Head to head: Notre Dame vs. Temple
Observer Sports Staff | Friday, September 1, 2017
Last season was rough for the Irish defense as a whole and the secondary in particular. There were blown coverages, missed tackles and nowhere near enough pressure generated to make up for the other shortcomings.
But former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was fired midway through last season, and Irish head coach Brian Kelly elected to entrust his defense to Mike Elko — the former defensive coordinator at Wake Forest.
Elko’s scheme will supposedly focus less on fancy schemes and more on talent development, which is a good sign. But holes in the secondary have remained visible all throughout summer training camp.
Luckily for Notre Dame, Temple does not appear on paper to be a team that can take advantage of the weak Irish secondary. Last year, the Owls only averaged 237 yards of passing per game and are generally a run-first team.
On top of that, Temple head coach Geoff Collins has said that three quarterbacks will see playing time against the Irish. None of those three quarterbacks have significant experience. Combine that with a hostile environment and the difficulty in establishing a rhthym with a three-quarterback system, the Owls passing attack may fall flat.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
Temple makes no secret about its desire to run the ball. While the Owls run game will not look like the triple-option Notre Dame regularly sees with Army and Navy, the Irish front seven may have its hands full.
Last season, Temple averaged 176 rushing yards per game on just over 40 attempts. Temple’s top rusher from last season — Jahad Thomas — graduated, but junior Ryquell Armstead ran for over 900 yards and 16 touchdowns in the 2016 campaign, and backups Jager Gardner and David Hood have experience as well.
For the Irish front, controlling the line of scrimmage will be the key to the game on defense. Senior linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan have looked great against the run historically, but the depth of the defensive line will be tested if the Owls stick to the run game, as many expect them to do. Whether or not the freshman defensive tackles step up when called upon for the Irish is one of this game’s more important questions.
OWLS OFFENSIVE COACHING
This season is head coach Geoff Collins’ first in Philedelphia after former head coach Matt Rhule left for the head spot at Baylor. Collins has been known as a defensive mind, however, and the offense will be run primarily by offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude.
Patenaude is also in his first year with the program, and how he handles a highly-talented defense remains to be seen.
Notre Dame also has a number of new coaches, including defensive coordinator Mike Elko. Elko’s defense at Wake Forest consistently performed at a high level — without many top recruits. Now with a better talent pool, Elko is hoping to duplicate the results, if not surpass them, in South Bend. Elko has proven he can succeed against Power-5 offenses, but Irish fans will expect a rapid turnaround.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
OWLS SPECIAL TEAMS
In 2015, Temple kicker Austin Jones broke the school record with 23 made field goals in one season, and he made 19 straight attempts in 2016, before tearing his ACL. He currently ranks third in school history with 36 field goals to his name.
The Irish had two blocked field goals returned for touchdowns last season.
Much of the hype surrounding Notre Dame in the offseason has revolved around junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Unlike the previous two years, Wimbush is the undisputed starter in South Bend, after DeShone Kizer was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and Malik Zaire transfered to Florida. Like both his predecessors, Wimbush has the ability to throw and run, and his speed will be a factor in the open field.
Wimbush also has a talented cast of receivers around him. Junior Equanimeous St. Brown looks to build off a stellar, breakout year and sophomore Chase Claypool and junior Miles Boykin could be nice big targets for Wimbush on the edge. Junior tight end Alize Mack also returns after being suspended for the 2016 season due to an academic issue.
Looking to stop the Irish will be a Temple defense led by head coach Geoff Collins. That defense is inexperienced, however, especially up front. The Owls return only one starter on the defensive line, and their linebackers have only seven combined starts coming into 2017. Temple’s secondary has playmakers, like senior safety Sean Chandler, but Notre Dame has too much talent.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
Over the summer, Brian Kelly insisted on multiple occasions that the offense would run the ball more and that in goal-line situations, Wimbush would stand under center with a fullback in the backfield. Whether or not that promise plays out, the Irish certainly have a talented backfield. Junior Josh Adams had a solid 2016 campaign and was recently named a team captain. Second-string back Dexter Williams provides a nice change of pace with a larger build. But Irish fans may also want to keep an eye on sophomore Tony Jones, who broke out in spring sessions and has received rave reviews from the Irish coaches.
As mentioned previously, Temple is inexperienced up front, and that could prove problematic for the Owls, especially against a very experienced Irish offensive line which features two likely first-round draft picks in graduate student Mike McGlinchey and senior Quenton Nelson.
EDGE: NOTRE DAME
IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING
Notre Dame’s 4-8 season in 2016 was due to a lot more than playcalling, but Kelly’s playcalling was suspect at times, such as choosing to throw in a hurricane during the North Carolina State game. For 2017, Kelly has said he will hand over the reigns to first-year offensive coordinator Chip Long. Long coached at Memphis previous to his hiring by Kelly and was known for operating at a break-neck pace.
The Irish have had all spring to adjust to Long’s style and will look to blow by opponents, starting with the Owls.
Collins is no slouch either on the defensive side of the ball. Before his job at Temple, Collins was the defensive coordinator for Florida and Mississippi State. His defenses have been ranked in the top-10 nationally in a number of different categories, and he has coached numerous NFL players.
IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS
Junior kicker Justin Yoon is 28-of-34 in career field-goal attempts, but his range does not seem to have expanded much in the offseason.
Freshman Jonathon Doerer will handle kickoff duties this season, which should pin opponents further back on average.
Since 2014, Temple leads the NCAA in blocked kicks with 17.