For the second time this season, Notre Dame will travel to play in a prime-time match up hosted by College Game Day. The difference this time is that the Irish (6-1) are going to be favored against a Temple team that has had its best season ever standing perfect at 7-0.
In light of last week’s games, Notre Dame has been given a legitimate chance at running the table and stealing the fourth playoff spot. Every single game is an elimination game for the Irish, so their urgency is now at an all-time high. Temple, on the other hand, is enjoying a winning streak that it has never experienced, but will it be complacent with being 7-0 and losing its first game to the Irish? Will the Owls give in to the fact that they are an 11 point underdog? Or will Notre Dame cave in to the prime time pressure once again?
I think it’s fair to say that the Owls have been led by their defense this season. They’ve allowed just 14.3 points per game this season, which is the eighth lowest average in the country. The offense hasn’t had to do much, and that would explain why the offense ranks 108th in total offense. The Owls average 197 yards through the air and 149 yards on the ground.
Despite the low ranking in total offense, Temple has proven that it can score and run its offense as efficiently as it needs to in order to win games. The offensive line has allowed just eight sacks this season, which is tied for ninth lowest in the country. They haven’t faced a front seven anything like Notre Dame’s, but their built-up chemistry and confidence is strong. It could be difficult to break through the unit’s pride in protecting their quarterback.
The Temple offensive line is anchored by senior center Kyle Friend, who has a started a team-high 40 starts. He is on the watch list for the Lombardi Award and the Rimington Award, which both recognize the nation’s best lineman. The line was also honored with the Joe Moore Award Honor Roll as the top offensive line in the country for their performance against Cincinnati.
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Unlike USC’s multi-facted backfield, Temple has just one featured back whom they rely on to avoid making their offense one-dimensional. Junior running back Jahad Thomas has rushed for 802 yards and 12 scores. Of his 13 total touchdowns, Thomas scored eight of those scores running outside the tackles. Most of his big runs of the seasons have also been from running on the ends of the sidelines. If Notre Dame can contain the 180-pound back from running outside the tackle box, there is no running game for Temple to rely on. He averages five yards per games, but forcing him to run inside the guards and center can significantly reduce that average. If Thomas can’t get it going on the ground, look for Temple to use him in screen plays or on single or double reverses.
The Owls have a couple of big receivers in Robby Anderson and Ventell Bryant, who can run effective routes over the middle of the field. Throughout the season, Anderson, who is leading the team with 31 receptions for 388 yards and five scores, has shredded opposing defense by running across the middle and towards the sidelines. His 6’3″ frame helps in one-on-one battles against man defenses, but I don’t expect it to help him against Notre Dame’s much more experienced secondary.
Ventell Bryant has caught 20 passes this season for 196 yards and one touchdown, which isn’t really eye-popping, but he’s another big body that can go up and snag the ball out of the air in the red zone. The rest of their receiving corp is rarely used, but the tight ends could be a threat in the red zone. Kip Patton, the Owls’ tight end, only has nine receptions, but whenever his number gets called up, he gains an average of 17.7 yards per catch. Temple can get creative with their receiving corp, don’t be surprised if you see some crazy play drawn up if the offense can’t get the chains moving with conventional play.
Despite helping Temple win seven straight games, junior P.J Walker is the probably the worst quarterback I’ve ever seen play when it comes to making smart, safe passes. He’s completed 112 of 188 passes this season for 1,313 yards and nine touchdowns to just three interceptions. He should probably have closer to 10 or more interceptions. Watching all of Temple’s highlight films this year, I’ve realized that Walker has no fear in throwing into double or triple coverage. On one play, Walker even has the courage to roll out to the right, stop and throw it across his shoulder to the other side of the field. He completed the pass for a two-point conversion, but the defender’s inability to play any defense on the receiver was the real reason that pass was completed. Against any competent defender, that would have been easily intercepted.
Walker loves to throw the ball towards the receivers with the most coverage on them. On several big plays, Walker made passes to receivers that were blanketed by opposing cornerbacks, but because of the size of the receivers and because of the lack of talent in the opposing secondaries, he’s been able to get away with it. Against Notre Dame, it won’t happen. Expect the secondary to have a field day against Walker, especially if the defense’s front seven can pressure Walker out of the pocket, which would undoubtedly force him to make worse passes than he’s already made standing upright.
The hype and excitement surrounding Temple’s Cinderella season comes to an end Saturday night. Facing a Notre Dame team that is up against the wall in terms of making the College Football Playoffs, the Owls have no chance of stopping the Irish with this sub-par offense.