Notre Dame enters the 2013 season with the weight of high expectations justified by the team’s best season in two decades. The Irish come off an undefeated regular season and loss in the national championship game to Alabama. Despite key losses on both sides of the ball the Irish likely have their deepest team in recent memory and will begin the effort to continue building the program into a national power again versus Big East opponent Temple. The following are the key matchups the Irish must control to be successful against the Owls:
George Atkinson III versus Tyler Matakevich: The 2013 season is of the upmost importance for Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III. Atkinson III had a down season last year both returning kicks and as the third option in the backfield behind now departed Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Atkinson III rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns on 51 carries last season. However if you eliminate his totals against the atrocious rush defenses of Navy and Miami he totaled a mere 139 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries, a yards per carry average of only 4.3. Concerns about Atkinson III’s ability to run north-south in a downhill fashion are plentiful, and the California native’s job isn’t going to be easy to start the season as the strength of the Temple defense is its linebacking corps led by last season’s Big East rookie of the year Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich led the Owls with 101 tackles last season while also recording two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Matakevich is slightly undersized like most of the Temple team but is one of the toughest players on the squad with great instincts and will only improve with more experience as he is only a sophomore. Matakevich is also a preseason AAC first team selection.
Bennett Jackson versus Jalen Fitzpatrick
2013 captain Bennett Jackson will be entrusted to shut down the opposition’s number one receiver on a weekly basis this season, and that begins with Temple’s Jalen Fitzpatrick. Jackson erased all questions about his lack of experience as a starting corner last season totalling 65 tackles and adding four interceptions. Jackson is a physical corner and will be matched up with a physical receiver in Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is only 5’11’’ but still led the Owls last season with 30 receptions for 363 yards and two touchdowns. The Pennsylvania native also routinely acts as the quarterback in the wildcat formation for the Owls. With Temple’s new revamped passing offense Connor Reilly will look for Fitzpatrick on a frequent basis as the quarterback makes his first career start.
Dan Fox versus Chris Coyer
With Manti Te’o moving on to the NFL and the sudden retirement of Danny Spond for medical reasons the majority of the leadership responsibilities for the linebackers fall on senior Dan Fox. Fox had a brilliant 2013 season 63 tackles, good for fourth on the team, and second among returning players. The Irish will have to continue to be good against the run this season and Temple’s Chris Coyer will provide a good early test. Coyer rushed for 444 yards and two touchdowns last season and will be looked upon to replace 1000 yard rusher Montel Harris. Coyer, converted from quarterback during spring practice was named to the watch list for the Paul Hornung this season as he is incredibly versatile. Temple was known for their rushing attack and ability to produce talented running backs, however, new coach Matt Rhule brings in a high-flying passing attack, so look for Coyer to get involved both on the ground and in the receiving game.
T.J. Jones versus Anthony Robey
Another Irish captain with a key matchup versus the Owls is wide receiver T.J. Jones. Jones tied for the team lead in receptions with 50 and receiving touchdowns with four last season, while finishing second in receiving yards with 649. Jones is an exceptional route runner and as a senior is familiar with the playbook so much-maligned quarterback Tommy Rees will likely look for him early and often in the season opener. Attempting to keep Jones in check will be cornerback Anthony Robey. Robey is a very tough corner who tallied 41 tackles and a team high six pass breakups last season while starting every game. The junior is a team leader who will look to set the tone early by being physical with Jones in coverage.