Finally, college football is back! However, unlike half of the teams in the country the Irish won’t start the 2017 season with a laugher. The Temple Owls are in town following back to back 10 win seasons. Granted, this is a Temple program that has lost its head coach and all-time leading passer, but the Owls could still provide a decent test. Despite their status as a “Group of Five” team, Temple brings a Philly toughness to the table that has led them to tremendous success the last two years. Most Irish fans will remember that Temple nearly took down a strong Notre Dame team in 2015.
Not only will Notre Dame be taking on a respectable Temple team, but the Irish are facing a major distraction. Saturday will be the first game played in the renovated Notre Dame Stadium. The $400 million Campus Crossroads project has completely changed the look and feel of the House that Rockne Built. The Irish will have to adjust to running their offense into the face of a massive 96 by 54 feet video board. The reinvented stadium also features ribbon boards, luxury seating, and new locker rooms. Of course, Notre Dame has played on the road and at neutral sites with video boards so it should not be used as an excuse. However, the pressure to win the first game in a “new” stadium could give the Irish some early jitters. Let’s take a look at how these two teams match up.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Temple Defense
Offensively, the big story for Notre Dame will be the play of new starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Despite only small amounts of playing time in his first two years with the Irish, there is plenty of hype around the junior quarterback. Luckily for Wimbush, he has an outstanding supporting cast. The offensive line returns four starters, including the left side of Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson who both project to be first round picks. At running back, Notre Dame can legitimately go three deep with Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and Tony Jones Jr. The tight end spot was thought to be loaded going into fall camp, however, a hamstring injury to Alize Mack could slow his production. Expect Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar, Cole Kmet, and Brock Wright to all see the field as new offensive coordinator Chip Long will employ two tight end sets. At Wide Receiver, Equanimeous St. Brown could very well be Notre Dame’s best all-around receiver since Michael Floyd. He’s not the deep threat Will Fuller was, but he has above average speed combined with a strong 6’5″ frame. Behind St. Brown there is uncertainty. Chase Claypool has plenty of potential, but hasn’t shown it on the field yet. Expect the Irish to be substituting plenty of receivers as Miles Boykin, Chris Finke, CJ Sanders, Cam Smith, Javon McKinley, and perhaps freshman Michael Young could all see the field.
Last season, Temple ranked 11th in the nation in total defense. The Owls allowed just 130 rush yards per game and registered 40 sacks. A major reason for that total was the #13 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Haason Reddick. The Owls didn’t just lose Reddick, either, as they return only 4 starters on defense. However, while the front seven was decimated with losses, the secondary returns 3 starters including senior free safety Sean Chandler who has twice been 2nd team All- AAC. Along with senior leadership at the back end of the defense, the Owls have brought in a defensive minded head coach. Geoff Collins had plenty of success as the defensive coordinator at Florida and will bring the same mentality to Temple.
Edge: Notre Dame
Temple Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Phillip “P.J” Walker left Temple as the most decorated quarterback in program history. Walker holds Temple records for wins, passing yards, passing touchdowns, total yards, and total touchdowns. Now, the Owls are holding a quarterback competition, with many expecting the winner to be redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi. Marchi does have some speed, but can’t be expected to put up the numbers Walker did. At running back, the Owls return Ryquell Armstead Jr., who ran for over 900 yards last year and will take the bulk of the carries. However, he’ll have to run behind an offensive line that lost the Buffalo Bills 2nd round pick, left tackle Dion Dawkins. At receiver, both Keith Kirkwood and and Ventell Bryant Jr. posted over 500 receiving yards and should help an inexperienced QB. There is some talent on this offense, but the losses of Walker and Dawkins make for massive holes.
New defensive coordinator Mike Elko has fans excited as he molded lesser recruited players into a strong unit at Wake Forest. The strength of this defense will be the linebacking core. Nyles Morgan is certainly one of the most talented middle linebackers in the country. Meanwhile, Greer Martini and Drue Tranquill should thrive in the buck and rover positions respectively. The cornerbacks are also a strength, Nick Watkins should lock down the outside and Shaun Crawford will get a lot of playing time in nickel looks. Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride should also see the field and benefitted from their experience as true freshmen in 2016. Julian Love could also be a very strong corner for Notre Dame, but rumors have been swirling that he will move to safety. The back end of the Irish defense is its biggest question mark. For now, the starters are Nick Coleman at FS and Jalen Elliot at SS, but don’t be surprised to see the Irish shift things around throughout the year. The defensive line is the other questionable area of this defense. However, reports from fall camp have been glowing about Daelin Hayes, Jay Hayes, Andrew Trumbetti, and Khalid Kareem. Along with the ends, the Irish will need consistent play on the interior part of the line from Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner.
Edge: Notre Dame
Last season, Temple had 5 blocked kicks and finished 5th in the country in that category. Isaiah Wright also provided excitement in the return game as he averaged 25.3 yards per kick return. The Owls also return senior kicker Austin Jones who has gone 36/50 in his career.
Special teams may have been Notre Dame’s biggest problem area last season. The kick and punt return coverage was awful, and changed the momentum in a negative way numerous times. That is the reason Brian Polian has been brought in as full-time special teams coach. Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome have both shown flashes of brilliance at kicker and punter, but are sometimes inconsistent. Look for CJ Sanders to return kickoffs and Chris Finke to be back for punts for the Irish. While there is renewed commitment to this area from the Notre Dame coaching staff, the Irish have a lot to prove on special teams.
If Notre Dame were coming off almost any other season, I would be much more weary of this game. However, after going 4-8 last year I don’t see the Irish overlooking anyone, even with Georgia looming next week. The Irish will come out hungry and looking to prove that this season will go nothing like 2016. With an experienced and talented offensive line, look for Notre Dame to come out running the ball against a depleted Temple front seven. The Owls may keep it close in the first half, but look for the Irish to pull away in the 3rd quarter.
Notre Dame 38 Temple 17
Tailgate Song of the Week
Each week I’ll be giving my tailgate song of the week, a must have for any playlist in the Joyce Lot. This week it’s an all-time classic: September by Earth, Wind, and Fire. September is just getting started and everybody’s feeling good at 0-0. So why not go with the 70s feel good hit?