makes Reilly’s debut a nightmare.
The Irish Offense vs. The Temple Defense – Advantage Irish
Temple’s defense against the rush has to be better than last year’s when they gave up nearly 200 yards rushing per game and an average of 4.7 yards per rush. They also gave up big plays with more than 15 runs over twenty yards and a ton of the 10-20 yard variety. Temple didn’t face the overall talent like the Irish possess at running back. In the passing game the Owls, relatively inexperienced and lacking depth in the secondary, face a talented Irish receiving corps.
Special Teams - Slight edge to the Irish
The Owls lost a lot of their special team success with the graduation of place kicker, punter, and kickoff man extraordinaire, Brandon McManus, whose booming leg had a big effect on Temple’s highly ranked special teams. His replacement is an unknown quantity. Temple also lost Matt Brown who averaged 14.2 yards per punt return and 25.5 yards per kickoff return.
The Irish return kicker Kyle Brindza, a decent kickoff return game, and a non-existent punt return game.
Both teams cover kicks well based on last year’s performances.
I usually pick conservatively as I always seem to think of bad losses, surprise losses, inexcusable losses, and upset losses and I worry about everything. Take this game. I immediately think of Tulsa and South Florida instead of the 2012 season. Depressing for anyone to recall. Shoot I even think of BC in 93. Even last year’s common opponent, Pittsburgh and the comparative scores, an Irish overtime win and the Owl’s 47-17 loss to the Panthers doesn’t sooth my angst.
I know the Irish have much more defense, experience, talent, and depth (When was the last time we could say that…depth?) I know that those were different years, different players, and different situations. Still…Tulsa…South Florida, a game I sat through cold and wet. Terrors of defeat snatched from the jaws of what would have been shaky victories. It all adds up to damage the psyche. Sigh.
Okay, all the above aside I’m picking the Irish as any rational human being should.
Notre Dame 42 Temple 10