NOTRE DAME — For the 71st time in Notre Dame history, a new opponent will take the field against the Irish on Saturday, Aug. 31.
Unlike staple foes such as Michigan, Navy and USC, head coach Brian Kelly doesn’t know exactly what he’ll see out of Temple, which visits South Bend for the first time.
Avery Maehrer, sports editor for The Temple News, sheds some light on a Temple team trying to rally back from a 4-7 season and the trials of facing Notre Dame with a new coach and a new quarterback.
Q: Notre Dame can appreciate the uncertainty surrounding a new quarterback navigating the offense. Saturday’s game will be Connor Reilly’s first at the collegiate level. What can the Irish expect to see from Reilly and how has head coach Matt Rhule’s offensive background influenced the Temple passing game?
Avery Maehrer:Connor Reilly will be an interesting guy to watch this season for the Owls. He was a walk-on for the Temple baseball team last year, and has never taken a snap at the collegiate level. After Rhule’s arrival, a spot opened up at quarterback after he moved last year’s starter, Chris Coyer, to H-back (a position he has embraced so far).
After impressing during the team’s annual Cherry & White scrimmage this spring, Reilly was considered the bona fide favorite to land the starting quarterback gig coming into camp. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however. Reilly struggled at times, as senior Clinton Granger and freshman P.J. Walker made it a true competition. Ultimately, however, Rhule did name Reilly the starter last week.
As for what to expect Saturday, that remains to be seen. Temple has gone up against national powerhouses before — teams like Penn State and UCLA to name a few. But Reilly himself has never started against one. Making your collegiate debut at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia would be one thing. Traveling to South Bend to make your debut is a completely different animal.
Rhule has made the offense more traditional this season, as he has placed more of an emphasis on the passing game. This differs from Steve Addazio’s tenure when Coyer was in place because his running abilities were much more reliable than his throwing mechanics. Look for junior Jalen Fitzpatrick and senior Ryan Alderman to be impact receivers this weekend for the Owls.
Q:Temple fell from a team that allowed 13.9 points per game in 2011 to giving up 31.2 points per game in 2012. Can the Owls expect a resurgence this year with six returning starters?
AM:The defense should improve from 2012. But with teams on the horizon like Notre Dame, Louisville and Cincinnati, returning to a figure like 13.9 may be a bit unrealistic.
Rhule has said throughout camp that one of his most important goals on the defense is to have good pass rushing. That starts with seniors Sean Daniels and Levi Brown. If both can stay healthy this season, their presence could be a big help in a defense resurgence this season.
Another guy to watch on Saturday will be sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich, a team captain who is coming off a freshman campaign in which he was named Big East Rookie of the Year. Matakevich’s potential is huge going forward through his next three years of collegiate eligibility.
Q:First-year head coach Matt Rhule reintroduced Al Golden’s “Temple Tough” number distribution, which I think is one of the neatest traditions in college football. Which players awarded single-digit jersey numbers do Notre Dame need to watch out for?
AM: The tradition has been a really fun part of covering training camp. Rhule is a Temple guy through and through. He started as an assistant coach with the Owls during the 2006 season before leaving for a brief period to coach in the NFL, and his investment in Temple seems a bit more heartfelt than it did under Addazio.
The athletes on the team vote on who receives each of the nine numbers available, and a lot of the guys who were awarded them I’ve already mentioned: Daniels, Fitzpatrick, Matakevich and Brown.
Granger, who lost the starting quarterback job to Reilly, is part of this elite club as he will wear No. 3 on Saturday. Other guys who received numbers are senior linebacker Blaze Caponegro and junior defensive back Anthony Robey, both who should see some playing time against the Irish.
Q:Rhule was an offensive line coach for the New York Giants and is now faced with blocking two All-Americans on Notre Dame’s defensive line. With his experience, how has Rhule addressed facing Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt on Saturday?
AM:Rhule knows his team will face a challenge. Earlier this week he said the team is “probably not sleeping around here” thinking about Nix. Tuitt is another guy Rhule mentioned stood out to him when watching tape of the Irish. Both, he said, are set to be top draft picks in the NFL soon.
Saturday the Owls will be presented with a challenge to not let Nix and Tuitt take over the game. If that happens, Temple doesn’t stand a chance.
Q:Las Vegas odds haven’t been kind to Temple (Notre Dame is a 30-point favorite), but stranger things have happened in college football. What will it take from Temple on both sides of the football to pull off the upset in South Bend?
AM: Everything, and I mean everything, will have to go the Owls way on Saturday for them to pull off an upset.
It all starts with Reilly, really. If he limits his mistakes (there are likely to be at least a few in his first start), and works well with the offense, the Owls may have at least a chance to make things interesting. The running game will be another important aspect of the game. Junior Kenneth Harper and freshman Zaire Williams will be key in taking some of the pressure off of Reilly. Defensively, the Owls will need to stay aggressive on their line and give the offense a chance to stay in the game.
If Temple somehow gets a victory in South Bend, it will be one of the team’s most memorable wins in a long time. That said, unless the Irish make mistakes and don’t play up to their potential, this should be a relatively easy victory for Notre Dame.