For the second time this season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be playing in the featured game for ESPN’s College GameDay, as they travel to Philadelphia to take on the 21st-ranked Temple Owls on Saturday.
Temple enters the game with a 7-0 record for the first time in school history. It’s also the best record the Owls have held this late in the season since they were 7-0-1 in 1934, and when they entered the AP Top 25 this year, it was the first time since 1979. Needless to say, this Temple team is probably the best its program has ever seen, and they will be hyped out of their minds for a College GameDay matchup at home against a top-10 Notre Dame squad. A win would significantly enhance their resume and help them on their way to possibly making one of the big bowls (or even squeezing into the College Football Playoff if everything falls into chaos…Owls fans can dream, right?).
Notre Dame, on the other hand, comes to Philadelphia ranked 9th in the country, 6-1 on the season, and looking to add another quality win while moving one step closer to making it to the Stanford game with only 1 loss and their playoff dreams still intact. The Fighting Irish came out slow and flat in their last College GameDay matchup at Clemson, so head coach Brian Kelly is sure to push his players to start quickly and put away a Temple team that, despite having its best season in a long time, is substantially less talented than his.
Oct 2, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Temple Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich (8) during the first half at Jerry Richardson Stadium. The Owls went on to win 37-3 over the 49ers. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
The big battle to watch is certainly going to be Notre Dame’s explosive offense against Temple’s incredibly stingy defense. Now, Temple has not exactly played any elite offenses this season, but the Owls currently rank 14th in the nation in total defense (308 yards per game), 6th in rushing defense (91.9 yards per game), and 8th in scoring defense (14.6 points per game). Linebacker Tyler Matakevich is a huge reason why, as he has been an absolute playmaker this season, leading the team in tackles (65) and interceptions (4) while also adding 7 tackles for loss (TFL) and 4 pass break-ups. He’s gotten some help as well, from LBs Jarred Alwan (40 tackles, 2 forced fumbles) and Stephaun Marshall (29 tackles, 4 pass break-ups), DBs Tavon Young (30 tackles, 5 pass break-ups) and Sean Chandler (29 tackles, 2 INT, 7 pass break-ups), and a productive defensive line consisting of Matt Ioannidis (25 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 7.5 TFL), Haason Reddick (6.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks), and Nate D. Smith (team-leading 6.5 sacks).
The Fighting Irish running game should be a very tough test for such a stout run defense, as the Irish are 15th in the country with 234.6 yards per game. That production is obviously the result of RB C.J. Prosise (922 yards, 11 TD, 7.1 yards-per-carry) and the gargantuan year he has had so far, and the Owls will certainly have all they can handle trying to beat the ND offensive line and slow him down. Furthermore, if there’s an area that looks to be a mismatch when ND is on offense, it has to be in the passing game. Temple is a pedestrian 57th in the country in pass defense, surrendering 215.9 yards per game. Will Fuller has to be licking his chops looking at this Owls defense, considering this will be a homecoming for him (Fuller hails from Philadelphia) and he has proved utterly unguardable all season (unless Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander is involved). Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer will be able to make some big throws against this defense, and if he can keep from turning it over, Fuller, Chris Brown, Torii Hunter Jr., and the rest of the Irish receiving corps could have a huge day.
Temple’s offense against the Notre Dame defense is essentially the opposite of the Irish offense against the Owls defense. Temple is 109th in total offense (346 yards-per-game) and 51st in scoring at 32.3 points per game. The vast majority of the offense’s production comes by way of RB Jahad Thomas, who has 822 yards (5.0 yards per carry) and 12 rushing touchdowns while also serving as the team’s second-leading receiver with 18 receptions, 204 yards, and 1 touchdown. Temple will certainly try to ride Thomas to as many points as possible, considering QB P.J. Walker and the passing game leave a lot to be desired. Walker has thrown for just 1314 yards at a 59.8% clip, tossing 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. His favorite receiver is Robby Anderson, who has 31 catches for 388 yards and 5 touchdowns this season. He and TE Kip Patton are both capable of some big plays (long catches of 53 and 43 yards, respectively), which could prove troublesome for a Notre Dame secondary prone to giving up long passes.
Sep 26, 2015; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Sheldon Day (91) celebrates after a sack in the second quarter against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 62-27. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
However, Temple will certainly try to establish the running game first and foremost, so it will be crucial that Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell, and the rest of the line do a good job clogging holes and making things easy on Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, and the rest of the back 7. Furthermore, because Temple’s passing offense is less-than-exemplary and the ND secondary continues to have mental lapses leading to big plays for opponents, it will be crucial for Romeo Okwara, Day, Rochell, Jerry “Terry Jillery” Tillery, and Daniel Cage to get penetration and hit Walker early and often, making it difficult for big plays to develop.
Overall, I really don’t see Notre Dame struggling too much in this game. Temple has a very good defense, but has yet to play an offense even close to Notre Dame’s in terms of talent level, speed, and strength in the trenches. Furthermore, Temple’s offense is run-first with a suspect passing game, and Notre Dame’s defense has seemed to contain run plays a lot better and more consistently than they have pass plays. If the ND secondary can stay disciplined on any trick plays or play-action passes by the Temple offense, Brian VanGorder’s defense should be able to get some stops and allow the Irish offense to get some separation in this game. Temple head coach Matt Rhule is a great coach and he will have his Owls ready to compete, but Prosise and Fuller and Kizer will be overwhelming for the Temple defense, and their offense is not balanced enough to keep up. I think ND wins this one going away, 45-28, and continues its march toward a potential College Football Playoff play-in game against Stanford over Thanksgiving weekend.
Slap the Sign Staff Predictions
Editor Andrew Hall: Notre Dame 41, Temple 24
Editor Joshua Vowles: Notre Dame 41, Temple 10
Staff Writer Walt Kosin: Notre Dame 31, Temple 17
Staff Writer Manny De Jesus: Notre Dame 34, Temple 21
Staff Writer Chase Eyrich: Notre Dame 38, Temple 28
Staff Writer Pat Sullivan: Notre Dame 45, Temple 28
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