It’s Owls Week!

I spent the Fighting Irish’s bye week grilling meat and watching football, so basically what I do every weekend during the football season, albeit with a lot less stress. Jerry Tillery spent the bye week traveling to Ireland, meeting with a prominent doctor and businessman, and soaking in the Irish culture. I’d say Tillery wins the bye-week showdown, hands down. And though they didn’t play a game last Saturday, the Fighting Irish came out winners, too, as two Top 10 teams, Florida St. and Utah, suffered upset losses at the hands of Georgia Tech and USC, respectively. With losses knocking Florida St. and Utah out of the Top 10, Notre Dame moved back into the Top 10, and now sit at No. 9, as they head to Philadelphia to take on Temple.

At the beginning of the season, this game didn’t look to be anything special, especially with the Owls coming off a 6-6 2014 campaign, but Temple’s Head Coach, Matt Rhule, has done a very good job coaching up the undefeated Owls, and now not only is College Game Day heading to Philadelphia, but it’s ABC’s College Football Game of the Week, as well. So, there’s a lot of hype over this match-up all of a sudden, but just how good is Temple? Credit where it’s due, being undefeated halfway through the season is pretty impressive for the Owls, but they haven’t exactly faced stiff competition along the way. Of Temple’s first seven opponents, only two, Penn State (6-2) and Cincinnati (4-3), have winning records, and one, ECU is sitting at .500 with a 4-4 record. The remaining four opponents that Temple has beaten this year (UMass, Charlotte, Tulane, and UCF) have just five wins between them, and a combined overall record of 5-24. In other words, Temple’s opponents so far have been, for the most part, pretty bad. That doesn’t mean, however, that Temple is not a good team, just that they haven’t really been tested, yet. That’s all about to change, though, when the Irish come to Philly!

The Match-Up

No. 9 Notre Dame is coming off a bye-week, following a memorable 41-31 victory over USC. The Temple Owls enter the game against Notre Dame in the midst of a historic season for their program. Ranked for the first time since 1979, and undefeated with a record of 7-0, a first in school history, the then No. 22 ranked Owls won their first game in school history as a ranked team with a 24-14 4th Quarter comeback win over ECU. Led by third year Head Coach, Matt Rhule, the Temple Owls, now ranked No. 21, look to continue their historic run and pull off the upset win over Notre Dame.

The History

Notre Dame and Temple have only met once before, when the Owls traveled to Notre Dame Stadium for the 2014 home and season opener for the Irish. The Irish, led by Tommy Rees, defeated the Owls 28-6, as Rees threw fr 3 TDs and the Irish racked up 543 total yards on offense.

Players To Watch

Fighting Irish

DeShone Kizer

Coming off the biggest win of his young collegiate career, where he helped manufacture back-to-back 90 yard scoring drives to tie, and then take the lead against USC, it’s hard to view Kizer as a mere game manager, even if that’s how he’s viewed himself up to this point. So, if 70+ yard touchdown bombs to Will Fuller are what Kizer considers “game management,” then I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us as he focuses on becoming more of a play-maker. Kizer now has 1370 passing yards, 10 passing TDs, and a 65.4% completion percentage on the season.

CJ Prosise

The Irish bye-week dropped Prosise down the rushing leaders board a bit, but he still ranks in the Top 15, as the 11th leading rushing in the nation. Prosise played a big part in the Irish win over USC, giving the Irish their first lead of the game in the 1st Quarter, and then tying the game up at 31-31 on a 6 yard TD run early in the 4th Quarter. Through 7 games, Prosise has 922 rushing yards and 11 TDs, and is averaging 7.1 YPC, and 131.8 YPG.

KeiVarae Russell

Against USC, Russell finally had the kind of game he always said (and we always knew) he was capable of, coming up with a key 4th Quarter interception, and another pass defensed that was intercepted by Max Redfield. Russell will have a much easier task this week against Temple’s wide receivers, so he should have plenty of opportunity to build on his performance against USC and show off his big play ability. Russell is now the second leading tackler on the Irish, with 42, and also has 2.5 TFL, 1 Sack, and 1 INT.

Tyler Newsome

A punter as a player to watch? Absolutely! If Temple’s defense lives up to their billing (I have my doubts), field position may just be key to an Irish victory. And, so far, Newsome has been very good at flipping field position. In his first season with the Irish, Newsome has shown the ability to boom punts, with 9 punts of 50+ yards, and a long of 62 yards. He’s also done very well at pinning opponents deep in their end of the field with 13 punts inside the 20 yard line.

Players To Watch

Owls

Jahad Thomas (RB)

Thomas, a junior, started his collegiate career at Temple playing defensive back, but converted to running back before last season. This year, his first as the featured back for Temple, Thomas leads the AAC with 822 rushing yards and 12 TDs. Thomas has rushed for 100+ yards four times this season, including 193 rushing yards and 2 TDs against Cincinnati, and 199 rushing yards and 3 TDs against UCF, but he only managed 60 yards on 20 carries in the Owls’ last game against ECU.

Robby Anderson (WR)

Anderson, a 5th year senior, ahs had an up and down collegiate career with the Owls, leaving the team in the spring after the 2012 season, but he rejoined the team as a walk-on in the summer, and racked up 791 receiving yards and 9 TDs, despite not playing early in the 2013 season. Anderson then missed the entire 2014 season when he was suspended for academics. Looking to wrap up his collegiate career on a high note, Anderson leads the Owls with 388 receiving yards and 5 TDs.

Tyler Matakevich (LB)

Matakevich, playing in his senior year, made the pre-season watch lists for the Lombardi, Butkus, Bednarik, and Nagurski awards. He’s racked up 100+ tackles in each of his first three seasons with 101, 137, and 117 in his freshman, sophomore, and junior years, respectively, and he leads the Owls this season with 65 tackles (33 solo) through the first seven games. Matakevich has 7 TFL, 4 Sacks, and 4 INTs this season, as well.

Keys To Victory

Fighting Irish

Get Off to a Quick Start

Against USC, Notre Dame took just their first offensive play from scrimmage, a 75 yard pass to Will Fuller, to get into the end zone. It was a far cry from their previous two opening possessions, against Clemson and Navy, where the Irish went 3 and out. Notre Dame would go on to score two more touchdowns in the 1st Quarter, and take the early lead against the Trojans. Now, the Owls don’t have the offensive weapons that USC does, but they have shown themselves to be a good second half team, so a quick start by the Irish that puts points on the board should give the Irish some breathing room going into the second half.

Test Temple’s Run Defense

The strength of this Temple team is their defense, specifically their run defense; ranked 6th in the nation, the Owls are giving up just 643 rushing yards through seven games, for an average of just 91.9 yards rushing per game. That said, the Owls have yet to face a running back, or an offensive line, the likes of CJ Prosise and Ronnie Stanley and company. In fact, of the seven opponents that the Owls have faced, four of them (UMass, Tulane, UCF, and ECU) rank 100th or lower in rushing offense, and a fifth opponent, Penn State is ranked 94th. The Irish, on the other hand, are ranked 15th in the nation in rushing yards, averaging 234.6 yards per game. In other words, something’s got to give, and I think it will be Temple’s run defense, as Prosise is simply too talented to be shut down by the Owls.

Final Analysis

Coming off their bye-week, the Irish should be well rested and fired up to tear into the back half of their schedule as they make the push for a College Football Playoff spot. They’re a team loaded with talent across the board, and they finally put it all together, for the most part, for a signature win against USC. Temple’s in the middle of a historic season for their program, but, they’re about to be truly put to the test by a much more talented Irish team. In the end, that talent will be too much for the Owls to handle, and the Irish will hand them their first loss of the season.

Final Score: Notre Dame 37 – Temple 20

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