With the 2017 football season kicking off on Saturday for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish against the Temple Owls, Brian Kelly’s squad enters this campaign with an eye toward redemption following the woes of a 4-8 season. The Owls have a new head coach at the helm and are returning just 10 starters to a team that finished 10-4 and won the American Athletic Conference, yet the Irish are in no position to take this game lightly.
For one thing, the Notre Dame defense enters this clash uncertain about exactly who will be lining up behind center for Temple. In fact, they’re not quite sure how many different quarterbacks they’ll have to face during the course of the game. The Owl’s new head coach, Geoff Collins, has talked about using as many as three quarterbacks during the contest in an effort to keep the Irish guessing.
Yet there are some more specific matchups that will be closely watched over the 60 minutes of action, with the ones below the most pertinent:
Nyles Morgan vs. Ryquell Armstead
Morgan began his career in South Bend with a strong freshman year in 2014 and is looking to close things out this year in similar fashion. He’ll have to help contain Armstead, who came into his own last year for Temple, collecting 919 yards on the ground and reaching the end zone 14 times.
Given the uncertainty and inexperience at quarterback for the Owls, Armstead figures to see plenty of action during the game. Temple has had a series of workhorse backs over the year, so Morgan will have to use his improved speed and experience to help keep him in check.
Josh Adams vs. Shaun Bradley
On the flip side of the above equation, Notre Dame running Josh Adams is seeking to go far beyond the 933 yards he gained last season and has an experienced line in front of him. For the Owls, Shaun Bradley has reportedly been impressive during their training camp and brings some quality athleticism onto the field.
Bradley is just a sophomore but is taking on more of a leadership role this season. His lack of game experience could be one of the ways that new Irish OC Chip Long tries to exploit, with Adams and the stable of running backs likely to get more action in order to give new quarterback Brandon Wimbush a chance to get acclimated to his new role.
Equanimeous St. Brown vs. Artrel Foster
St. Brown had a breakthrough season in 2016 amid the wreckage of a failed season and could be bound for the NFL with another similar campaign. Temple has a talented secondary, with Foster the likely candidate to line up against St. Brown after having started 12 of the Owls’ 14 games last year.
Foster is just 5-foot-11, compared to St. Brown’s 6-foot-5 stature, though Foster was able to weather a storm of passes being thrown in his direction last year. His performance slipped toward the end of the year due to a shoulder injury, but even healthy, he still has to contend with a player who could have a major impact on the fortunes of Notre Dame this year.
Jerry Tillery vs. Matt Hennessy
Tillery’s 2016 season ended in ignominious fashion in the game against Southern Cal, which puts a bullseye on him as he starts this season. He’ll be facing Temple’s best lineman in Hennessy, who played just three games as a freshman last year, yet is among the candidates named to the Rimington Trophy watch list.
Having put plenty of time in the Irish weight room during the offseason, the 6-foot-7, 305-pound Tillery can go a long way toward wiping away that behavioral lapse with a strong game. Hennessy first began his Owls’ career as an offensive tackle, but has shown enough during his brief career that he’s being entrusted with his current role.
Alize Mack vs. Delvon Randall
Chip Long’s offense likes to feature the tight end and the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Mack not only brings size, but plenty of athletic talent to take advantage of that focus. He’s back after sitting out last year due to academic troubles and will be a part of the many two-tight end sets that will be seen this season.
His counterpart for Temple stands at just 5-11, 210, though Randall quickly showed last season that he was a key part of the Owls’ defense. He contributed six takeaways during the year, including four picks. He’s a durable player who’s part of a secondary that has an even more talented member in free safety Sean Chandler.
The Bottom Line
Simply getting the season off on a winning note would suffice for Notre Dame, especially with the specter of the Georgia Bulldogs facing them one week later. The level of success the team has will be dependent upon other matchups besides the ones noted above. However, the ones mentioned here will end up helping offer a quick gauge with respect to what the final score looks like.