Notre Dame's defensive line looms over Temple

Temple head coach Matt Rhule. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Temple head coach Matt Rhule. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 28, 2013

When Temple coach Matt Rhule started watching the game film of Notre Dame last week, the play of the Fighting Irish's defensive line was the first thing he noticed.

On Monday morning, he was still noticing.

The Owls have some depth and considerable size along their offensive line, with Kyle Friend returning at center and the addition of 6-foot-4, 330-pound Maryland transfer Pete White at right guard.

But the Fighting Irish went undefeated last season until an Alabama team loaded with future first-round picks across its offensive line destroyed them in the national championship game. They field a defense loaded along the line that could be even better this season.

"Personnel-wise, they have probably the best defensive line in the country," Rhule said Monday during his first weekly teleconference of the season. "With Louis Nix, we're probably not sleeping around here thinking about him. Whatever he weighs, 350 pounds, he's a dominant, dominant football player that takes over games and establishes line of scrimmages. He and [junior defensive end] Stephon Tuitt together are probably two top-10 picks in next year's NFL draft."

When the Owls offense breaks huddle in Saturday's nationally televised season opener at Notre Dame Stadium, they will play in front of a packed house of more than 80,000.

Rhule believes that his players won't be caught up in the atmosphere, but handling the massive duo of the 6-2, 342-pound Nix and the 6-6, 312-pound Tuitt is an altogether different matter.

Nix drew double teams last season, which allowed linebacker Manti Te'o to shine. Nix finished the season with 50 tackles, 71/2 tackles for losses, two sacks, and one forced fumble.

Tuitt, slowed by an injury late in the season, had 12 sacks, 47 tackles, three forced fumbles, and a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Navy. Before he was slowed by a hernia that reduced his production, Tuitt had six sacks through the first four games.

Both players spent significant time fighting double teams last season, something that Temple may spend a lot of time doing Saturday.

"They can't allow it to be one-on-one battles," Rhule said. "They are going to have to work as a group and work in conjunction with each other to try to turn this into two-on-ones and get doubles where we can."

The Owls must protect quarterback Connor Reilly, who will make his first career start.

"What can't happen is we can't allow them to pin their ears back and get a rush upfield," Rhule said. "We want Connor to get the ball out of his hands quickly, and neutralizing the rush is crucial. In this game, you are not trying to defeat pass coverage, you are trying to defeat the rush."

Contact John N. Mitchell at Follow on Twitter @JmitchInquirer.

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