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OFD Game Day Countdown: Notre Dame vs. Temple

Breaking down Notre Dame's season opener against the Owls from Philadelphia.


Temple (+29.5) at Notre Dame

Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana

Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET

Television: NBC

Last Meeting: First Meeting

Here's the One Foot Down preview of the 2013 season opener.

5 Factoids

  • 23-102-1

This is Temple's record against the top 20 major conference teams in terms of historical winning percentage. Of those 23 wins only 9 have come since 1950---the Owls have defeated Virginia Tech 3 times and West Virginia 6 times in modern times. Their most recent win against a top historical team came against a 3-8 West Virginia squad (the most losses in a season for the Mountaineers over the past 35 years) in 2002. In their rivalry game with Penn State the Owls have not won since 1941. Temple started the series against the Nittany Lions 3-1-0 but they've gone 0-37-1 since.

  • 1 through 9

The jersey numbers handed out during fall camp to the ‘toughest players' on the Temple roster. This practice---originally started by former coach Al Golden---has been re-instituted by new head coach Matt Rhule. If you were wondering the numbers went to 2 defensive linemen, 2 linebackers, 3 wide receivers, one quarterback, and one defensive back.

  • 5

That is the number of league affiliations Temple has had since the 2004 season. From 1991-04 the Owls were football-only members of the Big East Conference, then spent 2005-06 as an independent, then joined the MAC for 2007-11, then moved back to the Big East in 2012, and will join the new American Athletic Conference this fall.

  • 221

This is the total pass attempts for Temple last year---6th fewest nationally and the lowest among non-triple option and/or service academy teams. Head coach Matt Rhule has been installing a pro-style offense with some spread concepts so you can expect Temple to throw the ball much more this season.

  • 1,434

That is the all-purpose yardage from Matt Brown, the 2012 Big East Special Teams Player of the Year. The 5'5" 165 pound spark-plug was a backup running back last season for the Owls, ran for 372 yards on 60 carries, but really made a big impact in the return game. Brown was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this summer but was cut and is playing in the CFL with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

4 Players to Watch

  • RB Zaire Williams

The Sicklerville, New Jersey native is the top offensive freshman recruit (.861 Composite Score) from Temple's 2013 class and is in line for playing time this fall. Converted junior fullback Kenneth Harper (65 yards in 2012) won the starting spot at running back coming out of camp but Williams is more athletic and offers some big-play ability.

Williams has good size for a true freshman at 5'11" 195 pounds, was originally a verbal to West Virginia, and had a nice offer list as the No. 20 player in the state of New Jersey. Ultimately it was the comfort with the new Temple coaching staff and comfort in their system that made Zaire switch his commitment to the Owls.

  • WR Jalen Fitzpatrick

Temple threw the ball so few times last season and ran so many two wide receiver sets that the loss of just one senior wideout has left the team with a lot of unproven talent. Jalen Fitzpatrick returns as a starter after leading the team by a mile with 30 receptions and 363 yards last season. The 5-11, 180 pound junior also chipped in a pair of touchdowns as well.

The Owls have several other receivers with minimal experience so you can expect Fitzpatrick to be a primary target in the first game of 2013. He'll also be holding down the punt and kick return duties this weekend as well.

  • DE Sean Daniels

Sean Daniels impressed the new coaching staff with great spring and fall practices and was one of the select view players to earn a single-digit jersey number. The 6-3, 230 pound true senior played mostly on special teams in his first two seasons in Philadelphia but saw some regular snaps last year finishing with 17 tackles and 3 sacks.

Daniels is a little under-sized in Temple's 4-3 scheme but he offers the speed rush option that head coach Matt Rhule so desperately wants to implement into his system.

  • LB Tyler Matakevich

The Owls return all 3 of their starting linebackers from a season ago and they are led by true sophomore Tyler Matakevich who is coming off a season in which he was named the Big East Defensive Rookie of the Year. The 6-1, 230 pound native of Connecticut led Temple last year with 101 tackles while also adding 3 tackles for loss.

Matakevich was named to the Pre-season American Athletic Conference 1st Team during the summer and was the youngest player on the roster to receive a single digit number as one of the team's toughest players.

3 Concerns

  • Fumbles

More specifically fumbling from the Notre Dame running backs---although you could add in Rees fumbles (and interceptions as well). This is the first season since 2008 where the Irish don't have a starter or co-starter returning at running back. Naturally the lack of experience can lead to some worry about ball security.

George Atkinson has had the yips more so in practice than in games but seems to have improved his ball security. Moreover, rising junior Cam McDaniel takes a lot of pride in his ball security so that should ease the worry a bit.

Ball security is always important and there is always concern about coughing the ball up with 3 players---including a pair of true freshman---likely to take carry the ball for the first time in a Notre Dame uniform this Saturday.

  • Punting

Ben Turk certainly wasn't an All-American punter but he held the job for almost 4 full years and improved each season. Now the Irish begin a season with a "new" punter of sorts as junior Kyle Brindza who has the promising leg but has not focused on punting until this off-season. With all the hand-wringing over Notre Dame special teams the punt team really isn't a place you want to see mistakes being made.

Hopefully Brindza can prove he's a solid punter. It also helps to have Wake Forest transfer Alex Wulfeck in the mix too. Without Wulfeck I'd probably be much more concerned.

  • No Film on Temple

It's certainly true that Temple will be behind the 8-ball while having to learn new systems on both sides of the ball and in particular changing their offense from a run-heavy scheme to a much more pass-friendly scheme. However, they do have the benefit of not giving Notre Dame any film to work with, and that's always a plus for a heavy underdog.

If Temple was still running Steve Addazio's offense the Irish would feel much more comfortable. With a new head coach the Owls at least have some element of surprise they can use on Saturday.

2 Sides of the Line

Temple returns 3 starters from their offensive line and Matt Rhule has done a little shuffling around since the spring. Redshirt sophomore Zach Hooks (6-6, 300) started every game at left tackle in 2012 and moves to right tackle this fall. In the spot vacated by Hooks the Owls have beefed up former tight end and 5th-year senior Cody Booth (6-5, 285) in one of several curious roster moves by Coach Rhule. Booth, a former walk-on who has since earned a scholarship, led the tight ends in receptions last season and finished second on the team with 17 receptions.

On the interior Temple returns 5th-year senior Jeff Whittingham (6-2, 305) at left guard after he made every start there last season. At center Sean Boyle was granted a 6th-year by the NCAA but is not listed on the two-deep after having more injury problems this fall. He will be replaced by true sophomore Kyle Friend (6-2, 305) who made 9 overall starts in 2012 filling in at center and right guard. Filling out the starting lineup at right guard will be Maryland transfer and 5th-year senior Pete White (6-4, 330). The former Terp made 7 starts at College Park from 2010-12.

The aforementioned Sean Daniels is starting at the rush end position and will be backed up by 5th-year senior Alex Jackson (6-4, 255) who switches from the tight end position. Jackson caught 9 balls last year in 4 starts as the team's backup tight end. At the other edge true sophomore Shabaz Ahmed (6-3, 255) surprised many and grabbed a starting spot after seeing some action in 6 games a freshman in 2012. He'll be backed up by 5th-year senior Shahid Paulhill (6-3, 285) who left the team in March, was not expected to exercise his last year of eligibility, but came back for fall camp. Paulhill has made 19 career starts and totaled 47 tackles in his career mostly from the tackle position.

On the interior 5th-year senior Kamal Johnson (6-4, 310) is welcomed back to the team after starting 2 out of the first 3 games last season before being suspended the rest of 2012 after an arrest last fall. Johnson has made 5 career starts and has 26 tackles through 3 seasons. He'll be backed up by Averee Robinson (6-1, 285) a true freshman. At nose tackle 5th-year senior Levi Brown (6-2, 300) returns and has 20 career starts and 55 tackles through 3 seasons. Curiously, defensive end and sophomore Matt Ioannidis (6-4, 245) is listed at nose tackle as well after playing in 6 games last year. Also, redshirt sophomore Hershey Walton (6-4, 300) made 3 starts last year at nose tackle while racking up 35 tackles and is likely to play on Saturday even though he's not on the listed two-deep.

1 Prediction

In the latest One Foot Down Podcast I stated that this Temple team isn't likely to be as terrible as most people think. In fact, the Football Outsiders F/+ projections for the 2013 season back up that opinion. The Owls are sitting at 79th nationally ahead of Duke, Maryland, Kentucky, Navy, Wake Forest, and Air Force. As such, Temple is a lot closer to Purdue---just a few spots higher on the F/+ projections---than they are to a truly dreadful team like UMass.

This is why with everything that's unfolded over the off-season I'm scratching my head at the size of this spread that's given Temple 6 more points since the initial opening line. Vegas dropped Notre Dame's title chances enormously following the suspension of quarterback Everett Golson but this news (plus the Vanderdoes decision, Springmann, Spond, & Baratti injuries, Kiel transfer, etc.) hasn't affect people pouring money on the Irish over the past few months.

Football Outsiders 2013 Projections

F/+ 7 79
S&P+ 9 78
FEI 10 81
Offense F/+ 9 75
Defense F/+ 13 78

Are people just betting on ‘names' here? Is there too much concern about the Owls breaking in a new and unproven coach or is there that much faith Notre Dame will crush an inferior opponent?

Temple actually ran the ball really well last year (21st S&P rushing attack) and had a nice combination of Montel Harris sprinkled in with Matt Brown and quarterback runs. The problem for the Owls is that all of that rushing production is gone* as Harris & Brown graduated and starting quarterback Chris Coyer was moved to tight end.

*Technically QB Juice Granger and his 206 yards are back but he's not the starter.

The good news is that it will be nearly impossible for Temple to be worse than they were last year at throwing the pigskin around. As mentioned above they barely threw the ball and when they did good things did not happen. The Owls ended 2012 with the 108th S&P passing offense, totaled just 10 passing touchdowns with 52 percent accuracy, and didn't throw for 200 yards in a single game. Seeing as how redshirt junior Connor Reilly won the starting job over two quarterbacks with game experience that signals to me that Reilly is a better fit for Matt Rhule's system and should immediately give the offense a boost with the aerial attack.

Will an improved passing attack and (likely) less effective rushing attack equal a better offense for Temple? I'm more than willing to think so---any offense not directed by Steve Addazio is bound to get better.

Defensively the Owls were a mess last year finishing 123rd in S&P rush defense and 111th in S&P pass defense. However, they started out much better last year giving up 5.2 yards-per-play while going 3-2 overall against Villanova, Penn State, South Florida, Maryland, and UConn. After that point the defense completely fell apart giving up at least 32 points over the final 6 games while surrendering 7.7 YPP to Louisville, 8.2 YPP to Pitt, and 7.7 YPP to Cincinnati.

I'd bet the slow drain on their overall depth, a very young linebacker corps, a program not used to playing tougher competition, and the effect's of Addazio's coaching just zapped the defense of its strength and motivation over the second half of last season. I have no doubt that Temple will be plenty motivated on Saturday, but how much better will they be on defense?

With 8 players returning on the defensive line and all starters back at linebacker the Owls just have to be better against the run in 2013. There's been a lot of talk about them having to be better at getting after the quarterback but Temple was 43rd nationally in sacks per game last year---although they were just 96th in tackles for loss per game. Being a little more explosive on defense is nice but the Owls need to drive down their yards per game (91st) given up and yards-per-play (108th) given up if their defense wants to turn things around.

Temple should be an improved team---probably more so on offense than on defense---but it's a bit much to ask it to be as evident in game one of the Rhule era on the road against a ranked team. The running game is bound to take a step back, even if it benefits from more varied playcalling, and Temple is going to find it really hard to move the ball on the ground against this Irish defensive front. A less potent running attack leaves the onus on a first-year starter at quarterback working with a nice group of receivers who really don't have much experience. That's not a great recipe for success.

Temple's weakest spot on defense should be safety where they lose both starters and spent all fall camp trying to replace them without much success. The Irish would be wise to test those new starters early and often although we'll probably see a much more conservative attack. Taking the conservative route probably isn't going to lead to a ton of points for Notre Dame but enough to win comfortably.

Also watch out for Temple breaking in a new punter and placekicker. They lose Brandon McManus who was a big part of the Owls strong special teams in 2012 as the 1st-team All-Big East punter and 2nd-team All-Big East kicker. I'll take the Irish to cover mostly due to Notre Dame matching up really well against Temple's offense. I just don't see the Owls scoring many points.

Notre Dame 38

Temple 6