NOTRE DAME — College football is here, and Notre Dame is eager to wash the bad taste the loss to Alabama left in its mouth seven months ago.
“Getting back on the field for our football team after a loss is the best recipe for any football team,” head coach Brian Kelly said on Tuesday, Aug. 27. “It’s been a long time since we played that last game, and a lot of work, a lot of preparation leading into this first game against Temple.”
The topic of the National Championship loss was taboo during preseason camp. Players said that the game wasn’t even mentioned in practices.
Now set to play his first set of downs since January, receiver DaVaris Daniels vocalized what his teammates feel: The Alabama game is never far from their minds.
“In order to excel at this level you have to have something that motivates you day-in and day-out,” he said. “A lot of us carry it into the season.”
Temple (4-7 in 2012) will be the outlet for that frustration as the Owls make their first visit to South Bend to open up the 2013 season. How do they match up with the Irish?
Matt Rhule makes his collegiate head coaching debut against the Irish, and he’s not shy about admitting the challenge his offensive line will face against Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Sheldon Day.
“They are going to face four of the best defensive linemen that they’ll face all year, and maybe in their lives,” Rhule told the Chicago Sun-Times Monday.
Quarterback Connor Reilly will also take his first collegiate snap on Saturday. Reilly will have to get the ball out quickly to neutralize the pass rush, which might lead to early mistakes from the newcomer.
While Reilly finds his footing, expect Temple to rely on a ground attack to carry the offense. The Owls lost last year’s top running backs Montel Harris and Matt Brown, so Kenny Harper — who had only 13 carries last year — will likely carry the brunt of the run game.
Chris Coyer started nine games at quarterback for the Owls last year, but Coyer is now taking reps at H-back under Rhule’s new offense. Coyer should be interesting to watch and may be a crucial target for Reilly.
Sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich, Big East rookie of the year last season and recently named a team captain, heads the Temple defense and could harass the Irish offense on Saturday. Matakevich became the first freshman in Temple history record 100 tackles in a season (he finished with a team-high 101).
Beyond that, Kelly said he doesn’t really know what Notre Dame will find between Temple’s solid defensive line and young secondary.
“I think this is one of those openers where we’re going to have to kind of make some adjustments along the way, and they’ve got some good football players.” Kelly said, indicating that several new players will rotate in on Saturday.
The Irish will likely roll out the pistol offense it practiced in fall camp, which Kelly said could be an effective package with speedy running back George Atkinson.
Barring a major hiccup akin to the 2011 home opener against South Florida, Notre Dame should walk away from this game fairly easily. Rhule may have some big plans for the rebooted Owl offense, but it’s likely not going to come to fruition in South Bend.
The Irish will head to Ann Arbor, Mich., 1-0 with the easiest game of its daunting schedule behind them and a tough streak against familiar opponents ahead.
NOTRE DAME 34, TEMPLE 10.