Temple defense preps for big stage against ND
Brian Plamondon | Friday, October 30, 2015
The last time Temple had a zero in the loss column this late in a season, the head coach of the Owls was Pop Warner. The year was 1934.
With a defense that returned all 11 starters from last season and a coach who is viewed as a rising star in many circles, the Owls (7-0, 4-0 AAC) enter what is widely viewed as the biggest game in program history Saturday night.
“I know this is exciting for people in the area,” Temple third-year head coach Matt Rhule said on the AAC coaches’ teleconference Monday. “I’m glad it’s here. As long as we do what we can do — we’ll play it out, play as hard as we can, and we’ll live with the result. If we get too caught up in everything else then we won’t play well.”
Much of Temple’s meteoric rise to its first ranking since 1979 can be attributed to its defense. The unit, which ranks eighth in the country with only 14.6 points allowed per game, lacks flash but is solid all around, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said.
“Some of these defenses that are in the top of the country do it with exotic looks and a lot of pressure,” Kelly said. “ … This is not a team that plays a ton of man. [It] doesn’t blitz a lot but plays so fundamentally sound, will give you multiple coverage looks [and] can play three down and four downs.
“Just a really solid, well-coached defense, and they have got good players. They have got veteran players that have played a lot of football, and you can see that.”
Although the entire front seven for Temple has been productive, the defensive line in particular has shined so far in the 2015 season. The Owls have three players — redshirt senior Nate D. Smith, senior Matt Ioannidis and redshirt junior Haason Reddick — who have combined for 12.5 sacks on the season. Each of them also has at least 6.5 tackles for loss. Notre Dame’s top three defensive linemen have combined for just six sacks on the year, and senior Sheldon Day is the only player with at least 6.5 tackles for loss.
“[The most exciting part is] it’s been several years of watching them grow,” Rhule said. “I’m really proud of the interior of the front seven. They’ll be tested this week, but so far they’ve played at a high level.”
That test will come in the form of the Notre Dame offensive line and senior running back C.J. Prosise, who averages 131.7 rushing yards per game. And the challenge of Prosise will simply add on to the pressure of a game that has drawn more attention to Philadelphia college football than it has received in quite some time. College GameDay will make its first trip to Temple, setting up shop by the Liberty Bell on Independence Mall. Still, Notre Dame starting receiver and Philadelphia native Will Fuller said a lot of the excitement comes down to the Notre Dame brand.
“I don’t think college football is really that important in Philadelphia,” Fuller said. “I guess it is now with Notre Dame coming to town.”
Whether Philadelphia can claim itself as a college football town or not, Rhule said Saturday will be a big day for the football team and the school in general.
“Any attention that we can get in a positive light from football reflects on the university,” Rhule said. “If football can be one small part of helping people pay attention to all the good that’s happening that the university is doing, then I think it’s well worth it … as long as [the team] stays focused on football. The only thing we can control is how we play, and I want to make sure we’re focused. Our kids have done it all year … [and] they’re ready to handle the increased attention.”