Temple Owls vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish Complete Game Preview
Notre Dame and Temple kick off their 2013 seasons on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish look for a repeat trip to the BCS National Championship Game, this time looking to win it all. Notre Dame was trounced, 42-14 by Alabama in that game, and it was a rocky offseason that included Brian Kelly's flirtation with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax and quarterback Everett Golson's suspension.
Temple, meanwhile, will be playing its first game under new coach Matt Ruhle. Ruhle, a former Temple and New York Giants assistant, faces a tough opening act as he takes his team into historic Notre Dame Stadium.
Time: 3:30 p.m. (Eastern)
Place: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
Spread: Notre Dame by 30
Notre Dame Keys to Victory
Two years ago, when the Irish were stunned at home by South Florida, turnovers doomed them. Tommy Rees, who replaced Dayne Crist at halftime of that game, had a turnover-plagued season. Ball control is key as the Irish are clearly the more talented team. With Everett Golson, last year's starting quarterback, out this season because of a university suspension over an academic matter, Rees moves back into the starting role. Rees isn't known as a QB with a big arm, so teams will be looking to stop the run. A key matchup is ND's strong offensive line against the Temple front. ND will try to open holes for George Atkinson III, USC transfer Amir Carlisle, and freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston. The Irish defense was the team's strength last year. Emotional leader Manti Te'o has graduated, but the defensive line returns two of its top players in Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. Running the ball will likely be a challenge for Temple.
Temple Keys to Victory
Let's face it. The Owls need some help. A turnover (or two, or three, or four ...) certainly would be huge. So would a defensive touchdown. Or a special teams touchdown. Temple has won three straight season openers but No. 4 is a tough task. Temple ranked 107th last season in total offense, 116th in passing offense. Gone are top running backs Montel Harris and Matt Brown. Junior Connor Reilly takes over at quarterback and, with a tough Notre Dame run defense awaiting, he may have to throw often. Temple's strength is its defensive line, with youth at linebacker and in the secondary.
Players to Watch Notre Dame
Days after Everett Golson was suspended for the season, Irish coach Brian Kelly named Tommy Rees the starter. But he did so with the following caveat: He was committing to Rees only for the opener, nothing beyond. Rees two years ago was a turnover machine, and that, coupled with his offseason arrest prior to his junior year, opened the door for Golson. Rees will never be confused for Golson, and he isn't nearly the runner as the two guys behind him on the depth chart, classmate Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Malik Zaire. Rees does, however, have something that neither of those two have, and that's starting experience. He's 14-4 in that category.
Freshman Jaylon Smith began fall camp as the No. 3 outside linebacker, but things changed over the last few weeks. Danny Spond entered fall camp as the returning starter and junior Ben Councell his backup, with Smith pushing. Spond, however, was forced to give up the game because of a medical condition, opening the door for Smith. He plowed right through. When Notre Dame's depth chart was released on Tuesday, Smith was listed as the starter. Sure, that could change if he stumbles, but Smith is a star in the making, and expect him to become a household name.
Others to watch:
USC transfer Amir Carlisle was ruled eligible last year but a leg injury wiped out his season. He's fast and elusive. He's expected to share time with junior George Atkinson.
Tight end Troy Niklas could be the next star Irish tight end, following in the footsteps of Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert, all of whom are in the NFL.
Steve Elmer is listed as the backup at right tackle, but Kelly said on Tuesday that the situation is fluid, and that either Elmer, a freshman, or Ronnie Stanley could start.
Corey Robinson, another freshman, was impressive in camp and earned a spot on the two-deep. Robinson is the son of former NBA star David Robinson.
Neither KeiVarae Russell nor Bennett Jackson had started a game at corner prior to last season. Each started all 13 games and return this season.
Players to Watch Temple
Chris Coyer played quarterback for the Owls for three seasons and started nine games at the spot last year. But there's a new coach in town, which means a new quarterback, and a new position for Coyer. He has moved to H-Back. It should be a good fit in that Coyer ran for 444 yards on 111 carries. If the Owls do try something exotic, it would make sense that Coyer would be involved.
Remember the Big East Conference? Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich last season was that conference's rookie of the year. Matakevich last season became the first freshman in Temple history to recored 100-plus tackles, and he did so in eight starts. This season, he was named a team captain.
Others to Watch
Temple's backfield has a new look this year with Montel Harris and Matt Brown gone. Expect Kenny Harper to get a lot of the carries. He ran just 13 times last season.
Looking for big receivers? Don't look here. The average height of starters Ryan Alderman, Jalen Fitzpatrick and John Christopher is 5-foot-10, 180 pounds.
Sophomore Romond Deloatch is now at tight end after playing wide receiver as a freshman. Deloatch even spent some time at defensive end this fall, recording seven sacks in one day.
Owl's complete depth chart available here.
What They Are Saying
"We focus on Temple. I talk about it every day. I talk about the importance of playing this game and focusing on this football game. It'll be a topic of conversation again today, tomorrow and every day leading right up to the Temple game." -- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly when asked this week about the possibility of some of his players looking ahead to Michigan, next week's opponent.
"Both Jaylon (Smith) and Ben (Councell) are going to be stalwarts out there at that outside linebacker position. They are both very different tools. You know if you have a toolbox you are going to need a Phillips head screwdriver and a flathead screwdriver. One's going to be a flathead screwdriver and one is going to be a Phillips head screwdriver. So when you have a screw that needs to be screwed in and it needs a Phillips head screwdriver you better grab a Phillips head screwdriver." -- Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco on the differences between outside linebackers Jaylon Smith and Ben Councell.
"I don't think or have sensed any nerves or anxiousness, except being excited for the season to kick-off." -- Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley.
Notre Dame 42, Temple 10: Granted, the Irish don't have Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert and Everett Golson, but they still have more than enough to cruise in their season opener. Notre Dame had a clunker of an opener two years ago when it lost at home to South Florida, but don't expect the Irish to stumble out of the gate this year.