Temple Owls

Temple at Notre Dame: Geoff Collins era begins under the national spotlight

Temple at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., NBC

And so, the Geoff Collins era at Temple officially begins. And it begins under one of the brightest spotlights in college football — a nationally televised showdown at Notre Dame.

Collins, who spent the last two years as defensive coordinator at Florida and the previous four seasons in the same position at Mississippi State, gets his first chance to show what he can do at the helm of a talented, but inexperienced Temple team that lost so much – its beloved head coach and most of his staff, a four-year starter at quarterback, a star running back and seven starters from a tenacious defense.

Needless to say, there are plenty questions his team will have to answer if it wants to leave South Bend with the upset win on Saturday. Ironically, Matt Rhule also made his coaching debut at Notre Dame, when Temple suffered a 28-6 loss in 2013.

On the other sideline stands Brian Kelly, whose seat is as sweltering as its ever been in the Notre Dame pressure cooker after the Fighting Irish crumbled last season to an incredibly disappointing 4-8 record.

Kelly has always been an excellent recruiter and has tremendous talent on his squad, but when you’re the head coach at Notre Dame, talent doesn’t mean everything. Wins do. And he’s going to need those this season, with the first chance at one coming Saturday.

Let’s look more closely at where both teams stand before Saturday’s season opener:

Scouting Temple
Yep, all the fingers are still pointing at the quarterback spot, where Collins isn’t publicly naming a starter to replace the now-graduated Phillip Walker prior to kickoff. It’s been a four-pronged race during camp between redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo and true freshman Todd Centeio. Those four have combined for five receptions, 69 yards and a single touchdown in their careers. No pressure at Notre Dame, right, guys?

Collins has said he knows who will take the first snap, but odds are he will use more than one quarterback depending on the situation and field position. The guess here is Nutile, a pro-style QB and most experienced of the bunch, will get the first snap while Marchi will also see time. Don’t be surprised to see packages for Centeio, either, as he’s been a revelation during spring ball and camp.

Junior Ryquell Armstead is back for Temple and he no doubt will be the Owls’ lead tailback this season. With the inexperience at QB and new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s affinity for running the ball, Armstead could well be the Owls’ most important player on the offensive side of the ledger. Even with star Jahad Thomas in front of him, Armstead led the Owls with 14 rushing TDs last season. He also had 919 total yards on the ground.

Perhaps Temple’s deepest position this season is on the outside at wide receiver where senior Keith Kirkwood, senior Adonis Jennings and junior Ventell Bryant give the Owls an experienced, talented trio to lean on. Those three combined last season for 2,017 yards on 123 grabs, including 12 TDs. Bryant led the way with 54 receptions and 895 yards. All three scored four times apiece.

New defensive coordinator Taver Johnson, formerly the defensive backs coach at Purdue, is tasked with molding a new-look Temple defense that must replace seven starters from a unit that was third in the entire nation last season in total defense with 282.5 yards allowed per game. Senior safety Sean Chandler is back as the unquestioned leader of the group. “Champ,” as he is referred to by coaches and teammates, had two picks last season and has seven in his collegiate career. The Owls must replace the entire starting linebacker unit, a group Collins has said will remain fluid. On the defensive line, there is experience on the end with seniors Jacob Martin and Sharif Finch and the tackle spot features youthful talent that could wind up being a strength.

Scouting Notre Dame
After the Irish floundered last season, Kelly thought it was time for a change and brought in former Memphis offensive coordinator Chip Long to fill the same role in South Bend. And Long’s tenure begins with 6-foot-1 junior Brandon Wimbush behind center to replace now-Cleveland Browns starter DeShone Kizer. Wimbush last season sat behind both Kizer and Malik Zaire, the later of whom has transferred to Florida. A four-star recruit out of Jersey City, New Jersey, Wimbush will be making his first career start on Saturday. He has five career passing attempts, all of which came as a true freshman in 2015 vs. UMass. Wimbush will be protected by 6-foot-8, 315-pound senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey, a Penn Charter High School product and legitimate first-round NFL prospect.

Junior tailback Josh Adams returns to lead the Irish’s rushing attack. He led Notre Dame with 933 yards on the ground last season. He’s the only RB in program history with at least 800 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons. He’s also a weapon in the passing game, as he had 21 grabs last year for 193 yards and a TD.

Junior Equanimeous St. Brown is a star on the outside for the Irish. The 6-foot-5, 203-pounder nabbed 58 balls for 961 yards and nine TDs last season. He can take over a game. Temple’s secondary, especially corners Artrel Foster and Mike Jones, will have its hands full.

Kelly also cleaned house on the defensive side of the ball and brought in Mike Elko, formerly of Wake Forest, to run the Irish’s defensive ship. Notre Dame ranked 42nd in the nation last season in total defense with 378.8 yards allowed per game, but was 61st with 27.9 points allowed per game. Where the Irish really struggled last year was against the run, allowing 182.42 yards per game on the ground, just 72nd in the nation. Middle linebacker Nyles Morgan is a player to keep an eye on. The senior and team captain led Notre Dame with 94 tackles last season, including four games of double-digit stops.

History
Saturday will mark the third all-time meeting between the Owls and the Fighting Irish, a series in which the Irish own a 2-0 record.

The first came back in the 2013 season opener at Notre Dame Stadium, when the Irish pulled away with a 28-6 victory in Rhule’s first game as Temple’s head coach. The Owls would go on to endure a 2-10 season from hell that year.

You probably remember the second meeting more vividly.

It came on Halloween night in 2015 when the No. 9 Fighting Irish visited Lincoln Financial Field and held off a valiant upset effort by the upstart No. 21 Owls, 24-20, in front of a national television audience just hours after ESPN’s College Gameday descended upon Philadelphia and Independence Hall for a Temple game for the first time. It was arguably the biggest game in Temple history and, despite the loss, it gave the Temple program a sense of legitimacy in the national eye for the first time in what felt like forever.

Storyline to watch: Seriously, though … how’s this QB thing going to work?
Duh. Of course this is the storyline to watch.

The fact that Temple’s QB situation is still this unsettled just hours before kick off can’t help but give some sort of legitimate pause. Is a multi-QB system really the best option for the Owls right now? Or is it necessary because no one truly won the job in the eyes of Collins and his staff during the summer?

How this all shakes down will be of utmost importance not just this week, but in the coming weeks, too. But it’s magnified because it’s the first game of a new era, it’s total change considering the stability of Walker over the last four seasons and the spotlight is always brighter at Notre Dame.

If Collins really does use multiple QBs, could one play well enough Saturday to finally earn the true starter’s crown? Possibly.

Either way, it’s a question that will need an answer soon.

Prediction
There are just so many questions surrounding the Owls right now. And that’s through no fault of their own. It’s just what naturally happens when there’s so much sudden change, especially with a new coaching staff coming in and laying out its own blueprints. And there are questions about the Irish, too, considering how they continually stumbled and fell face-first over and over again last season. That said, there is still more stability within the Irish right now. The Owls will keep showing that grit they’ve been known for in recent years, but there will just be too much of Notre Dame to deal with.

Notre Dame 27, Temple 13