Notre Dame fans have already endured a pretty wild ride in 2013, given the fact that they’ve only played two organized football games. Between the sting of a disappointing National Championship Game, the pandemonium of an unbelievable phishing scam; the reprieve of an exceptional recruiting class, the ridiculousness of a single 40-time and the reward of a tumultuous spring season, fans have witnessed enough drama to last a decade. But now we can finally turn our attention to the next chapter, the 2013 season.
In a twelve part series, I will break down Notre Dame’s 2013 opponents. Hopefully over the next ten to twelve weeks I will leave you with an in-depth of knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of these challengers and tell you how the Fighting Irish can (and will) beat them.
Let’s start with Notre Dame’s first opponent: the Temple Owls.
- Schedule: August 31, 2013 at 3:30pm EST
- Where: Notre Dame Stadium
- Network: NBC
The Owls had a pretty forgettable 2012 season as they finished 4-7 overall and 2-5 in a weak Big East conference. During the off season, the Owls lost head coach Steve Addazio who took the Boston College job and they hired Matt Ruhle. Not a stranger to Temple, Ruhle worked as an assistant coach under Al Golden, now Miami coach, who revived the Temple program during his six year tenure into a respectable mid-level program. After spending last season as an assistant coach with the New York Giants, Ruhle accepted the Owls offer and appears to be intent on developing a team that can challenge Louisville and other high-level Big East teams. Ruhle has quite the road in front of him.
In 2012, Temple relied on their running game that averaged 201.2ypg (better than Notre Dame who finished at 198ypg) to grind opponents and hide their awful passing game. However, that running game took a severe hit with the loss of the team’s top two rushers, Montel Harris and Michael Brown. The team will now turn to junior Kenny Harper, who had only 46 carries last year, and red-shirt freshman, Zaire Williams, who has speed but lacks experience and strength. The passing game was led by QB Chris Coyer but he mustered only 946 yards through the air all season, while adding 440 yards rushing. The graduation of several seniors, particularly OL Martin Wallace (signed with Cleveland Browns), left gaping holes on the offensive line as evident by the fact that Martin’s left tackle position was filled by Cody Booth, a converted tight end.
The team’s greatest loss will come with the graduation of place kicker, Brandon McMannus (signed with Indianapolis Colts). McManus was the recipient of the 2012 College Football Performance Awards Specialist Trophy as the nation’s best overall kicker and averaged a ridiculous 82.4% for kicks over 30 yards. McMannus provided them with points from pretty much anywhere inside the 40 and pinned opponents in the punting game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Owls signed Averee Robinson, a defensive tackle/nosegaurd, who can rush the passer, but still lacks size. Ruhle has moved former fullback Wyatt Benson to the middle linebacker position in the hope that Benson will add more athleticism and bulk to a defense that lacks speed and size. The Owls secondary gave up numerous explosive plays throughout the 2012 season and does not seem to have the talent to compete with most of Notre Dame’s recruits.
Based on the Owls spring game, Ruhle appears to have implemented a pro-style, no-huddle offense, clearly in an attempt to shift the offense away from a running game that no longer exists and hide deficiencies on the offensive line. In the new system, Coyer will shift to fullback and junior QB Conner Reilly will most likely take the reins of the offense, although he faces some competition from Kevin Newsome, a Penn State transfer, and incoming freshman PJ Walker. Whoever wins the starting QB job will have two experienced receivers in Deon Miller, a 6’5” horse, and Jalen Fitzpatrick who caught a combined 61 passes for 763 yards last season.
Without Harris in the backfield, Martin on the OL or McMannus kicking, the Owls will have an incredibly difficult time moving the ball against Notre Dame. The young and inexperienced offensive line will be overpowered by Nix, Tuitt, Springmann, Day and Jones, and confused by the 3-4 blitzing scheme. In order to muster any sort of offensive production, the Owls will need short, accurate passing from Reilly to their big body receivers which can move the chains and limit the effect of Notre Dame’s pass rush. Notre Dame’s two high safety philosophy will not provide an opportunity for the deep ball, particularly if the safeties do not feel threatened by Temple’s run game.
On the offensive side of the ball, Notre Dame needs to establish the run early and often in order to draw down the Temple safeties and setup the play action pass. Notre Dame should be able to dominate the line of scrimmage against Temple’s undersized unit. With the running game established, Golston will find plenty of open receivers, but he needs to remain accurate with the football and efficient with his decisions to take advantage of Temple’s weak secondary.
Notre Dame should win this game handedly, especially at home, but they need to remember that Temple did beat Pittsburgh last year.