Notre Dame (-9.5) at Temple
Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Kickoff: 8:00 PM ET
Date: Saturday, October 31, 2015
Series: 1-0-0 Notre Dame
Here is the One Foot Down preview for this weekend's Halloween matchup against the Temple Owls.
11-15 with GameDay in Town
As you may know Temple will be playing in their first ESPN College GameDay matchup this weekend, and obviously their first time hosting the popular morning TV show. It's also ESPN's 300th GameDay since first beginning the show back on November 13, 1993 from South Bend in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle between Florida State and the Irish.
Somewhat shockingly, this will be Notre Dame's 27th appearance as part of a GameDay event, a perfect 9% of all GameDay shows! The Irish pulled to .500 after notching 3 GameDay wins over a 6-week period in 2012 but have since lost their last 4 appearances: The 2012 BCS National Title Game, and road games at Michigan (2013), Florida State (2014), and Clemson (2015).
Rhule(ing) the City of Brotherly Love
A couple of years ago the Matt Rhule-led Temple squad that entered Notre Dame Stadium didn't seem like much but since then their head coach has sky-rocketed up the coaching search lists and at 40 years old is among the hottest young coaches in America. We mentioned in our summer preview that Temple could have a strong season and Rhule could be more coveted than Al Golden was when he was at Temple. Coming into this Saturday, the Owls have won 5 straight conference games, and if you think defense wins championships, might be the favorite to win the AAC.
We'll talk about Temple weak-side linebacker Tyler Matakevich in depth in a second but first let us stand in awe of not only his flaming red hair but a glorious gingy beard.
There's no doubt that Temple's ascent this season is built off their defense. There traditional defensive rankings are as follows: 8th nationally in scoring, 6th in rushing defense, 10th in rushing average, 57th in passing, 7th in yards per attempt, 9th in passer rating, 14th in total defense, and 10th in yards per play. We'll talk about their advanced stats below but this is great no matter the schedule.
5th Chance vs. Ranked Opponent
This will be Matt Rhule's 5th time facing a ranked opponent in his young tenure in Philadelphia. The Owls are 0-4 so far with losses in 2013 to Notre Dame (28-6), Louisville (30-7), and UCF (39-36), plus a loss last year to Memphis (16-13). This will also be the first game in Temple football history to see a ranked Owls team playing a ranked opponent.
4 Players to Watch
WR Robby Anderson
The 5th-year senior has had quite the up and down career in Philly. After taking a redshirt in 2011 he played on special teams in 2012 and then left the team in the spring prior to Rhule's first season. He re-joined the Owls in the summer as a walk-on but didn't play early in the season (and against Notre Dame) before blossoming for 791 yards and 9 touchdowns in 9 games. Then, Anderson was suspended for all of 2014 due to academics. He's back for his final season and is leading Temple in receiving with 31 catches, 388 yards, and 5 touchdowns.
RB Jahad Thomas
If Temple wins this game it'll likely be because Thomas is a work-horse who carries the offense. He's 6th nationally in rushes per game (23.57) and is currently the leading rusher in the AAC. The junior is only listed at 180 but he runs like an angry bowling ball of 225 pounds. The Irish better wrap him up.
LB Tyler Matakevich
Matakevich plays the weak-side linebacker spot for the Owls and absolutely racks up tackles like it's nobody's business. He's coming off 13 stops last week and made 11 tackles as a true sophomore back in 2013 against Notre Dame. He just recently passed the 400 career tackle mark and is a legit NFL Draft prospect.
DT Matt Ioannidis
Captain and the top player up front on Temple's defensive line. Ioannidis has good size at 6-4, 292 and has been very disruptive throughout his career. Coming into Saturday he has 7.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks this year and 25.5 TFL over his 3+ year career.
Temple's Rushing Defense
Notre Dame's offense has been in a fantastic rhythm this season because there's always been something in the well with the run game. When there wasn't in the Clemson game the offense really ground to a halt. Granted, the Owls haven't faced a good rushing offense yet and don't play in a run-heavy conference, either. But holding anyone under 3 YPC means, at the very least, you have a pretty good run defense.
Spooky Halloween Vibes
This is just weird, right? Playing a game at Temple is one thing but it's going to be in a NFL stadium anyway. But the Owls are ranked and having perhaps the best season in most of our lives. Then it's the ABC game of the night. And GameDay is in town. Plus, it's Halloween. I'm ready for anything.
Special Teams Miscue(s)
The Irish special teams have been good this year. Maybe a little too good. It just feels like we're due for a couple errors, especially given the previous concern.
2 Sides of the Line
Temple has started 6 different linemen this year. Junior left tackle Dion Dawkins (6-5, 318) and senior center Kyle Friend (6-2, 305) have made every start at their positions. Redshirt sophomore right tackle Leon Johnson (6-6, 320) missed the Cincinnati and UMass games but has started every other contest.
Senior left guard Shahbaz Ahmed (6-3, 296) missed one game but made the other 6 starts for Temple. In his spot for the Charlotte game started 5th-year senior Eric Lofton (6-5, 302) who also filled in at right tackle for Johnson and has now taken over the right guard position from redshirt sophomore Leon Johnson (6-6, 320) who made the season's first 4 starts.
Senior defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis (6-4, 292) we've already discussed and he plays next to either junior Averee Robinson (6-1, 285) and 5th-year senior Hersey Walton (6-4, 314) at the nose tackle spot. They've combined for 29 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. These three eat up nearly all the snaps on the interior.
A handful of players are making an impact at defensive end. Redshirt junior Haason Reddick (6-1, 225) has started every game and totals 6.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks through 7 games. Fifth-year senior Nate D. Smith (6-0, 236) has moved from linebacker and made 3 starts with an impressive 7 TFL and 6.5 sacks. Redshirt junior Praise Martin-Oguike (6-2, 255) has made 3 starts as well with 4.5 TFL and 2 sacks. You can also look for junior Sharif Finch (6-4, 257) to play some minutes. He has 2 tackles for loss on the year.
During the summer I talked about how Temple's offense needed to improve because that unit went MIA during the second half of last year causing the Owls to crash into the ground after a solid 4-1 start. So far in 2015 they've done that as Temple is averaging 9.2 more points per game and has moved from 117th in FEI offense to 82nd coming into Halloween night.
Obviously, that's not a great FEI offense by any measure but coupled with their defense it's improved the Owls from 67th in F/+ last year to 33rd right now.
They've also improved on a pretty stingy defense from last year, too. Temple was 31st in FEI defense a year ago and now sits at 26th while they're the No. 6 S&P defense in the country right now compared to 16th in 2014.
Temple football is ranked 21st in the AP Poll and better than Georgia, California, and Boise State in the F/+ rankings. Prior to the season they were a darkhorse pick to win the AAC and mentioned as one of the Group of 5 teams that could possibly crash a major bowl game.
Right now, the Owls are completely playing to their potential.
But sometimes it can be difficult to overcome biases and the general layout of history. With the spread in the single digits you'd hope Notre Dame is completely ready to play on Saturday. It's not week 3 and Temple's only been a nice little story so far. It's week 9 and the Owls will be a more difficult out than the 10th hardest opponent I predicted over the summer.
However, a good (possibly great?) defense can only take you so far in this day and age if you don't have a sufficient offense to back it up. If I'm a Temple supporter I'd be really worried about the offense playing well enough for 4 quarters.
Quarterback P.J. Walker is protecting the ball much better this year (15 picks to 3 this year) but he's been a non-factor in the run game (-6 yards) and is averaging 153 passing yards per game when you take the UMass game out when Temple struggled running the ball and was forced to air it out. Heck, leave the UMass game in and he's still only averaging 187 passing yards per game.
Jahad Thomas is a real good back but I don't know if he's good enough to carry their offense in this game. Of course, the Irish have been really bad at giving up big plays but they've also been able to strangle offenses for a lot of 3 & out drives. If Notre Dame cleans up the big plays by even 25% the Owls could be in for a long day. Look at the above 5 Factors (Michael will have more of this in an advanced stats preview on Friday) and Temple is not good in either explosiveness or efficiency.
Temple's defense is legit but even their explosiveness defense is just okay. In reality, they're playing perfect 'small ball' so to speak. Tough defense, grinding it out with a tough running back, maintaining good field position, picking off 12 throws against a pass-happy schedule, and doing juuuuuuust enough overall on offense to stay undefeated.
At some point, Notre Dame's offense is going to hit a bunch of big plays that should break the game open. Temple could get some too but they only have 8 plays (6 passes, 2 runs) of 30+ yards this year. The Irish have double that with 20 such plays from scrimmage.
Yards-per-play is my old crutch of a stat I always like to lean on and Notre Dame's +2.13 in this category in comparing each offense is a HUGE difference. Even if you consider Temple's defense better the difference in YPP on the other side of the ball is only 1.21 in the Owls' favor. Factor in level of competition, Notre Dame's defensive YPP has remained fairly steady over the years, this is by far the most explosive Irish offense in a very long time, and a win right around the spread feels right to me.