With the Irish set to start the season, here are a few final thoughts before kickoff.
* What makes a good season? Listening to Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN College GameDay this morning, you hear a familiar echo of what was being said this time last year. With Notre Dame’s schedule, a great season might be eight or nine wins.
While that sort of thing probably gets Irish fans angry, it’s just extra fuel in the tank of head coach Brian Kelly, who loves having that type of external motivation available for his team.
* Do we see tempo from this Irish offense early? And will it be dictated by a high-paced running attack? I think so.
I expect to see the Irish offense try and get the running game established quickly, while also trying to execute a few high percentage passes for Tommy Rees to get the veteran quarterback comfortable. This game has the opportunity to feel a lot like Navy did last year, where the Irish can physically push around a Temple team that’s really, really young up front on defense.
* How will Chuck Martin and Brian Kelly split the running back carries? It might not be how they do it in Ann Arbor. You’ve almost got to expect a really big day from George Atkinson this afternoon, with the junior running back almost certain to break a long run from scrimmage eventually.
That said, it remains to be seen if Atkinson is the guy that Kelly and Martin trust to be the pounder between the tackles — a job that’ll come in handy against Michigan. This afternoon could be treated as another very important datapoint for how to distribute touches in the backfield, with guys like Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel and Greg Bryant all viable options for starting touches.
If this game gets out of control and the Irish go to the No. 2 offense, expect to see one of these running backs taking advantage.
* Can the Irish play a good game on special teams? It’ll be key for Nick Tausch to get off to a strong start kicking and Kyle Brindza needs to show some progress from when we last saw him punt in the Blue-Gold game.
While the return units appear to be in good shape, having place-kicking duties up in the air going into week one isn’t ideal, but we’ve seen both Brindza and Tausch do it when it matters.
* How dominant will the Irish defense be? We’ve heard a whole lot about just how good this Notre Dame defense can be all offseason, but now it’s a chance to finally show it. I don’t expect a Bob Diaco-coached unit to ever come into a game thinking too highly of itself, but this afternoon should be a perfect opportunity to dominate an opponent.
Watching the rotation along the defensive line will be interesting. Who is the first man off the bench for the Irish when Sheldon Day, Louis Nix or Stephon Tuitt come out? How does the inside linebacker split work with Jarrett Grace? And how will the safeties split snaps, with young players like Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield needing live reps to build comfort.
We’ll get our first look at freshmen Jaylon Smith, Isaac Rochelle, and Cole Luke, three youngsters that have already broken into the two-deep. Expect to see quite a bit of Smith, who could start his career with a bang today.
* Expect Temple to throw the kitchen sink at the Irish. Listening to first-year head coach Matt Rhule talk about the game against Notre Dame, you get the feeling that he’s genuinely excited… and admitted to being a little bit nervous as well. (He said he’s been nervous for every football game he’s been in since fifth grade.)
But Rhule and the Owls will hold nothing back this afternoon, with the 38-year-old head coach vowing to hold nothing back.
“This is why you play the game,” Rhule said. “For these kind of moments. I promised our players, I will not be tight. I refuse to be tight. Our coaches will not be tight. We’re going to go play this game the way it’s supposed to be played.”