Temple braces for Notre Dame's talent, aura

Temple head coach Matt Rhule. (David M Warren/Staff Photographer)
Temple head coach Matt Rhule. (David M Warren/Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 01, 2013

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Not long after Temple's plane landed Friday, first-year coach Matt Rhule ordered the buses to take a quick swing by Notre Dame Stadium, which is expected to be sold out (80,795) on Saturday for the 234th consecutive game.

"I want them to get to see the stadium, to see Touchdown Jesus," Rhule said earlier this week. "Get an appreciation for history and then move on, because we've got a game to play."

That game is finally here Saturday, on national television (NBC10, 3:30 p.m.), as the season opener for both teams.

The Owls, 291/2-point underdogs and coming off a 4-7 season, are starting a quarterback who has never thrown a collegiate pass. But they are looking to stun a reloaded Notre Dame team that last season went undefeated in the regular season before falling to Alabama in the BCS national championship game.

"This is why you play the game, for these kinds of moments," Rhule said after Thursday's practice. "I have promised our players I will not be tight. I refuse to be tight; our coaches will not be tight. We are going to go play this game the way it should be played and hope that our players see that and follow suit."

Though much has been made about Rhule's transitioning the old offense of former coach Steve Addazio from a smashmouth running style to a better balanced pro style, the outcome of the game will be decided in the trenches, where the Irish have significant size and experience.

When the Owls have the ball, quarterback Connor Reilly will lead them against a defense that, despite the loss of all-American linebacker Manti Te'o, could be better in 2013 than it was in 2012 - when it allowed just 12.8 points per game.

"We are going to have to be physical and we are going to have to help each other out," Temple center Kyle Friend said. "Establishing the line of scrimmage is crucial."

Friend and his linemates will have their hands full with returning all-American linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. The two are part of a three-man front that averages 317 pounds. By comparison, Temple's offensive line averages 305 pounds.

The Irish do not have the same quarterback who led them to the national title game - Everett Golson was suspended by the team for academic reasons - but senior Tommy Rees is 14-4 in 18 previous starts. Heavily reliant on a rushing attack that was spearheaded by departed running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, the Irish return George Atkinson III and have added high school studs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, a second-team USA Today all-USA running back and the Florida offensive player of the year, respectively.

They will operate behind a veteran offensive line (average weight 311 pounds) that on average outweighs Temple's defensive linemen (274) by 37 pounds.

Veteran nose guard Levi Brown and his Temple teammates have insisted throughout training camp that the Owls' goal is to return to a more physical style of play than they have exhibited in recent seasons.

He looks forward to the big moment and the grand stage.

"We know who they are. We know they are a great opponent," the senior said. "We know what they are capable of doing. But we're excited to have an opportunity to play against a team that played in the national championship game to get a chance to show what we can do."

Temple at Notre Dame

When: Saturday at 3:30 p .m.

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.

Records: Temple, 0-0; No. 14 Notre Dame, 0-0.

TV/Radio: NBC10; 97.5 the Fanatic

Coaches: Matt Rhule, Temple (first game); Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (199-68-2).

Series: This is the first meeting between Temple and Notre Dame.

Three Things to Watch

Keep an eye on Temple's defensive backs. They are young and should expect to be challenged deep early.

Watch the line of scrimmage. The average weight of Notre Dame's offensive line is 311 pounds; the Temple defensive line's average weight is 274. The average weight of Notre Dame's defensive line is 317 pounds; Temple's offensive line averages 305.

Notre Dame is not very experienced in the secondary. Look for Owls quarterback Connor Reilly to challenge the corners early.

Three Things You Might Not Know

Notre Dame is the first of four programs the Owls will face this season for the first time. Temple has never played Central Florida, Idaho, or Memphis in football.

Temple has beaten nationally ranked opponents just twice in its history, and both wins came on the road. The Owls defeated No. 14 Virginia Tech, 28-24, on Oct. 17, 1998. On Sept. 19, 1987, the Owls defeated No. 16 Pittsburgh, 24-21.

Temple is the only team on Notre Dame's 12-game schedule that did not play in a bowl game last season.

- John Mitchell

Contact John N. Mitchell at  jmitchell@philly.com. Follow on Twitter @JmitchInquirer.

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