Chris Hairston, Nate L. Smith, Alex Wells

And in that corner… The Temple Owls


A lot has changed since Temple visited South Bend to kick off the 2013 season. Head coach Matt Rhule had just taking over for Steve Addazio, who had jumped to Boston College after a few nice seasons in Philadelphia.

Rhule had returned to the Owls from the NFL, back to the place where he had coordinated Al Golden’s offense during Golden’s impressive build job that got him a chance in Miami.

Rhule’s work has been brick-by-brick. A two-win season first year built to last season’s 6-6 campaign. But 2015 has been a dream start, capitalizing on a veteran defense and a team that’s shown a champion’s mentality—with the Owls holding the inside track for an American Conference title, something most didn’t think possible just a few years ago.

With the college football world focused on the Owls’ evening in the spotlight on Saturday, Temple will be ready for its star turn. And getting us ready for what might be the biggest game in Temple program history is the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Marc Narducci.

Marc has been with the Inquirer for over 30 years, covering just about every sport the area has to offer. During one of the busiest weeks covering Temple football in a long, long time, he still found time to share his thoughts about the state of the Owls and this weekend’s big game.

Hope you enjoy.

Temple’s season-opening win over Penn State started 2015 with a bang. Since then, Matt Rhule’s team has done nothing but win. Before we getting into this weekend’s matchup, can you provide Notre Dame fans with some context for this 7-0 start? In your opinion, is this the high-water mark for Temple football?

It is only the high water mark because the program has never been 7-0 to start a season. So in that aspect it is, but the team feels there is so much more to accomplish. Many felt that the Penn State win, the first over the Nittany Lions in 74 years, would be the high water mark, but then the next week Temple had no letdown and beat the preseason American Athletic Conference favorite Cincinnati on the road.

I really believe in Temple’s mind, the actual high water mark hasn’t been accomplished. The goal has always been to win the AAC title and Temple is clearly in the driver’s seat to at least represent its division in the title game.


The Owls are getting it done with defense. They’re 8th in the country in scoring defense and No. 6 against the run. What’s been the secret to their success?

I think the biggest factor is experience. This is a unit that allowed 17.5 points per game last year and has improved, while playing a more difficult schedule. Temple is allowing 14.6 points per game and the team has great senior leadership. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich is the only FBS player to lead his team in tackles in every game this season. He has 420 tackles for his career and could become the seventh player in NCAA history to record 100 or more tackles each season (He has 65 this year).

DT Matt Ioannidis doesn’t have big stats, but he has been a load to move up front. And the best pure pass rusher is Praise Martin-Oguike, who at 6-2, and 255 is a little undersized, but quick. He has been hampered by injuries, but has shown great flashes. And he made the biggest defensive play of the year – blocking an extra point against UMass that was returned for a two-point defensive score by Will Hayes in a 25-23 last-minute win. The Owls also have a strong secondary, led by the corners, sophomore Sean Chandler and senior Tavon Young. Chandler has been the best one-on-one defender this year.


This still feels very much like an offense that’s a work in progress. P.J. Walker played big down the stretch in the comeback victory over East Carolina, but nationally the Owls are 93rd in the country running the football and 92nd throwing it. What’s the secret for Temple’s offensive success on Saturday night? And is Walker the most important piece of the puzzle?

You are right that the offense is a work in progress. The Owls have had trouble getting started in games. Walker separated his shoulder in the opening win over Penn State, but he is a tough kid and didn’t miss any time. He says now he is feeling much better. Walker hasn’t been much of a running threat, which would really open things up. He has been inconsistent, but has shown great composure when it was needed during fourth quarter comebacks against UMass and East Carolina. Plus, he is taking care of the ball. Last year he threw 13 TDs and 15 interceptions. This year he has nine TD passes and three interceptions.

An underrated aspect of the offense’s success is the improved play of the offensive line, led by Rimington candidate, senior Kyle Friend, who at 6-2, 305 is considered undersized, but he is one of the strongest players, if not the strongest on the team. The OL has only allowed seven sacks and junior running back Jahad Thomas leads the AAC in rushing with 117.4 yards per game. He has rushed for 822 yards (5.0 avg.) and 12 TDs.


It’s hard to get caught up on the Owls and not notice the season Tyler Matakevich is having. He’s been a tackling machine and has a team-high four interceptions. But the core of the Temple defense is playing equally impressive defense—Matt Ioannidis and Haason Reddick have been great up front and Nate D. Smith has been incredibly disruptive as well, especially in limited snaps. Is that a testament to veteran defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s system? Rhule’s player development? Good recruiting?

It is all of the above. As for recruiting, none of these players was highly recruited, but Temple has a penchant for developing these type of players. For instance, Temple was Matakevich’s only Division I offer. Temple never worries about what the 5-star or 4-star lists say. More than many staffs, the coaches look inside a player and see what he is all about.

If you look, many of these guys are below the height/weight standards people are looking for. Matakevich is 6-1, 232. Nate D. Smith is a converted linebacker who is 6-0, 236. Yet all these players have toughness that is off the chart, something that Rhule looks for in recruiting.


Staying on the topic of Rhule, he’s likely to get a long look from a number of major programs that’ll be hiring a new head coach. In your mind, what are the odds that he’s coaching the Owls at this time next season? What has made him so successful at Temple in such a short period of time.

I would place the odds of 50-50 that Rhule stays. He really like Philadelphia, likes Temple and counting his years as an assistant has been there nine years. I think it appeals to him working in a pro city, where his every move isn’t scrutinized. Temple realized what an outstanding coach he could be when they extended his contract before this year, despite having a 8-16 record his first two years. Unlike his predecessor, Steve Addazio, Rhule never looked at this job as a place to climb the ladder. Remember, he left the pros as an assistant to come back here. That all said, if a big program offers him four times the salary, it would be hard to turn down. So we will see.


It’s an incredibly exciting time to be following Temple football. A sold out Lincoln Financial Stadium. A national TV broadcast with the weekend’s only game featuring ranked opponents. (ESPN’s College GameDay, too.)

With a long dormant stadium project potentially back to life, what has this season meant for the football program and the university? And is it possible to quantify what a win over Notre Dame on Saturday would mean?

This season has meant everything to football. The fact that Temple is making a strong push now for a football stadium, is a way of capitalizing on all the success. The win over Penn State meant a lot in terms of recruiting and national publicity. Just multiply that by 10 if the Owls are able to beat Notre Dame.

It would help in recruiting, fund raising and more importantly, would give the Owls a chance to earn a New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve bowl bid. Even if Temple loses but accredits itself well, being on GameDay and ABC is invaluable publicity.

Irish expecting a four-quarter battle against Temple


After a back and forth battle with USC, Notre Dame outlasted the Trojans with a strong fourth quarter. Against Temple, the Irish should hope to be in better position heading into the game’s final 30 minutes. Because the Owls have proven to be a very good second half team and even better closers.

The identity of Matt Rhule’s undefeated team is its toughness, led by a defense that’s among the best statistical units in the country. And buoyed by that performance, the Owls have showed an ability to finish games, playing solid football in the first and second quarter before separating from the pack in the second half.

Temple’s scoring margin in the first half is a respectable +16. But in the second half that number jumps to +108. Through seven games the Owls have given up a ridiculous 4.1 points on average in the second half while scoring nearly 20 points.

In a exciting road environment that’ll feature a sold out Lincoln Financial Stadium, getting off to a quick start is critical. It’s also been something absent in Notre Dame’s last four road contests.

Against Clemson and Virginia, the Irish only scored a combined 15 points in the first half. Last year’s two final away contests, against USC and Arizona State, Notre Dame only managed 17 first half points.

Slow starts and a difficult second-half opponent? That’s a scenario that deserves watching, and Brian Kelly is well aware that his team needs to come out of the gates ready to perform, especially against a team that’s evolved so much from the first squad Matt Rhule brought to South Bend.

“They play great second-half football. They won a lot of games late. Just have a really solid football team,” Kelly said Tuesday. “Again, one deserving of where they are, a top 25 football team. It will be a great challenge for our football team, going on the road, and one that we’ll have to play very well.”

Timing is everything: ND-Temple matchup great for both programs

Tyler Matakevich, Alex Wells

That Notre Dame vs. Temple is the premier matchup of the college football weekend is amazing. But perhaps equally amazing is how the game found its way onto the schedule in the first place.

While Notre Dame is notoriously quiet about commenting on their scheduling decisions, the Philadelphia Inquirer talked with former Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw about his work trying to get the Irish to play the Owls in football. The two-game series with Notre Dame—the Owls visited South Bend to open the 2013 season—had the twists and turns of a spy movie, all part of the complexities of scheduling football games in this era of college football.

Bradshaw’s first attempts to get Notre Dame to consider a game were far from successful. He couldn’t even get a phone call returned.

“I understood it, because I didn’t believe we gave any value,” Bradshaw told the Inquirer. “We weren’t a good win or a good loss.”

But the identity of the program began to change when Al Golden built the program’s profile. And as the years went by, Bradshaw kept on the Irish, knowing that Notre Dame had played 16 games in Philadelphia, but none since beating Navy in 1993.

Here’s the Inquirer’s Mike Jensen on the breakthrough moment:

“The brand started to get a little bit better,” Bradshaw said. “They said they could be interested.”

That eventually turned into talks about a single game in South Bend, Ind. (One source had Temple getting $900,000 guaranteed for the game.) Soon the conversation evolved into adding a home-and-home, with each side keeping the revenue from those two dates separate from the one guaranteed game in South Bend.

“It was really like a magic moment,” Bradshaw said of the announcement in 2011, “to say Notre Dame would come in.”

That was just the beginning for this game. The original Irish visit was set for last season, and talks of a third game evaporated after the ACC merger. Notre Dame’s buy-out number also worried Bradshaw, a $100,000 escape possible before an escalator clause.

But the schools made it work, even if it meant Temple’s visit to South Bend was pushed until 2013 and Notre Dame had to delay its visit to Philadelphia for a season, the same year Penn State would hit the Owls’ schedule.

“Nobody could have foreseen all of this,” Bradshaw said.

That goes for both sides of this matchup. While the game is being billed as one of the biggest in Temple football history, it’s also turning into an important one for Notre Dame.

With high-profile matchups against Texas and Georgia Tech fizzling after slow starts for both programs, the Irish also had to deal with the difficulty of USC not living up to its Top 10 billing (though a convincing win over No. 3 Utah certainly doesn’t hurt).

Needing some impressive wins to boost their playoff resume before a game with Stanford to close the season, the Irish getting a chance to play in front of a primetime national audience against an undefeated Temple team. That just isn’t a scenario that anybody pictured when they looked at the Irish schedule this summer.

But thanks to the play of Matt Rhule’s team, the work of an administrator like Bradshaw and some fortuitous scheduling luck, Notre Dame vs. Temple is essentially the national game of the week.

Who saw that coming?








ESPN’s College GameDay coming to Philly for Notre Dame vs. Temple

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 26:  ESPN College GameDay announcer Lee Corso dons an FSU headress as co-announcers (l to r) Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit comment during the NCAA football game between Notre Dame and Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 26, 2002 in Tallahassee, Florida.  The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Florida State Seminoles 34-24.  (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)

The only game of the weekend featuring ranked opponents means that ESPN’s College GameDay will be at a Notre Dame game for the second time this season. Already announced as a primetime, ABC broadcast, Temple will host ESPN’s signature pregame show this weekend, their first since GameDay kicked off over 20 years ago.

ESPN made the announcement via Twitter Monday morning, mulling over their options before pulling the trigger on a trip to Philadelphia instead of heading cross-country to Pullman, Washington, where Mike Leach’s Cougars are hosting No. 8 Stanford.

Once looked at as the eleventh or twelfth most-important game on Notre Dame’s schedule, Saturday could very well be the most important game in Temple football history. It comes at a perfect time for the Irish, who need wins over ranked opponents as they try to distinguish themselves from a pack of other one-loss teams jockeying for College Football Playoff consideration.

Notre Dame opened up 10-point favorites over the Owls, who have one of the nation’s best statistical defenses. The Irish are 6-1 coming off an extra week’s rest under Brian Kelly, their lone loss to USC in 2011.

Bye week snapshot: Secondary


On paper, Notre Dame’s secondary appeared to be one of the strengths of the team. Veterans at every position. Senior KeiVarae Russell returning to the field. Yet the collection of talent has struggled to play to its potential.

That’s been evident in the up and down play of Max Redfield and the rust on Russell. While Brian Kelly praised the play of senior Elijah Shumate last week, junior Cole Luke has had some uneven moments and injuries have forced Matthias Farley back into the safety rotation, away from the slot cornerback spot he had so much success in last year.

While there have been mistakes that have showed up immediately on the score board or in the stat sheet, the secondary’s performance against USC was a great step forward, and hopefully an indication that a strong home stretch is on the horizon. As Todd Lyght’s defensive backs hope to make November their best month, let’s finish up our bye week snapshots.


MVPs (So Far): KeiVarae Russell & Elijah Shumate. 

While most people have spent plenty of time talking about the things that KeiVarae Russell hasn’t managed to do this season, it’s worth pointing out that Notre Dame’s senior cornerback has as many solo tackles as All-Universe linebacker Jaylon Smith. So while Russell’s had some struggles in coverage an waited until USC to make his biggest, most impactful plays of the season, he’s been solid in other facets of the game.

For Shumate, Notre Dame’s strong safety is a key component to stopping the run. Whether it’s crashing down into the box or being a key piece of the plan to stop Georgia Tech and Navy, Shumate’s play has earned him admiration and praise from his head coach, who at times in the past likely wondered if he’d ever see the mental and the physical match up with the New Jersey native.


Best Still to Come? Max Redfield & Cole Luke. 

Notre Dame’s two junior starters have the chance to turn the 2015 season into a good one if they finish the year strong. For Redfield, an early-season thumb injury against Texas likely derailed his offseason momentum. (So did trying to tackle the quarterback against the option.) But inserted back into the lineup against USC, Redfield played better than Farley, and gave Notre Dame the athleticism on the back end that they needed against a team of playmaking receivers.

Luke has had some mental lapses in coverage this season—and we saw one of those mistakes cost the Irish defense seven points when he fell for another trick play against USC. But the junior’s game will build with confidence, and given the opportunity to match up and cover on the outside, he’s going to win more battles than he loses.

Both Redfield and Luke can get better, especially if they use the adversity to grow. Luke thrived in coverage last season against a slate of tremendous receivers and he’s capable of making plays that impact football games. The same goes for Redfield, who has been better in coverage than he gets credit for and if he’s on his game he’s capable of impacting the game against both the run and pass.


Wait Until Next Year: Shaun Crawford, Nick Coleman and Drue Tranquill

We didn’t get a chance to see what Crawford could do, as the nickel back tore his ACL in preseason camp. But the Irish coaching staff all but scrapped their nickel package once Crawford went down, an alignment that likely would’ve been a base alignment against passing opponents and on third down. That tells you quite a bit about what the staff thinks it has in the diminutive cover man, who’ll be ready to make up for lost time come spring.

Coleman has played most of his football on special teams, though is getting an occasional look in coverage. Another freshman, the converted high school running back has been a nice surprise, fighting his way into the mix even with established defenders like Devin Butler and Nick Watkins ahead of him. Don’t be surprised to see more of Coleman after the off week, especially if the Irish put more defensive backs on the field.

Tranquill’s freak injury came half-way into a breakthrough performance against the option. The sledge-hammer safety was a perfect linebacker in the dime package or a specialist against the triple option. We saw the Indiana native make an immediate impact against Georgia Tech before going down before halftime.

With Shumate gone after this season and Russell likely heading to the NFL after earning his degree, these three defensive backs will play a huge part of next year’s secondary. So while they each got something completely different out of this season, the pieces are in place for each to make a move in 2016.