Prister’s Preview: Notre Dame vs. Temple

In the last two seasons, Temple has avenged losses to UConn, Penn State, Cincinnati and Central Florida. Next up for Owls head coach Matt Rhule: Notre Dame in Philadelphia.

Temple head coach

Matt Rhule (3rd year at Temple) – Rhule, 40, was the offensive line coach for the Owls from 2006-11 before moving on to the NFL for a season with the New York Giants as an assistant offensive line coach. He returned to Temple as head coach in 2013, making his debut against the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium (a 28-6 loss).

After managing just two victories in his first season – the second of which came in the final game of the regular season – Rhule led the Owls to six victories last year, including triumphs at Vanderbilt (37-7) and at home against No. 21 East Carolina (20-10).

Temple was elevated to No. 22 last week and No. 21 this week, marking the first time since 1979 that the Owls have claimed a spot in the Associated Press top 25. The 7-0 record in 2015 is the best start in Temple history.

Key personnel

• LB-Tyler Matakevich (Sr.) – Led the team in tackles each of his first three years in the program and has paced the Owls in stops each of the seven games this year. Has 65 tackles, seven for loss, and four sacks. Also leads the team with four interceptions.
• RB-Jahad Thomas (Jr.) – Not even projected as the starter after pacing the team with just 384 yards rushing last year, Thomas has been dynamic, rushing for 822 yards, 117.4 yards rushing per game and 12 rushing scores (after scoring none last year). Third on the team in receptions with 18 for an 11.3-yard average.
• WR-Robby Anderson (Sr.) – After missing the ’14 season for academic reasons, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder leads the Owls in catches with 31 for 388 yards and five of Temple’s 10 receiving touchdowns.
• NT-Matt Ioannidis (Sr.) – Long, agile, versatile defensive lineman who will line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage. Leads the team in tackles for loss with 7.5 and third among defenders in sacks with 3.5. Has made 22 straight starts.
• QB-P.J. Walker (Jr.) – After turning in a 13-to-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio a year ago, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder has improved to 9-to-3 while completing 59.6 percent of his passes, which is up considerably from his 53.3 mark in ‘14. A running threat, although Temple tries to limit the number of hits on Walker after he suffered a shoulder injury early in the season.
• DE-Nate D. Smith (Sr.) – Undersized rush end paces the team in sacks with 6.5. Finished second to Tyler Matakevich in tackles last season with 71.

What Temple does well

• Play defense: The Owls sacked Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg a startling 10 times in Temple’s 27-10 victory. The Nittany Lions managed just 180 yards total offense and failed to score over the final 51:34. That started a defensive trend that has not abated. Temple is sixth in the nation in rushing defense (91.8 ypg.), eighth in scoring defense (14.6 ppg.) and 14th in total defense (307.7 ypg.).
• Catching up: Temple trailed Penn State, 10-0, and won the game, 27-10. In each of the last two games, the Owls trailed heading into the fourth quarter. They out-scored Central Florida, 16-0, in the fourth quarter, and then pitched a second-half shutout at East Carolina after trailing by four through three quarters.
• Creating turnovers: The Owls have intercepted 12 passes (tied for fifth nationally) and recovered three fumbles.
• Avenging losses: Head coach Matt Rhule’s Temple teams have lost to an opponent in their first match-up and bounced back to defeat that team four times.
Temple defeated UConn, 36-10 in 2014, after losing 28-21 in ’13. A 30-13 loss to Penn State in 2014 was followed up by a 27-10 victory this year. The Owls lost to Cincinnati, 14-6, in ’14 and defeated the Bearcats, 34-26, in Week Two of ’15. Central Florida defeated Temple, 34-14, last year, but the Owls responded with a 30-16 victory this year.
Temple awaits revenge opportunities vs. Notre Dame (28-6 in ’13), SMU (59-49 in ’13) and Memphis (16-13 in ’14).
• Second-half defense: The Owls have allowed 29 second-half points in seven games after giving up 23 points in the fourth quarter in ’14. (Notre Dame has scored 140 points in the second half.)

Where Temple struggles

• Offensive consistency: Temple averaged just 107.7 yards rushing (118th nationally) and 3.5 yards per carry in 2014. Jahad Thomas and the offensive line have given the ground game a significant boost this season with Thomas averaging nearly 120 yards rushing per game. But Temple ranks 93rd in the country in rushing at 148.8 yards per game. The Owls have scored 15 rushing touchdowns in seven games after tallying just 11 rushing touchdowns in 12 games a year ago.
• Penalties: Temple is 106th nationally in penalty yards per game at 70.7 (7.6 penalties per game). The Owls were 75th in 2014 and 86th in 2013. Opponents have gained 16 first downs (more than two per game) due to Temple penalties.
• Fumbles lost: The Owls have coughed it up 16 times, losing nine. Only six of the 128 FBS teams have lost more fumbles.  
• Falling behind: See “Catching Up” above.

Kelly’s Call

“There certainly was a toughness about (Temple in 2013) as there is now. They’re much more athletic as a football team now than they were then, especially on the defensive line and certainly in the skill-position area. You can see recruiting has really changed the look of their football team.”
“They’re a four-quarter team as evidenced by their numbers, which are astonishing in the second half in terms of points scored. They’re a great second-half football team, which tells you a lot about their mindset and the kind of football team they are.
“We knew this was going to be a physical football team and they were going to be relying on a very good defense and an opportunistic, tough offense. You could see that in some of the scores, especially late in the (2014) season.”

Odds and ends

Notre Dame is 15-0 on Halloween, which is the date of this weekend’s clash against Temple…This marks the second meeting between Notre Dame and Temple with the Irish winning in the 2013 season-opener, 28-6. Notre Dame led, 14-0, within the first five minutes of the game…Over the last 50 years, Notre Dame is 11-7-2 vs. teams with a record of 7-0 or better. The last victory over a team 7-0 or better was No. 2 Notre Dame’s 31-24 victory over No. 1/9-0 Florida State in 1993. Notre Dame’s last game against a team 7-0 or better was a 41-10 loss to 10-0 USC in Los Angeles in 2004…No. 9 Notre Dame will play its 212th game as a ranked team against a ranked opponent; this Saturday’s game against Notre Dame is Temple’s first ever as a ranked team vs. a ranked opponent…Notre Dame’s special teams have generated three touchdowns in 2015, its most since 2000 – DeShone Kizer’s seven-yard touchdown pass to Durham Smythe on a fake field goal vs. Virginia, C.J. Sanders’ 50-yard punt return against UMass, and Equanimeous St. Brown’s blocked punt against USC that was returned for a score by Amir Carlisle…The five 100-yard rushing games by C.J. Prosise are the most since Darius Walker had six in 2006…Prosise ranks third nationally with 41 plays of 10 yards or more. Tied for fourth are Temple’s Jahad Thomas and LSU’s Leonard Fournette.

Prister’s analysis

When Notre Dame contemplated the upcoming schedule in 2015, the Oct. 31 game against Temple likely elicited very little attention compared to more noteworthy foes such as Texas, Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC, Pittsburgh and Stanford.

The Owls – winners of just eight games in the previous two seasons – did Notre Dame a favor -- particularly with the Irish coming off a bye week -- by storming past the midway point of the 2015 season unscathed.

If there was a chance that Notre Dame would overlook the Owls, that went by the wayside with Temple’s 7-0 start to the ’15 season and No. 21 ranking heading into Saturday night’s clash at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.

Third-year head coach Matt Rhule has raised the profile of the Owls through some of the best recruiting within the American Athletic Conference the last three years. Temple now has the skill-position athletes to go with a program built upon toughness, which Rhule helped shape as offensive line coach under Al Golden and Steve Addazio before a brief stint in the NFL.

Several players stand out for the Owls, led by linebacker Tyler Matakevich and defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis, who have spearheaded a defense that allowed just 17.5 points per game last year and just 14.6 points per game through seven games this season.

Granted, the Owls have spent the last four weeks beating up on predominately inferior competition. Combine the offenses of Charlotte, Tulane and Central Florida and you still won’t assemble a representative Power 5 conference unit. Yet Temple opened the season against Penn State, which it hadn’t beaten in 74 years, and after falling behind 10-0, scored the final 27 points to knock off the Nittany Lions, who surrendered 10 sacks.

A week later, with every reason to succumb to a quality Cincinnati team on the road, Temple forced four Gunner Kiel passes into interceptions en route to a stunning 34-26 victory over the Bearcats.

The Owls can’t be taken lightly. Even when Rhule’s teams have lost – and they lost 16 times in 2013-14 – Temple has shown fight and heart, which has gained momentum every step of the way since then.

What was a physical team in ’13 when the Irish struggled to put the Owls away in a 28-6 victory remains a physical team, only with considerably more athletes on both sides of the football.

Give running back Jahad Thomas a cutback lane and he’ll hurt you. Give quarterback P.J. Walker time to throw a deep crossing route to one of several 6-foot-3 receivers and he’ll make the play.

Temple’s real talent is on the defensive side of the football where coordinator Phil Snow has created an active, ball-hawking unit. They’re a little undersized at end and likely don’t have the depth to withstand much attrition. But you better execute and you better not put the football up for grabs because the secondary – and Matakevich – will make an offense pay. The Owls swarm to the football and make plays.

There’s one common opponent to use as a comparison, and ironically, Temple visited UMass in Week Three and Notre Dame hosted the Minutemen in Week Four. Keep in mind that the Owls were coming off back-to-back victories over Penn State and Cincinnati when they took on UMass in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.

After jumping to a 14-0 lead, Temple’s offense stalled, and the Minutemen eventually took a 23-20 lead with 1:20 remaining and a chance to make it a four-point advantage with an extra point. Temple defensive end Praise Martin-Oguike blocked the extra point, linebacker Stephaun Marshall recovered, and Marshall flipped it to defensive back Will Hayes, who took it back for two points.

That proved key moments later when P.J. Walker led a drive that set up Austin Jones’ game-winning field goal.

Temple managed just 67 yards rushing on 37 carries against UMass. A week later, Notre Dame rushed for a school-record 457 yards on 51 carries for an astonishing 8.96 yards per carry and six rushing touchdowns in a 62-27 victory over the Minutemen.

Temple has faced one talented offense so far, and although they forced five turnovers against Cincinnati, the Bearcats accounted for 557 yards total offense – 261 more than the Owls.

The breaking point in this game should come in the second half when the Irish – who have scored 140 points in the second half – go up against a Temple team that has allowed just 29 points in the second half.

Over the course of a 60-minute game, Notre Dame’s depth, strength and athleticism should take over, although probably not before Rhule’s Owls make another strong impression.

Temple has answered every call so far this season, but the Owls haven’t had a wakeup call quite like No. 9 Notre Dame. In fact, only six of Rhule’s first 31 games at Temple have been against a Power 5 conference team.

Rarely are the Owls manhandled, and they won’t be throughout most of this game. But 60 minutes of football likely will prove to be about 15-to-20 minutes too much for the home team as their quest to remain undefeated comes to an end at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday night.

Pointspread: Notre Dame by 11; over-under 50
Prediction: Notre Dame 37, Temple 17
2015 Season Record: 5-2 straight up; 1-6 vs. points; 4-3 over-under Top Stories