Who, and What, to Watch?

Your weekly Saturday morning points of emphasis for tonight’s contest.

1 – Discretion is the Better Part of Valor: If both teams play their respective best, or close to it, or even simultaneously within shouting distance of it, Temple has little chance at an upset Notre Dame Saturday night. The issue, of course, is that the Irish rarely play their best on the road, certainly not at Virginia or Clemson this season, nor at Arizona State or USC last fall, or at the Big House, in West Lafayette, or in Heinz Field the season prior.

Imbuing the Owls with a healthy dose of confidence can turn what should be a two touchdown-plus Notre Dame victory into a fourth quarter nail-biter. For Temple to win, the favored visitors have to beat themselves for the better part of a half if not longer.

If head coach Brian Kelly’s crew can settle in and play a clean first quarter, the Irish will win going away in the final 45 minutes.

2 – The Six Inches in Front of Your Face: Temple’s strength lies in its front seven defensively. Notre Dame’s best group lines up on the opposite side of scrimmage, approximately five yards in front of running back C.J. Prosise and directly across from such underrated Owls defenders as DT Matt Ioannidis and weak side ‘backer extraordinaire, Tyler Matakevich (the latter a future NFL starter).

“They play smart,” said Irish center Nick Martin of the Owls front wall. “Older players, I think that's the biggest thing that I've noticed is D-Line linebackers, they play smart; they are where they are supposed to be.”
They’re often in the opposing backfield, posting 7.4 tackles-for-loss per contest, the second-highest team avearge (behind Clemson’s 8.9) the Irish have faced to date.

And notably, through seven contests, Texas, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Navy, and USC each posted more tackles-for-loss vs. Notre Dame than any of the above averages on the season to date. Additionally, the Irish have been stuffed at least 10 times (tackled for gains of less than two yards) in each contest this season including a whopping 17 vs. Clemson, 16 at Virginia, and 14 their last time out against USC.

If Temple can perform similarly, Notre Dame will be forced to play behind the chains which means a game score more likely in the low 20s rather than the 30s – exactly where the Owls need it.

3 – Tyler Matakevich: The stat line, in this case, is telling: 70 total tackles including a combined 19 TFL/Stuffs (more than any Irish player and five more than Jaylon Smith, for the sake of reference). Four (4!) interceptions with four sacks and another quartet of pass breakups.

Owls weak side linebacker Tyler Matakevich would start on the All-Irish Opponent team for 2015. Moreover, he’d start for the Irish at two linebacker positions. Heck, he’d start for USC and Clemson and Stanford, too.

No. 8 on your TV screen is Temple’s player to watch Saturday night, especially against the screen game (tunnel, standard, bubble, etc.) where he excels in both diagnosing and destroying the before it blocks are allowed to form.

4 – The Grass is Indeed Greener – While the Owls possess a fighting chance Saturday night at scrimmage, the Irish maintain a distinct advantage in open space, where Will Fuller, or C.J. Prosise, or both, have operated with impunity in six of Notre Dame’s first seven games this season.

The pair has combined for 26 plays in excess of 20 yards this season including 14 of more than 30. If it’s a track meet, Temple has no shot to keep up.

5 – Welcome to the Main Stage: As Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer noted Wednesday of the unexpected national coverage the game has received: “It truly makes things fun. This is the reason that we come to Notre Dame, to play in big games like this. You look at the schedule before the season this year, and you don't necessarily circle Temple.”

Temple doubtless circled Notre Dame, though unwitting that a 7-0 mark and the presence of ESPN Game Day would accompany the host’s welcoming committee. Conversely, the Irish encounter this type of game pressure each week – or at least until they absorb their second loss each season in which case pressure gives way to the empty feeling that accompanies the loss of a clear goal.

“I feel like we get every opponent's best game,” said Philadelphia native Will Fuller. “Temple is going to bring it at us. Doesn't matter who you are playing, UMass, they brought it at us.?? Something about Notre Dame, everybody wants to play Notre Dame. Maybe it's because our games are on TV. We're going to Philly and this is like one of their first times selling out The Linc, so we know they are going be excited to play us.”

For the Owls, Saturday represents a Brave New World. For the Irish? Been there, done that. Lather, rinse, repeat. And the squad’s respective comfort levels as prime time players will likely be evident.

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