After a long summer of speculating about the future of the Temple Owls, we finally get to see the product on the field this Saturday. Geoff Collins will make his head coaching debut on the road against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and there are plenty of unanswered questions heading into the new season.
These are two teams coming off completely different seasons. Temple is the reigning American Atheltic Conference champions and have won 10 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. The Irish finished 4-8 last season, which was one of the worst records in the program’s prestigious history.
I had the honor of exchanging some questions with Pat Rick, editor of One Foot Down, SB Nation’s home for Notre Dame coverage. We talked a little bit about the past, the future and building a stadium on campus.
Notre Dame is coming off one of their worst seasons in program history. How hot is Brian Kelly's coaching seat?
I honestly think you could talk to a handful of Irish fans and get varying answers, but I think the general consensus at this point is that Kelly is coming off a 4-8 season in Year 7 and has only lost fewer than 4 games in a season twice (and one of those was, you know, vacated by the NCAA). So, looking at that, his seat is certainly hot.
There’s a faction of angry alumni who paid for billboards and newspaper ads about how poor the program has been under Kelly compared to historical standards, and the media pressure will become overwhelming for Kelly and for athletic director Jack Swarbrick if he continues to underperform.
I think if Kelly has another dud of a season, after being able to use the “I just needed to change all my coaches and strength trainers and how I run the program” excuse between years 7 and 8, then he will very likely be fired before 2017 is over (not before the season is over, though)
Stepping away from this game for a second, what are your thoughts about DeShone Kizer being named the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns?
I have extremely mixed emotions. First of all, I love DeShone and think he will be an excellent starting QB in the NFL - he has all the arm strength, athleticism, poise, and intelligence to do so.
With that said, we’ve seen this story before with recent ND QBs in the pros, tossed to the wolves on terrible teams and then immediately written off as busts when things don’t go well. Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen might never have been good pro QBs, but the situations they were drafted into were terrible and they never recovered or were able to develop into what they potentially could be, based on their success in college.
I hope to God that Hue “QB Whisperer” Jackson has Kizer ready to go, and that the Browns offensive line and running game can carry the load and allow him to do what he does best - toss beautiful TD bombs on play action and use that arm strength to put the ball where the defense won’t get it. But I am a Notre Dame fan, so I’m pretty damn pessimistic.
Now that Kizer is in the NFL, who is the new man in charge of the Irish offense?
His name is Brandon Wimbush, and he’s a junior (redshirt sophomore in eligibility) who has even better raw physical tools than Kizer did coming into college. He’s an athletic and fast athlete who also happens to have a cannon for an arm.
With that said, you can’t get much more unproven than Wimbush. In terms of significant playing time, he has zero, and the only time I remember seeing him in game action was as a true freshman in garbage time against UMass two years ago.
Look for Wimbush to be limited in what Kelly asks of him (at least, that’s what Irish fans hope will happen) and for the Irish to depend on the offensive line, Josh Adams, and a lot of short passes designed to get our athletes into open space to make plays (and prevent Wimbush from having to throw into the jaws of the Owls DBs very often).
Coach Collins isn't given us much of a clue who will be the starter for the Owls. If you could take one guess at who would get most of the reps, who would it be?
I’ll be honest, I have no knowledge of the strengths or weaknesses of any of the candidates for starting QB at Temple.
So, I’ll go with Logan Marchi, since he was the only guy to see the field last season - start with experience in a big-time environment and then bring in less experienced guys as the game progresses.
Whoever it is, I expect he won’t feel too much heat from the Irish defense, which has been notoriously bad at recruiting pass rushers and getting that push upfield on passing downs.
This will be the third matchup between the two schools since 2013 and Temple redshirt-senior DE Sharif Finch will have played in all three of those games come Saturday. Do the Irish have any players that will be seeing the Owls for the third time in their collegiate career?
Yes, the Irish actually have three such players: LT Mike McGlinchey, TE Durham Smythe, and reserve OL Hunter Bivin. McGlinchey is a likely 2018 first or second round NFL Draft pick, so you should especially watch out for that guy.
At what position(s) do the Irish have their greatest strength? Weakness?
There are a lot of people who would choose offensive line or cornerback for the strongest position on the team, but in my opinion cornerback is deep but unproven and offensive line has not been as good as advertised (although I think they can be this season, if LG Quenton Nelson continues to dominate, McGlinchey cleans up his mental mistakes from 2016, and the right side of the line is at least adequate).
I’m going to go with running back instead, because the depth there is impressive. Starter Josh Adams has been a workhorse for two years now, running for 1,768 yards and 11 TD over the past two seasons despite sharing carries with CJ Prosise, Tarean Folston, and Dexter Williams during that time. He’s tall, strong, and has game-breaking speed that he seems to summon out of nowhere:
Now, he’s the unquestioned starter, and he has the speedy and fiery Dexter Williams backing him up along with sophomore Tony Jones Jr., who is said to be an absolute wizard when it comes to catching the ball out of the backfield. Jones also looks to be a power back who could be crucial in short yardage situations, which have been an issue for the Irish offense for the past few seasons.
Those three should all see action Saturday and I imagine they’ll carry (pun intended) the Irish to victory (if ND wins).
The Owls strength is in their secondary and they go against an elite talent in Equanimeous St. Brown. Who are the other receiving options that Temple should be keeping an eye on?
This is an interesting question, and one I’m not positive is set in stone. Last year, the second-best receiver on the team was probably now-sophomore Kevin Stepherson, but he has since fallen out of favor with Coach Kelly for one reason or another.
Based on reports from summer camp, the #2 guy might actually be grad-transfer Cameron Smith, a speedy receiver who played his undergrad seasons at Arizona State and actually roasted the Irish secondary in 2014.
ND has other talented and intriguing talents to watch out for, like huge WR targets Chase Claypool (6’4”) and Miles Boykin (6’4”) and tiny, speedster guys CJ Sanders and Chris Finke.
Furthermore, Alizé Mack (6’5”, 250 lbs.) is back at tight end after missing 2016 due to academics, and he is an absolute matchup nightmare considering his massive size and borderline receiver speed. He headlines a tight end group with lots of size and good hands that could spell trouble for Temple linebackers and safeties.
Temple enters this game with holes to fill in their front seven. The Irish offensive line might be one of the best in the nation. Could we see Josh Adams touch the ball 30 times in this game or will other backs tote the rock as well?
I touched on this earlier, but I would expect Adams to be the workhorse and get 20-25 touches. WIlliams will probably get somewhere between 5 and 15, and then Jones will likely be used more for passing or short yardage situations. Wimbush will also carry the ball at least a few times as well, considering offensive coordinator Chip Long’s Run-Pass Option offense, so expect him further add to the ground attack, assuming the offensive line is able to get a good push on Temple’s inexperienced front seven.
What do you remember most about the last time these two teams matched up on Halloween in 2015?
I’ll be honest with you, not a whole lot -- because I was at a big party in Grand Rapids, MI called Halloween on Ionia, dressed with friends as the Average Joe’s dodgeball team, and only remember snippets of the game from the bar where we were watching the game.
I vividly remember my hangover and having lost my phone and watching the highlights the next day, though. Kizer’s long run and his game-winning pass to Will Fuller are the two big plays I remember.
South Bend is home to one of the most prestigious college football landscapes across the country. Temple is currently in a battle with the local community about building an on-campus stadium for its football team. How important is it to have that stadium so close to home?
Personally, I think it is absolutely crucial. I’m of the opinion that college football games should be played on college campuses, as there is nothing else like the atmosphere of gameday at a university with all the tailgating and school spirit and just the electricity that has clearly been in the air all week leading up to a big game.
I think having a stadium on campus would go a long way to supercharging the Temple fan base, growing support in Philadelphia for the squad, and making the experience of seeing Temple home games MUCH more incredible and exciting for both Owls fans and opposing teams’ fans when they visit.
Anything else about the Irish we should know before the regular season opener?
A: Notre Dame fans are in a fragile, precarious state right now. If Temple beats ND on Saturday, please try not to rub it in too much. We are the most miserable fans out there considering results vs. expectations and how last year went, so losing the opener to Temple will fill us with dread as we look at games against Georgia, USC, and Stanford (among others) to come.
On a less depressing note, any Temple fans visiting the campus should try to check out as many of the local haunts as possible - especially the on-campus sights to see. Here’s a link to an article we published on One Foot Down on what to do and see on game day weekend (also read the comments!): https://www.onefootdown.com/2017/8/27/16211726/notre-dame-football-what-visitors-should-know-see-and-do-on-game-day-band-see-kickoff-hotel-food
So, I definitely encourage all of you to enjoy the beautiful campus and drink it up with ND fans in the tailgate lots. They’re generally a fun, welcoming bunch (unless you’re a USC or Michigan fan), and there’s no better place to be as an opposing fan on a fall afternoon than the Notre Dame campus.
May the best team win.