Summer Opponent Preview: Temple Owls

Andy Lyons

An early preseason look at Notre Dame's first ever meeting with Temple.

Spring football is over and the first game of the season is only 4 months away. Here's a summer preview of Notre Dame's first opponent in 2013. This will also be the first game in series history between these two schools.

TEMPLE OWLS

Temple_medium

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Head Coach: Matt Rhule (1st year)

2012 Record: 4-7

2012 S&P Rating: 92

'12 S&P Offense: 71

'12 S&P Defense: 113

'12 FEI Rating: 83

Temple was an annual D-1 Independent doormat for the majority of the 1980's, 90's, and 00's before Al Golden showed up in 2006. Golden only won 1 game in his first season but during his last two seasons in Philly he posted a remarkable 17-8 record as the school transitioned to life in the MAC conference. Golden then became one of the hottest coaching names in the country and left for Coral Cables to coach the Miami Hurricanes.

For the last two seasons the Owls were coached by Steve Addazio and he led them to a strong 9-4 record in 2011 (with 3 close losses) and the school's first bowl win since 1979. However, last year as the Owls played their first season in the Big East (now transitioning to the American Athletic Conference) they regressed to a 4-7 record.

Last year Temple took care of business against city rival Villanova 41-10 but the Owls fell behind 26-3 by halftime, mounted a comeback to get within 2 points, but lost by 9 to Maryland in week two. After a bye week, they played Penn State tough but gave up 318 passing yards and lost by a couple touchdowns.

Much hope appeared in early October as a pair of 4th quarter touchdown runs by Montel Harris (transfer from Boston College, remember him?) sealed a victory over South Florida, and 17 unanswered points brought an overtime win over UConn as the Owls began Big East play 2-0.

It would be their last Big East win as well as their last victory over a major conference opponent.

Temple lost their final 4 Big East games by an average margin of nearly 21 points with their only win down the stretch coming at Army in which Owl running back Montel Harris set Big East records with 351 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns---that was 33.5% of his total rushing yards and 58% of his total rushing touchdowns on the season in just one game!

Boston College tried to lure our own Bob Diaco during late December but the Eagles ultimately signed Addazio away from Temple. Heading in to 2013 the Owls will be led by 1st time head coach Matt Rhule.

~~~

Q&A with Mike Gibson from Temple Football Forever:

1. Most Temple fans seemed excited to see Steve Addazio leave for Boston College. New head coach Matt Rhule coached at Temple under Al Golden from 2006 to 2010 and was on Addazio's staff in 2011 before becoming an assistant with the New York Giants last season. Are you excited about the prospects with Rhule? How much of a breath of a fresh air is he in Philadelphia?

Rhule is a huge breath of fresh air. Addazio is a former offensive lineman stubbornly committed to the run. He was that way at Florida and that way at Temple and will be that way at BC. Temple ran the ball 75.1 percent of the time on first and second downs, setting up a disaster on third downs.

20130123_hcs_sy4_023

Head coach Matt Rhule. [Howard Smith, USA Today Sports]

Against Maryland, he threw the ball just twice in the first half on the way to a 26-3 deficit. The fans had to chant "THROW ... THE ... BALL ... THROW... THE... BALL" over and over again for Daz to throw it in the second half. The result was three touchdown passes but, by then, it was too late.

2. Addazio coached some of most boring offenses known to mankind, how different will Rhule and offensive coordinator Marcus Setterfield's offense be at Temple this year? What will be their base offense and how much more will they rely on the passing game?

Pro set. Rhule was an offensive assistant with the New York Giants and he's bringing over Tom Coughlin's offense. Imagine Reilly as Eli Manning and you pretty much get the offense.

3. What's the situation at quarterback? Chris Coyer and Juice Granger both saw a lot of snaps last year but redshirt junior Connor Reilly appears to be in the mix as well. Have any of these players found it difficult to transition to a new coaching staff, and who do you expect to be under center come August 31st?

Reilly, a passer ala Manning, has a lead over last year's starter Chris Coyer, a Tim Tebow-type QB. Juice Granger, who started the final two games, is a hybrid between Reilly and Coyer and a good third QB. Incoming freshman P.J. Walker, the player of the year in New Jersey, will be given an opportunity to compete when he gets here in July.

4. What's the biggest question mark on offense? Is it a particular position? Or is it perhaps the players getting used to a new system?

The major question is running back. Can a true freshman get on the field and make a difference, like Bernard Pierce immediately did in 2009? Gilmore is more of a change of pace and not an every down back. Temple has had some good running backs with Pierce, Matty Brown and Montel Harris. Now it's a question of finding replacements. If Temple has to play Spencer Reid, Andy Reid's kid, they will have problems moving the ball on the ground but he's fourth-string right now.

5. Shahid Paulhill apparently did not fit in with the plans of the new coaching staff and was not asked back for a 5th season which leaves the Owls with just 1 returning starter on the defensive line. Is this the biggest worry on defense when Temple squares off against the Irish?

Kamal Johnson, who was suspended for a discipline issue, returns. He was a starter on the D-line in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Averee Robinson, brother of former MAC player of the year Adrian Robinson, will slot into the nose tackle spot. He's a three-time PA state heavyweight wrestling champion. He will make an immediate impact. They need to get a better pass rush and those two, plus Sean Daniels, should help. Levi Brown was another starter from last year. They have a lot of talent and strength on the line. They just have to put it together. Hershey Walton is another good player. They have enough bodies to play a 5-2.

6. Temple returns a couple of talented young linebackers in Nate D. Smith and Tyler Matakevich. Talk a little bit about these players and the other top playmakers on the Owl defense.

Matakevich was a big surprise. He got into the game against South Florida when a senior, Ahkeem Smith, went down and started making plays all over the place, including a crucial 2-yard tackle for a loss that sealed the win. He's hard to block. Nate D. Smith is especially effective as a QB-chasing blitzing linebacker. He's the brother of former Philadelphia Eagle tight end L.J. Smith and has outstanding speed.

7. How worried are you about the viability of the new American Athletic Conference (the former Big East) as it relates to Temple athletics? How important to Temple was the 3-game series that was signed with Notre Dame, and is there some fear that the Irish may back out of one of those games with the upcoming 5-game ACC schedule Notre Dame will transition to in 2014?

The AAC is better for Temple football than the MAC was so I'm not worried. The basketball program will always be good because Fran Dunphy is one of the best coaches in America and he's not going anywhere.

8. What's the general mood for Temple fans toward Notre Dame? Is there a lot of excitement for the first game ever against the Irish?

Temple fans are tremendously excited to play Notre Dame. They are also realistic. Notre Dame recruits in a different stratosphere than Temple does. They hope Notre Dame plays in Philadelphia in 2014. You never know in college football about contracts anymore, though.

~~~

PROJECTED 2013 OWL DEPTH CHART

BOLD denotes returning starter

*Quarterback:

Connor Reilly, RS Jr.

Chris Coyer, 5th Sr.

Clinton "Juice" Granger, Sr.

P.J. Walker, Fr.

Temple has one of the more curious quarterback situations in the country. Coyer was named the team's starter for the last 4 games of 2011, was named MVP of their bowl game, then played most of last season sharing some time with Granger. Now it appears both have been usurped by Connor Reilly who may be making his first career pass attempt inside Notre Dame Stadium when these teams meet.

The Owls also had Penn State transfer Kevin Newsome here but have moved him to the tight end/h-back position while he recovers from an injury. In fact, Temple experimented with Coyer at tight end late this spring as well which would seem to indicate he's no longer competing at the QB position and that the depth chart may be more clear for incoming freshman P.J. Walker as Mike notes above.

*Running Back:

Jamie Gilmore, So.

Zaire Williams, Fr.

Kenneth Harper, Jr.

Spencer Reid, RS So.

Avery Williams, RS Fr.

Temple ran the ball a lot last year (67.9% of all snaps) and while they move away from a run-heavy offense a lot of production on the ground game will be lost from 2012. The top two running backs are gone and if Coyer or Granger don't end up starting at quarterback that means the Owls will have lost all 4 of their top rushers and 93.8% of all rushing yardage from a year ago. That leaves a lot of question marks at a position with little experience.

Gilmore didn't play early last year but the freshman came on strong late in the season and picked up 20 carries for 2012. Gibson thinks incoming freshman Zaire Williams arrives in the summer and immediately pushes for the starting position. With the change to a NY Giants style of offense and emphasis on the H-back position in spring camp, I have the fullback position basically disappearing and 2012's starting FB Kenneth Harper helping out at running back.

20120831_pjc_se7_043

Nice footwear, Bill. [Eric Hartline, US Presswire]

*Tight End:

Alex Jackson, 5th Sr.

Chris Parthemore, 5th Sr.

Kevin Newsome, Sr.

Another curious move the Owls made this spring was moving 6'5" 255 pound starting tight end Cody Booth (the team's second leading receiver and leader in touchdown receptions last season) to left tackle. The coaching staff must feel awfully confident in the other players at this position and they do bring 3 seniors to the table with the position move of Newsome.

Jackson has 17 career receptions and is the front-runner to start as Parthemore has been restricted to mostly special teams duty for his career and Newsome works his way back from injury. Temple will also add freshman Adrian Sullivan this fall as well.

*Y Wide Receiver:

Jalen Fitzpatrick, Jr.

Samuel Benjamin, So.

Tyron Harris, 5th Sr.

*X Wide Receiver:

Deon Miller, Sr.

Nathan Hairston, RS Fr.

Romond Deloatch, So.

James Whitfield, RS Fr.

*Z Receiver:

John Christopher, So.

Ryan Alderman, 5th Sr.

Khalif Herbin, So.

Temple didn't throw the ball enough to get a lot of receivers involved last year but they will have to get many more ready with the new offense in 2013. One of the 2 nominal starters is gone but Jalen Fitzpatrick (team-leader in receptions, 30, and yards, 363) returns after a successful sophomore season.

Christopher, Miller, Alderman, Deloatch, Benjamin, and Herbin all caught passes last year and can be involved again this fall, while Hairston has been turning some heads this spring after sitting out as a freshman in 2012. You can expect a lot of shuffling with this entire unit until they face the Irish.

*Left Tackle:

Zach Hooks, RS So.

Cody Booth, 5th Sr.

Elijah Grant, RS Jr.

*Left Guard:

Jeff Whittingham, 5th Sr.

Brendan McGowan, RS Fr.

*Center:

Kyle Friend, So.

Evan Regas, 5th Sr.

Jacob Quinn, RS So.

*Right Guard:

Scott Roorda, 5th Sr.

Jacob Quinn, RS So.

*Right Tackle:

Sean Boyle, 6th Sr.

Adam Metz, Sr.

Elijah Grant, RS Jr.

Hooks and Whittingham return to anchor the left side after starting every game last season. Boyle has started many games at center (7 last year before injury) but was moved to right tackle, is still recovering from shoulder surgery, and his 6th-year return may not be made depending on his rehab progress.

Both Friend (9 combined starts at center & right guard) and Roorda (4 starts) provide some nice experience for the line coming in to the fall. The starting lineup as constituted here isn't terribly under-sized averaging 6'3.5" and 297.4 pounds with 4 out out of the 5 players at least 300 pounds.

*Defensive End:

Sean Daniels, Sr.

Shabaz Ahmed, So.

*Defensive Tackle:

Kamal Johnson, 5th Sr.

Hershey Walton, RS So.

Averee Robinson, Fr.

*Defensive Tackle:

Levi Brown, 5th Sr.

Brett Niederreither, RS Fr.

*Defensive End:

Jaimen Newman, RS Jr.

Matt Ionnidis, So.

Brandon Chudnoff, RS So.

With Shahid Paulhill not being asked back for a 5th year the Owls have lost 3 of their top 5 tacklers on the defensive line although Kamal Johnson (5 career starts) returns from suspension following an arrest this past October.

Jaimen Newman moves from the offensive line and is now starting at defensive end opposite Sean Daniels (17 tackles, 3 sacks last year) while Levi Brown and his 55 career tackles return on the inside.

Hershey Walton had a strong freshman campaign last year with 3 starts and 35 tackles but there is little experience on this unit beyond that. Temple has decent size for a 4-man front with the projected starters weighing 230, 295, 308, and 290 pounds.

*Weak-side Linebacker:

Tyler Matakevich, So.

Avery Ellis, So.

*Middle Linebacker:

Nate D. Smith, RS So.

Wyatt Benson, Sr.

Rob Dvoracek, So.

*Strong-side Linebacker:

Blaze Caponegro, 5th Sr.

Olaniyi Adewole, Sr.

The top four tacklers at linebacker return for Temple as well as all 3 starters from a year ago. Matakevich and Smith combined for 176 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss while Caponegro and Adewole combined for 59 tackles at the strong-side linebacker spot.

The Owls moved fullback Wyatt Benson to middle linebacker and he actually was working with the first team unit during the spring. I have a hard time thinking Benson will replace the team's 2nd leading tackler from a year ago but this likely means the Temple coaching staff may shuffle this position around before fall.

*Corner:

Anthony Robey, RS Jr.

Tavon Young, So.

*Corner:

Zamel Johnson, 5th Sr.

Daquan Cooper, Jr.

*Safety:

Abdul Smith, 5th Sr.

Michael Felton, So.

*Safety:

Chris Hutton, Jr.

Dion Shaw, RS Fr.

Temple loses both safeties from a secondary that gave up 1,668 yards on 64.7% accuracy and 16 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions in 2012 against Penn State, Rutgers, Pitt, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Syracuse. Hutton (11 tackles in '12) and Abdul Smith (9 tackles) return as the most experienced safeties.

The good news is that both starting corners and the nickel corner are back for Temple which should provide a nice nucleus to build around during the off-season.

~~~

Final Thoughts

I don't think there's any doubt that this is a rebuilding year for Temple, or rather, a transitional year for the program to get used to a new coaching staff. With 26 wins from 2009-11 perhaps some believe the Owls can bounce right back to a 9-win season but that may be tough especially with Notre Dame, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Rutgers on their schedule.

Offensively they should be fairly strong and experienced up front but there are not many skill position players returning and that's usually not a good sign. Add in a somewhat radical change of the offense, a brand new quarterback, major questions at running back, and this probably isn't going to be a Temple team that comes right out of the gate with an improved offense. Then again, ridding yourself of an Addazio offense could do wonders for the program.

Things might be even worse on defense where the Owls are going to need a lot of inexperienced talent to step up with just 6 starters returning. Last year Temple gave up 6.28 yards per play (108th nationally) a statistic the Irish haven't seen from an opponent since Washington State in 2009. In 2012 Navy was the worst Irish opponent in this regard at 6.05 yards per play and Notre Dame racked up 490 yards on just 69 plays (7.10 per play) on the way to an easy 40-point win.

Temple will be severely outmatched against Notre Dame but the Irish have been known to play sloppy in the season opener. Rhule is a good hire for the Owls though and should improve the program over time but late August there should still be too many question marks to stay competitive with Notre Dame.

Predicted Game Day Spread- Temple (+23.5)

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