Played in front of a sell-out crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, the largest ever crowd to take in a Temple Owls football game, the Owls played the biggest game in school history, and nearly came away with the biggest win in school history.
But, as the sky darkened, and my kids clamored to start Trick or Treating, the Fighting Irish found a way to pull out the win and keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive. It wasn’t an easy win for the Irish, though, as the Temple defense, at the very least, lived up to their billing as one of the better defenses in the country this season.
The game wasn’t without controversy, though, both on the field, and on the sidelines, with the officials playing a part in each. Blown or missed calls are, unfortunately, just a part of the game, but this game seemed to have more than its fair share of both, and the most egregious of them was the enforcement of a targeting penalty on Notre Dame’s Elijah Shumate, a penalty, along with the subsequent ejection of Shumate, that allowed Temple a fresh set of downs and the eventual game tying touchdown; and, because the targeting judgment was upheld, Shumate will also miss the first half against Pittsburgh. Yet, while the subjective nature of the enforcement of targeting was, for all intents and purposes, all but ignored, the headline generating incident that so many chose to spend their energy focusing on, instead, was the incident that played out on the sidelines between Head Coach Brian Kelly and the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, David Grimes. It was an incident that likely would have passed by unnoticed if not for the game broadcast cutting back to it, launching numerous hand wringing articles about Coach Kelly’s “temper problem” in the process. Thankfully, the manufactured furor over this incident seems to have died down in the last few days, and now we, like the two grown men actually involved in the incident have, can move beyond it. And get ready for Pitt!
Facing a tough opponent on the road, the Irish needed to get off to a fast start, and they did just that, taking their opening possession in for a touchdown on a 74 yard drive that was capped off with a 4 yard run to the end zone by DeShone Kizer. It was a strong opening series for the Irish, mixing the pass and run well, and it looked like the Irish were primed for an offensive explosion against a strong Temple defense. Their next two drives in the 1st Quarter went nowhere, though. Notre Dame’s offense had stalled out, but their defense held the Owls to just a field goal in the 1st Quarter, and the Irish would carry a slim 7-3 lead into the 2nd Quarter.
That would all change early in the 2nd Quarter as Kizer, after leading the Irish deep into Owls territory, threw an interception in the red zone, putting an end to an important scoring opportunity for the Irish. Temple would capitalize on the Irish mistake, and drive the ball 94 yards in just 8 plays, capping off the drive with a 12 yard touchdown pass. The Irish would answer right back, though, on just one play, as Kizer would take off and outrun several Temple defenders for a 74 yard TD that put the Irish up 14-10. The Irish would have one more scoring opportunity in the 1st Half, but a second Kizer interception would put an end to that, and Notre Dame would head into the locker room at Half Time holding on to a 14-10 lead.
Temple would get the ball to start the 3rd Quarter, but they weren’t able to get anything going, and the Irish would soon make another trip to the red zone. Unfortunately, for the Irish, their red zone troubles continued, and they would have to settle for a field goal after Corey Robinson was unable to haul in a pass from Kizer in the end zone. This would be the only score by either team in the 3rd Quarter, and the game would head into the final quarter with the Irish leading 17-10.
The Owls would get the 4th Quarter scoring started, but not without a great deal of controversy. With Temple facing a 3rd and Goal from the Irish 9, it looked like the Irish would be able to limit the damage to a FG attempt when Temple’s WR, Romond Deloatch, was unable to haul in a pass from PJ Walker in the back of the end zone. But, as the Irish defense was celebrating a big stop, a late flag was thrown, and what, from every angle and speed I saw it from, looked like a clean, albeit hard, hit on Deloatch by Elijah Shumate was flagged as a personal foul for targeting on the field. Shumate came in to deliver a hard hit on the receiver, leading with his shoulder, as Deloatch, who had left the ground, was coming back down; it was Deloatch’s descent that initiated helmet to helmet contact on the play, not Shumate’s trajectory to the receiver. Incredibly, a review of the play upheld the targeting call, and Shumate was ejected, because, apparently, the review official is unaware of just how gravity works.
With a fresh set of downs, Temple would eventually make the most of their opportunity. The Irish defense held strong for three plays, but, on 4th down, Shumate’s replacement was out of position to make a tackle short of the goal line, and Temple’s RB, Jahad Thomas, had an easy path into the end zone to tie the game at 17-17. Temple would add a field goal on their next possession to take a 20-17 lead with just under five minutes to play.
Faced with another do or die drive, DeShone Kizer would step up and calmly lead the Irish on a 6 play 75 yard scoring drive. Will Fuller had a big 3rd down reception to keep the drive alive, and then Kizer found Alize Jones wide open for a 45 yard gain that took the Irish down to the Temple 17 yard line. Just two plays later, Kizer would find Will Fuller in the end zone for the touchdown, and the 24-20 lead. The Owls would get one more crack at it, but after a personal foul on Temple put them in a long 3rd and 17 situation, KeiVarae Russell came up with the big play, diving in front of a Temple receiver and coming up with the interception to preserve Notre Dame’s lead, and cement the win for the Irish.
Key Fighting Irish Plays
1st Quarter – DeShone Kizer 4 yard TD run. Notre Dame takes their opening drive 74 yards on 12 plays for the first score of the game. Notre Dame 7 – Temple 0.
2nd Quarter – DeShone Kizer pass intercepted at Temple’s 6 yard line. With the Irish driving into the red zone, Kizer feels pressure from the Owls’ pass rush and throws up an ill-advised pass that’s intercepted at Temple’s 6 yard line. Temple capitalizes on the turnover, taking the ball 94 yards in 8 plays for a touchdown, and the lead.
2nd Quarter – DeShone Kizer 79 yard TD run. Just three plays after Temple took the lead following Kizer’s interception, Kizer and the Irish answer right back and retake the lead. Notre Dame 14 – Temple 10.
2nd Quarter – DeShone Kizer pass intercepted at Temple’s 5 yard line. Unlike Kizer’s earlier red zone interception that was just a bad pass, this one was more fluky, and not without controversy, as it appeared that Temple’s defender was holding Will Fuller’s jersey and went over Fuller’s back at the goal line before the ball had arrived. The end result was a weirdly deflected ball that was scooped out of the air by another Temple defender.
4th Quarter – Personal foul on Elijah Shumate. The penalty came on a big 3rd down play as the Irish were trying to keep the Owls out of the end zone. The pass from Walker to Deloatch was dropped, but Shumate’s hit on Deloatch was flagged as a personal foul, and after review was determined to be targeting on Shumate, leading to his ejection from the game. Temple would score four plays later to tie the game up at 17-17.
4th Quarter – DeShone Kizer 17 yard TD pass to Will Fuller. Kizer rifled the ball in to Fuller, between the DB and Temple’s safety that was closing in on the play. Notre Dame retakes the lead 24-20.
4th Quarter – KeiVarae Russell interception. For the second straight game, Russell, who hadn’t played all that great of a game, came up with a huge game saving interception.
Kizer had his struggles against Temple, throwing two red zone interceptions, but he also came up with big plays when the Irish needed them the most. Kizer’s 2nd Quarter TD run game the Irish a 14-10 lead they’d take into halftime, and on the most important drive of the game, Kizer led the Irish 75 yards down the field, capping off the drive with a 17 yard TD pass to Will Fuller. Kizer finished the game 23-36 for 299 yards and 1 TD through the air, and another 143 yards and 2 TDs on the ground.
All in all, Fuller had a quiet game, but he always seems to be there for the big plays when the Irish need them. Fuller had two big receptions on the Irish game winning drive, coming up with a big 3rd down reception to keep the drive going, and then the game winning touchdown reception. Targeted 10 times, Fuller had just five receptions for 46 yards and 1 TD.
Romeo Okwara/Sheldon Day
Jaylon Smith led the Irish in tackles, but it was the play of Okwara and Day that helped set the tone for the Irish on defense. With the Irish secondary continuing to struggle at times, the Irish defensive front continues to dominate, with Okwara and Day leading the charge. Okwara and Day were the second and third leading tacklers for the Irish, respectively, with Okwara registering 7 tackles (4 solo), 3 TFL, and 1 sack, and Day came up with 6 tackles (4 solo) 2.5 TFL, 1 FF, and 1 sack.
Game Ball: Coach Kelly handed out two game balls, the first to KeiVarae Russell for his win preserving interception, and the second to DeShone Kizer who now has now led the Irish on three come from behind wins.
Next Up: No. 8 Notre Dame travels to take on the unranked Pittsburgh Panthers.