NOTRE DAME — Opportunities. Temple wasted them.
The Owls threw a bunch of short jabs Saturday, Aug. 31, and pushed Notre Dame near the ropes just enough times to keep things interesting during the season opener.
The Fighting Irish came back with a few hooks of their own. The big knockout defensive punches weren’t necessary.
“There was never a doubt for sure. We’re a confident group,” said senior tri-captain Bennett Jackson, one of the starting corners. “We just believe.”
Notre Dame’s defense, which spent much of the afternoon hustling in fresh personnel to counter Temple’s tempo-based offense, relishes any threats to its end zone. While the Owls plodded around Notre Dame Stadium, Irish defenders say there was no fear.
“I think when you’re backs are against the wall, you play a little differently,” said Dan Fox, the senior inside linebacker who led ND in tackles with 10. “We stuck together. We know we have each others’ backs.”
Temple quarterback Connor Reilly believes turning a few of its early chances into touchdowns would have changed the course of the contest, but acknowledged the Irish for standing firm.
“They are all squandered opportunities ... we left a lot of points on the field,” Reilly said. “If we can put those points on the scoreboard the game’s a whole different game.
“Our defense played a great job in the end, a few missed opportunities at the beginning ... I think three missed plays by us turned into three big plays for them ... but Notre Dame played a great game. We just have to capitalize on opportunities when we get in the red zone.”
Keeping the Owls in front of the defense was the objective. As the field grew shorter, safety Matthias Farley said the advantage actually leaned toward the Irish.
“As a defense, if we have an inch to stand, we’re going to give everything we have,” Farley said. “The closer we get, the less space they have, the more excited we get to make a stop ... protecting that end zone no matter what. That showed tonight.”
“Personally, I get a little more comfortable the closer we get to the end zone,” Jackson said. “The field gets shorter, there’s less space to operate in the red zone and we just play a little tighter. It’s easier for us.”
Easier? Perhaps, but it’s the formula — for now — which head coach Brian Kelly endorses.
“Our style of defense is we’re going to keep points down,” Kelly said. “We just need to be patient, and that’s just the way we play.”