Friday, September 1, 2017

After a sluggish 2016 season, Notre Dame looks to bounce back against Temple in the season opener

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks to bounce back from a 4-8 season on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC) in the season opener at home against the Temple Owls as coach Brian Kelly looks to instill confidence as another tough slate rises.

“Our team is ready to play. I don't know that I've had many press conferences where I said, Give me the team right now, we'd like to play today,” Kelly said. “We're ready to play with a few more practice days in front of us.”

Defensive fundamentals will be key for the Irish to make any dent on their respective opponents this season and Kelly prioritizes the option.

“It comes down to playing fundamentally sound defense, tackling well right out of the gates,” Kelly said. “If you do that, you put yourself in a good position against any scheme that you play.”

Brandon Wimbush looks to begin a new era of Irish football as he takes the reign at quarterback to fill big shoes left behind by Deshone Kizer.

“It will be different, but I don’t think much will change on my part,” Wimbush said in Tuesday’s press conference.  “I think a lot of the surrounding entities will change but I think DeShone [Kizer] and when Malik [Zaire] had their opportunities, I think they both handled it with grace and that’s what I look forward to doing.”

Defending American Athletic Conference champion Temple remains unsure of its starting quarterback.  Throughout training camp, there has been a four-way quarterback battle between freshman Todd Centeio, redshirt freshman Logan Marchi, redshirt junior Frank Nutile and redshirt freshman Anthony Russo with all possibly receiving playing time on Saturday.

Regardless of which quarterback plays, they will have a talented group of receivers to throw to, led by redshirt junior Ventell Bryant.  Bryant is one of four returning players with a single-digit jersey number, which is a significant deal because single-digit jerseys are given to the toughest players on the team.  Bryant led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and tied for second in receiving touchdowns last season, despite being rendered to 11 games due to injury.

Significant changes have been made to the Notre Dame coaching staff since last season as it will boast a new coordinator in all three phases of the game – offense, defense, and special teams.

Chip Long is the new Irish offensive coordinator after coming from the University of Memphis last season. mMike Elko will lead the Irish defense after coming from the same position at Wake Forest.  Elko is one of just two coordinators to rank in top-40 total defenses in the FBS in each of the past five seasons.  Brian Polian will take over the special teams for Notre Dame.  This is Polian’s second stint at Notre Dame (2005-2009).  Last season, Polian was the head coach at the University of Nevada.  Former Irish starting quarterback Tommy Rees also joins the coaching staff and will look to teach and mentor Wimbush and the other quarterbacks.

Kelly isn’t looking past the opener as Temple has averaged 10 wins over the past two seasons and complemented Temple first-year coach Geoff Collins ahead of the game. 

“They’ve got a core of winners,” Kelly said. “Coach Collins takes over a very successful program, comes from a winning background, has played winning football, great defensive coordinator at Florida. So he continues to bring that kind of mindset to the Temple program.”

Season Openers All-Time:

Notre Dame is 106-17-5 in season openers and 102-20-5 in home openers.  The Irish are currently riding a five-year home opener win streak with victories over Purdue, Temple, Rice, Texas and Nevada.  The numbers look to be in favor of the Irish as they prepare to take on Temple.

All-Time vs Temple:

Notre Dame is 2-0 all-time against the Temple Owls.  The last meeting took place on October 31, 2015 at Temple.  The #9 Fighting Irish defeated the Owls by a score of 24-21.  The only meeting in South Bend between the two programs came in 2013 and ended with a score of 28-6.