During the Notre Dame-Temple intro on ABC, Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer admitted that before the season the Fighting Irish did not have this game circled on the schedule. But when the season is over, ND will look back with pleasure at the gutty 24-20 victory over the Owls.
The 21st-ranked Owls played like it was their Super Bowl, which in some way, in terms of garnering national attention, it was. Notre Dame’s early score and stellar play on defense took some of the emotion away from the Owls and their fans. But the AAC upstarts hung around, became energized again, and when Austin Jones booted a field goal with 4:45 remaining, it appeared that Temple may pull off the upset.
The Irish, though, showed some resiliency of their own, going 75 yards in 2:36, scoring on a pass from Kizer to Philadelphia native Will Fuller. A KeiVarae Russell interception of Temple quarterback P.J. Walker sealed the deal and Notre Dame snuck out of Lincoln Financial Field with a win.
Here are five thoughts on the Irish, who now move to 7-1.
1. Temple is a Good Team and That Was a Good Win
Despite their high ranking, not many gave Temple much of a chance. The Owls had not faced a tough schedule and just about everyone outside of Philadelphia figured that the talent disparity would be far too much to overcome. But on defense, especially in the defensive front seven, Temple is very good. Tyler Matakevich is among the very best middle linebackers in America, and he is not the only disruptive defensive Owl. Offensively, the line is not a strong part of their team, but they have a couple of nice receivers and running back Jahad Thomas can make you miss. Going on the road and finding a way to beat this Temple team is not a bad thing.
2. DeShone Kizer Responds to Pressure
The first time we saw the sophomore from Toledo, he was beating Virginia on a late touchdown pass to Will Fuller. He has had some consistency issues at times, like any first-time starter would, but once again he showed that he knows how to come through when he is really needed. One of his strongest traits seems to be his short memory. He had two red zone interceptions in the second quarter – with one being a really bad decision to throw the ball – but he put that behind him, never sulked, and was the catalyst to another Irish win. He also had the wherewithal to notice an opportunity presented in a Temple coverage and had the confidence to check out of a run play to exploit the opening on the final touchdown pass. Head coach Brian Kelly and his offensive staff have to be pleased with the development of the young signal-caller.
3. C.J. Prosise Was Bottled Up
The star senior running back had very little running room from the opening snap until the end. Temple has a very good rush defense and the Irish offensive line had problems opening running lanes for Prosise. He seemed to have a little more success on runs between the tackles, but the Irish ran a lot of plays to the edges and those were rarely successful. Kizer made good decisions in the zone-read game however, so the Irish rushing yardage was respectable. But Prosise could do very little.
4. Jaylon Smith and the Notre Dame Defensive Line Was Outstanding
Jahad Thomas had 82 rushing thanks to a couple of big runs, but he didn’t have much more room to run than Prosise. The Irish front also pressured Walker constantly in the passing game. Smith had 10 total tackles and the combination of Romeo Okwara, Sheldon Day and Isaac Rochelle combined for 19 tackles with six for lost yardage. When three of the top four tacklers in a game are defensive linemen, the unit played very well.
5. Middle of the Back Seven on Defense Was Not
Joe Schmidt is struggling mightily at middle linebacker right now. With the defensive line being as disruptive as it was on Saturday night, you would expect Schmidt to have more than two total tackles. The safety play has been a constant battle all year, too. It’s the reason Max Redfield and Matthias Farley have shuffled in and out this season. Against Temple, Elijah Shumate was ejected on a questionable targeting call and his replacement, Nicky Baratti, had a chance to make a play on Thomas’ tying touchdown run and he couldn’t. While the defense played the Owls tough, Schmidt and the safeties were again exposed.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.