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Temple Review: Irish Grind Out Tough Win in Philadelphia

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Add another win to that win column, would ya?

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame trailed on Saturday for a couple minutes late in the 2nd half and then for another couple minutes late in the 4th quarter. But a late touchdown pass from Kizer to Fuller brought home a tough victory for the Irish.

Play-Call of the Game: 17-yard Touchdown Pass from Kizer to Fuller

Once Alize Jones came onto the field and lined up attached I thought for sure we'd go back to him (he'd just caught a 45-yard pass 2 plays earlier) and finally hit the tight end seam route that our program has become so well known for in past years. Instead, Jones stays in to block, Kizer gets great protection, and fires this game-winner with just over 2 minutes left in the game.

Fuller Temple

Full disclosure, I thought this ball was picked off in real time. I'm not sure what the safety was thinking. He recognizes the play correctly, goes to cut-off the pass then seems to be confused when the ball is a little higher or not quite in the place he thought it would be.

Oh well, another throw by Kizer full of balls and swag. That's Fuller's 9th touchdown reception of the season, in addition to scoring at least one touchdown in 14 out of his last 16 games.

Armchair Quarterback

It was a modestly accurate day for Kizer who had solid production through the air but never seemed to get into much of a rhythm as he shouldered nearly all of the load in the run game. He strung together 8 straight completions late in the game culminating in the touchdown pass to Fuller yet prior to that had only put together 3 straight completions once--everything else was broken up by incompletions.

At some point I'd like to take a look at the numbers because my impression is that Kizer has been a very smart quarterback on third down. However, he went 6 of 9 for 67 yards on Saturday night which looks really good on the surface but it only included 2 first down throws. To be fair, that doesn't include two 3rd down pass attempts that were turned into first downs via penalty. Still, Kizer threw 2 picks on third down (the first completely his fault) and he was hurt by being in a 3rd & 18 plus a 3rd &19 where he made short completions well short of the sticks.

Once again, Kizer was an effective short-yardage runner converting two third downs with his feet (including his long touchdown score) while his third attempt came up just a yard short prior to the adventurous clock-killing incomplete pass to finish the game.

The only other quibble I'll make is Kizer's decision on 1st down to begin the third-to-last series. He ran to his left trying to buy time and make a throw but ended up being taken down for a 4-yard loss. The smart decision there would have been to throw the ball away. Instead, the Irish got off schedule, picked up a penalty on second down (Martin's personal foul), and ended up punting right after Temple tied the game.

Turning Point: Russell Flying Interception

Russell Temple

Russell has yet to put together an excellent all-around game. He played things really conservative (which is fine) on Temple's trick play that went for 22 yards, gave up another 28-yard completion and was beaten on a crucial 4th down & 4 play for 31 yards that led to Temple's tying touchdown early in the 4th quarter.

Then he turns into Superman and totally redeems himself with an interception perhaps even more impressive than two weeks ago against USC. The Owls never got the ball back so this effectively sealed the win.

Surprising Stat: 2.22 Yards-Per-Play Differential

In my preview I mentioned that in comparing the offenses of both teams it was the Irish 2.13 advantage of YPP that was a huge advantage and main reason the Irish should win. That Notre Dame actually out-paced this during the game is a little surprising given how close the game was for 4 quarters. But some other stuff happened!

Unheralded Star: Torii Hunter

Hunter tied his career high with 5 receptions and set a new personal best with 62 yards. He looked pretty effective on a number of screens and rumbled 40 yards on one catch.

The ball was spread around nicely as 4 players (Brown, Fuller, Hunter, Prosise) caught at least 5 passes.

Missed Opportunity: First Offensive Drive of the 3rd Quarter

Notre Dame tried to break the game open with a 2-score lead and just kept faltering and letting Temple hang around. Kizer's first interception came on a short field and then his second red zone miscue came after an impressive 74-yard drive.

To open the second half Notre Dame's defense got immediately off the field following a third-down sack by Sheldon Day and the offense went on another long 80-play drive. Unfortunately, a 3rd down pass to Corey Robinson in the end zone was caught but just out of bounds.

Robinson went without a catch and remains at just 8 receptions for 98 yards on the season. I'm very intrigued to see if he is able to lock down a starting spot next year when presumably both of Notre Dame's starting outside receivers will leave the team.

Flag of the Game: Shumate's Targeting

Like you didn't know.

A lot has been talked about this penalty and rightfully so. I'm going to break it down this way: A lot of these targeting calls are similar to hockey where penalties are being called, for essentially, hitting too hard. It's a lot of the same themes from an official-on-the-field perspective.

"Was the player defenseless in any way?"

"Did the hit LOOK bad?"

If the ref answers those two questions affirmatively within a couple seconds it's a 'targeting' call. I'm not saying players safety isn't an issue but they can write whatever they want in the rule book and the real life calls on the field nearly always come down to the two factors above. When they go into the booth to review all they'll look for is helmet-to-helmet contact no matter what. The 'no matter what' part is the most important of that sentence. The application of this rule continues to be abysmal.

Plus, this was a really huge series for Temple. It completely changed the tone of the game. They'd just converted a huge 4th down a handful of plays earlier and would have likely settled for a field goal to make it 17-13 at this point in the game. Instead, they're gifted a first down and still needed to convert another 4th down to tie the game.

Baratti Temple

Temple smartly went right after Nicky Baratti on the touchdown play and it paid off. I know he was rusty and cold as can be just 4 plays into the game but the skeptic in me looks at this and thinks he probably doesn't fully trust his surgically repaired shoulder to put his arm out on the line to make a stop. With Shumate out for the first half against Pitt we've got some major problems at safety and we already had those to begin with anyway.

Red Zone TD Success: 40%

In some ways this was the story of the game. The first touchdown of the game was a beautifully drawn up play from the 2-yard line and the last touchdown came just inside Temple's red zone.

Of course, there were 2 interceptions and settling for a field goal. As many as 18 points left on the field in a tight game is never a way you want to finish drives. Temple got to mid-field on 4 drives and came away with all 20 of their points. The Irish got to mid-field on 7 occasions and came away with only 17 points.

Schemes n Such

There were a couple of head scratching decisions from this game. One, while there were a lot of nifty ways of moving the pocket and working the short-passing game (especially in the screen game which came alive for large stretches) there wasn't a lot of opportunity to make Temple pay down field for loading the box so much. Two, absolutely nothing was working in the run game with Prosise and nobody got the ball on any jet sweeps to try and poke the perimeter of the Owl defense.

It's not so much goal line play-calling--the Irish actually scored on their one drive down that far into Temple territory--as it is losing so much of your gameplan when Prosise became so ineffective. It's still impressive to move the ball as well as anyone has against Temple but it became evident early on that without Prosise things would get hairy in the red zone. That's what leads to Kizer throwing 5 passes to just 1 running play on both of the interceptions drives in the red zone.

Although I will say, it was mildly heartening that this wasn't one of those games from the past where Prosise would have received 7 carries and we got completely one dimensional. Notre Dame fed him the ball enough and it just wasn't effective.

Trench Analysis

Temple's front seven played outrageously well in containing Prosise. They filled gaps, got off blocks, and never let C.J. find that extra space needed to accelerate past the line of scrimmage. They played well as much as Notre Dame's offensive line came up short and didn't execute.

Just 25 yards on 14 carries is so bad for a running back. Temple's defense will never get the respect they deserve but Notre Dame can do better than that with the offensive line talent up front. Now, at the end of the day the Irish still posted 168 rushing yards and 5.42 per carry, both the best marks against Temple this year, not including Charlotte who feasted on some garbage minutes in a blowout loss.

Does it matter that Kizer did the damage instead of Prosise? Maybe a little bit but it just goes to show the value of having a quarterback who can run the ball.

I thought the defensive line kicked ass, honestly. All 7 tackles for loss came from the 4 starters and the wild and wacky world of quarterback hurries gave the Irish zero on the day (Temple too) but they made P.J. Walker uncomfortable all night long.

Temple ripped off runs of  39, 14, 10, 21, and 15 yards as their big plays on the ground. They never found any consistent success except for a brief moment in the 2nd half when they went to the read option and totaled 32 yards on 3 carries. Beyond that, the Irish shut down their run game as 19 carries went for 2 yards or less.

Freshmen Update

Alize Jones, Te'von Coney, C.J. Sanders, Justin Yoon, Josh Adams, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Jerry Tillery were the first-year players to see the field.

Jones caught a beautiful 45-yard catch and is up to 162 yards on the season. Sanders picked up 18 more punt returns yards in addition to 64 kickoff yards. Yoon hit his only field goal attempt.

Final Thoughts

With Prosise's lack of production he now needs to average 98 yards per game to tie the single-season rushing record. He was very much ahead of the game prior to Saturday but now will need to play great against some good rushing defenses the rest of the way.

I'm curious to see what the advanced stats say about the Irish ground game following this one. The Irish were already very high in a lot of areas, and even though there were struggles, due to Kizer's running and Temple's stoutness things might not move all that much.

There's been plenty of #hottakes on the Kelly-Grimes sideline confrontation over the weekend.

This doesn't bother me at all. Kelly got pretty close to the inappropriate line but that is outweighed quite heavily by Grimes' chirping at the referee and the possibility of an assistant strength coach costing the team a brutal 15-yard penalty. In the heat of the moment I don't blame Kelly one bit for what he did.

We need to seek some clarity on what the term 'ready to play' or 'starting out well' and other such phrases mean because it seems like all of them have a super broad definition that can't be met unless the Irish open a huge lead in the first half. I'm not sure that's entirely fair. Notre Dame opened with a long touchdown drive and then forced a punt. Isn't that the definition of starting strong?

My prediction is that Temple finishes 10-4 this season. They'll probably lose to Memphis later in the season and again in the AAC title game which could feature a re-match with Memphis, or else Houston or even Navy. I think their offense could betray them again during the regular season but the lineup of SMU, USF, and UConn are very winnable. So it's either drop one there and win the bowl game or lose the bowl game and finish the regular season 10-2.

Another terrible weekend for college referees which included this game but was obviously overshadowed by the Duke-Miami game. It's an epidemic for the sport.

I'm not all that torn up about this result. I knew Temple would be a tough team to beat and that their defense would give the Irish some problems. The optimist could say we were a couple turnovers from winning, conservatively, by double-digits and the skeptic could point to said turnovers, red zone problems, and Prosise having a terrible game.

Winning trumps a lot of the negative things, in my opinion. Winning is so important and I just don't get caught up in the worry that this isn't a playoff caliber team, whatever that means. Stacking up wins is what I'm most interested not so much style points. And even still, being +172 in yardage differential gives Notre Dame enough style points. This wasn't some terrible performance and unless Temple goes on to lose 3 more games in the regular season I'm reasonably certain this will go down as one of the quality wins for Notre Dame in recent years. Thinking it's not "because it's Temple" is just naive and/or ignorant. Plus, Temple is still ranked following this loss.

Big picture, we're No. 8 in the AP Poll and pound-for-pound that's about where this program is right now. Now let's beat Pittsburgh.