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  • New Look Irish Host Temple

    by John Vannie

    Notre Dame kicks off its 2017 football campaign on Saturday afternoon as the Fighting Irish host the Temple Owls. The team has made several changes in an effort to rebound from last season’s 4-8 disaster, and will be playing in the remodeled stadium completed under the Crossroads project. Luxury seating options and a large video board are intended to provide an enhanced experience for spectators, but whether the quality of the product on the field is improved has yet to be determined. The game begins at 3:30 PM Eastern time and will be nationally televised by NBC. Notre Dame leads the series 2-0, as these teams played in 2013 and 2015. Prior to kickoff, the Irish will honor legendary linebacker Bob Crable, who was recently elected to the College Football Hall of fame.

    Brian Kelly enters his eighth year as head coach, and holds a 59-31 record if one does not factor in the vacated wins in 2012-13 due to an academic scandal under his watch. The embattled leader revamped his staff this winter, and two new coordinators will try to inject life into a predictable offense and porous defense. Chip Long, most recently at Memphis, is responsible for the attack and will call the plays. Kelly also hired Mike Elko away from Wake Forest to run the defense. Familiar face Brian Polian returns to the program to direct the special teams after a head coaching stint at Nevada.

    Wimbush The Irish will introduce Brandon Wimbush as the starting quarterback. The junior will be supported in his first career start by an experienced line and a talented cadre of running backs and receivers. Josh Adams returns as the leading ball carrier, while Equanimeous St. Brown anchors the receiving corps. Up front, the left side is exceptionally strong with All-American candidates Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey.

    Temple is coming off a successful 10-4 season under Matt Rhule, who took the top job at Baylor in December. His replacement is Geoff Collins, who will be making his debut as a head coach against the Irish after a long career as a defensive assistant and coordinator for various SEC schools such as Alabama, Mississippi State, and Florida. Collins has a solid reputation as a motivator, and his selection by Temple was applauded by former colleagues and players.

    Nick Saban issued this statement: “Geoff did an outstanding job for us during his time at the University of Alabama, and we are very excited to see him get this head coaching opportunity. He is a fantastic hire for the Temple Owls. He brings an extraordinary amount of positive energy and enthusiasm to his job. Geoff is a very intelligent football coach and someone who works extremely hard to help his team be successful. We are very happy for Geoff and wish him the best of luck at Temple.”

    NOTRE DAME’S OFFENSE vs. TEMPLE’S DEFENSE

    The Owls have featured some NFL talent on defense in the last few years, although only four starters return from last season’s group. The strength of this team is in the secondary, where veteran cornerbacks Artrel Foster and Mike Jones are joined by talented safeties Sean Chandler and Delvon Randall. Chandler is an outstanding athlete and the team’s punt returner.

    The front wall in Temple’s 4-3 alignment is led by end Jacob Martin and tackle Michael Dogbe. The Owls registered an impressive 41 sacks last year, but will have to work hard to duplicate that effort since Haason Reddick became the first round draft choice of the Arizona Cardinals (13th pick overall) in April. A greater challenge for Collins may be at linebacker, however, where a trio of sophomores will take over for departed former starters. Each saw action in a backup role last year, and middle backer William Kwenkeu stood out.

    Nelson and McGlincheyNotre Dame should be able to attack the Owl front seven by using its size advantage and rotation of capable runners. When Adams needs a breather, Dexter Williams is a lightning quick alternative and Tony Jones, Jr. is a punishing force. The Irish line to the right of center Sam Mustipher features the incumbent Alex Bars at guard and a likely rotation of sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg at tackle.

    Wimbush is a dangerous running threat, but also is blessed with a strong right arm. The main questions he must answer are in the passing game, where accuracy and decision-making are still evolving competencies. The plan against Temple is to control the game on the ground without forcing Wimbush into long third down situations, and the Irish should be able to achieve this objective.

    When Wimbush decides to air it out, the 6’5” St. Brown will the primary target. Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool are similarly tall receivers looking for breakout seasons, as is C.J. Sanders in the slot. Noticeably missing from this rotation is wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, who is suspended for the first four games. Stepherson is the main deep threat for this offense and adds a critical dimension to it. Although his absence may not be too damaging this week, it will become a factor later. Tight end is improved this year with Alize Mack returning to the lineup after a year away for academic reasons. He is joined by steady senior Durham Smythe.

    TEMPLE’S OFFENSE vs. NOTRE DAME’S DEFENSE

    Only five starters return from last year’s balanced and productive Owl attack. The new quarterback is Logan Marchi, whose limited prior experience was confined mainly to the scout team. In mop-up duty last year, he completed two of six attempts. At only 6’0” and 205 pounds, he is considered a competent passer but not much of a running threat.

    Armstead As is the case with Wimbush, Marchi is surrounded by experienced backs and receivers. Junior tailback Ryquell Armstead is both durable and fast. Last season, he rushed for over 900 yards and scored 14 touchdowns while splitting the workload with a senior. Armstead will be the main man this year, and will typically run behind a tough, old-style fullback in Nick Sharga. The collisions between Sharga and Notre Dame’s star middle linebacker Nyles Morgan will be worth watching. Sharga will also be given a handful of opportunities to run the ball, and he rarely loses yardage.

    The Temple passing game will feature a pair of 6’3” veteran receivers in Keith Kirkwood and Ventell Bryant, who combined for 96 receptions last season to lead the team. A third wide receiver, Adonis Jennings, is deployed in lieu of a tight end except in short yardage or goal line situations.

    Marchi can have some success against the Irish secondary if he has time to throw. Coach Elko’s primary task at Notre Dame has been to rebuild the defensive line, and there is good and bad news to report on that front. The end positions appear to be solid with Jay and Daelin Hayes (they are not related) as the starters with veteran Andrew Trumbetti in reserve.

    The middle of the defensive line is more of a concern. Jerry Tillery is back at nose tackle, while career reserve Jonathan Bonner has bulked up to man the other tackle position. This duo is supported by a pair of freshmen in Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailola-Amosa. Obviously, teams will attempt to run the ball on Notre Dame and wear down its thin front line.

    Morgan will be called upon to make plenty of tackles, while sidekick Greer Martini is a solid and productive performer. The third linebacker is actually a hybrid or rover position in Elko’s 4-2-5 defense, and Drue Tranquill has found a spot that suits him perfectly.

    The Irish played a number of young defensive backs last season, and the staff hopes that investment will pay off this year. Sophomore Julian Love and senior Nick Watkins will start at cornerback, with a now-healthy Shaun Crawford as the nickel back. Safety, which has been quite problematic during the past few seasons, will be manned by veteran Nick Coleman and sophomore Jalen Elliot. Key reserves are sophomore Troy Pride at corner and freshman Isaiah Robertson at safety.

    Temple will be eager to test this young secondary, but the Owls won’t open the game with an aerial circus. The plan will be to run Armstead and Sharga to the right behind Adrian Sullivan and Leon Johnson, their most experienced offensive linemen. This will keep Notre Dame’s pass rush from teeing off on Marchi, and may enable Armstead to break off a couple of long gains. Such a strategy can work unless Wimbush and company are putting up points in bunches and saddling the Owls with a large deficit.

    SPECIAL TEAMS

    Junior Justin Yoon has recovered from various leg ailments and will resume the place kicking duties for the Irish. He is joined by senior Tyler Newsome, who has proven to be a consistent and effective punter. The return men are Chris Finke on punts, while the ever-dangerous Sanders handles kickoffs. This entire group, including the other specialists, is experienced and poised to have a strong season.

    Temple counters with two experienced, quality players in punter Aaron Boumehri and kicker Austin Jones. Boumehri also handles kickoffs and field goals of fifty or more yards. The Owl kick and punt returners are also holdovers from last season, with Chandler on punts and Isaiah Wright on kickoffs. Both are above-average.

    SUMMARY

    The introduction of two new quarterbacks makes it difficult to predict an outcome with high confidence, but Notre Dame’s offensive line should be able to impose its will on the smaller Owl defense. Temple’s best players are at the running back positions and in its secondary, but there aren’t enough of them to bring down the Irish barring an avalanche of mistakes by Wimbush and company. Nothing can top the South Florida debacle, right?

    Jacktron The Owls will bring attitude and toughness to South Bend, so their physicality will be a good test for Notre Dame’s revamped defense. They battled Penn State to the end last year in Happy Valley before falling by 34-27, so they will not be intimidated. Note that Collins awards single digit uniform numbers to players that demonstrate exceptional toughness, so these guys will be easy to identify on Saturday.

    Here’s a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

    Which young quarterback will demonstrate poise and accuracy?

    Will the Irish defensive line stand firm against the run?

    Can either team generate an effective pass rush?

    Will Notre Dame’s offense play crisply and avoid mental errors?

    How will Long’s play-calling differ from Kelly’s?

    Will Elko’s defense play aggressively without getting burned for big gains?

    Can a mammoth video board be operated tastefully?

    PREDICTION

    I expect Notre Dame to be mentally prepared, get out to an early lead and control the contest from start to finish. Unfortunately, a good beginning against a less-talented opponent did not often translate into a happy ending last season, but the changes to Kelly’s coaching staff and an improved strength and conditioning program are supposed to rectify those failures. This game could become uncomfortable for the Irish if they get off to a tentative start and allow Temple to be the aggressor. The Owls are sort of a Stanford-lite type of team that won’t go down without a fight.

    NOTRE DAME 34 TEMPLE 17

    14 Responses to “New Look Irish Host Temple”

    1. Vannie,

      Great to start a new season by reading your post!!

      With that said, as unbelievable as it sounds, TEMPLE is the better team going into the game.

      And yes, they’re a tough minded bunch that plays with a “chip on their shoulder”.. We were lucky
      to beat them two years and did so in the final minutes with a little IRISH luck.

      Winbush struggles in the opener and keeps the OWLS in the game.. Our D LINE will not live
      up to the raised expectations and Temple will run wild over them.

      I think the Irish survive but barely…

      Is Jon Gruden available yet?

    2. Glenn Hane says:

      Irish 42 Temple 13

      I think Wimbush and the Offense explode in this game with the D doing a sufficient job and creating turnovers!!!

      GO IRISH

    3. marleyman says:

      Welcome back! This is most likely Brian Kelly’s swan song. While I hope I’m wrong, I have a number of Philly Cheesesteaks wagered on this outcome. Brian Kelly speaks of revamping a program and a culture of which he has been at the helm for close to a decade. This, of course makes little sense. It seems like the sentiment is pointing toward a man that is not right for the job. The talent is all there, the leadership has proven to be mediocre. As we look at the 2017 schedule, one tends to be hopeful amidst the butterflies. Go Irish!

    4. Irish will control the offensive line of scrimmage and Wimbush should be able to ease into his first game. I could see the D being better in week 1 and getting everyone excited but it wont last because their just not very good. They have no depth a marginal secondary and below average D-Line. For the opener, it wont matter, ND 34-14.

    5. Bagiackas says:

      I called ND’s record last year from the day they couldn’t name a starting QB (flipped Miami and Duke though). They lost all their talent in the Draft and didn’t have the depth to replace them or the leadership.
      Notre Dame is going demolish defenses this year as long as Brian Kelly turns the offence over to Chip Long. Let Kelly do what he actually does well; ice the kicker and manage the team. He picked up some of the best assistants in the country and needs to show some humility and let them do their job. If they can find a way to not be stubborn and let Adams and Williams run the ball they will win. If they can do that they will give the wide outs the 1:1s like they want. And it will be TD after TD after TD. Notre Dame will own the highlight reel.
      They do not have a bad defense. They will have turnovers and they will have sacks. This is not the same defense. They have decent depth. The team is healthy. #bodybuiltbybalis
      They should have 10 wins; everyone but USC and Stanford. They need some luck for them.
      If Notre Dame does not route Temple by at least 30 it will be the same old from the Irish. They will beat all the teams they are supposed to. They will end up 8-4, get to a bowl game they shouldn’t and finish 8-5.
      My prediction
      ND-45 Temple-13

    6. JV,

      I am very impressed by your thorough assessment and ability to block out 99% of the threads in Rocks House regarding the direction/expectations of the 2017 season and program. It is a tough position to be able to predict this game based on all the new coaches and starters on both sides. As an alum I am hopeful for a solid win with evidence the new coordinators and S&C program shows noticeable benefits. While I have concerns about the ability of the leadership to be ultimately successful I am a domer through and through. Go Irish. Beat Owls.
      Hatz

    7. I have no confidence in Kelly ability to coach. how could you has regressed. You know his biggest flaw is coaching QB’s. Crist, Reese, Golson, Kiser all got worse rather than better. All so prone to turnovers.

    8. Good analysis, though a little on the negative side. Last year’s record cannot be undone and no sense in constantly referring to it. Kelly is a proven winner and has shown he can coach ND, what he needs is consistency. He needs to prove this to the fans with a solid start to this year beginning with Temple. There is plenty of talent on the team and the new asst coaches will bring more aggressiveness to the field. D-line and LBs will need to generate a pass rush and not leave secondary covering for 4-5 seconds of time. Offense will be able to score points. Jury is out of special teams, particularly the return threat. It was been too long the Irish have been without a serious threat, one that can quickly flip field position.Looking forward to putting last year in the drawer and seeing a solid game on Saturday.

    9. JV,

      Thanks for a well-written article.

      As an alum, I too hope for results this season that are better than expected. However, I have to be honest: I have already done multiple google searches this summer for “Future ND Football Head Coaching Candidates.” That can’t say much positive about my true, inner-feelings about how I think the season will play out…

      I have come to believe that as long as Mr. Swarbrick is the AD, he will want to stick with “his guy,” (aka the coach that he selected). I think Mr. Swarbrick will do everything he can to try to make sure that this coaching staff has at least one more opportunity–after this season–to show results. After that, I think he will be out of justifiable reasons.

      So, as much as I truly do want to see the team do well (and will be shouting my lungs out for them all season), I can’t help but feeling as though we as fans have two more middling seasons ahead before there will be any light at the end of the tunnel.

      I don’t like being wrong, but I wouldn’t mind being completely wrong in this assessment.

    10. irishhawk50 says:

      As I have said in the past Kelly is an 8-4 type coach. I expect this to be one of the eight. Too much new at Temple without the depth that new Notre Dame has.

      By the way, I know the Cleveland Browns are just the Cleveland Browns, but interesting Kelly couldn’t decide between Kizer and Zaire last year and now Kizer is set to start for the Browns and Zaire might get into the Florida game.

    11. Temple owls aint got no class

    12. Real curious to see if all the preparation will pay off. Record aside, just want to see solid fundamentals. Being in the picture on pass plays. Good pursuit angles and tacking. Making yards and points difficult for opposing offenses. ND offense, for the most part, has been decent last few years.

    13. Aaaah, Vannie. It’s September, the season starts today, the fridge if full of solid beer selections, and you are once again giving us awesome intel. I love the Fall.
      If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that predictions run the strong risk of making one look like a knucklehead. So here’s what I would *like* to see:
      1-A “W”.
      2-No injuries.
      3-Pound the rock for like a bajillion yards with all 3 backs plus BW. I don’t care if they only pass 5 times. Pound that $#i+.
      4-D doesn’t look like complete garbage.
      5-New coaches coaching well.
      Perhaps it’s a sorry state of affairs that I will be satisfied with the above, but there it is. Good riddance 2016. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass. GO IRISH.

    14. Irish win 35-13 in a mostly dominating fashion.

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