SOUTH BEND —
It wasn’t always pretty, but it goes into the books as a season-opening “W.”
No. 14 Notre Dame got a workmanlike performance on Saturday, defeating Temple. 28-6 at Notre Dame Stadium.
It was the 200th win of Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s career, and the school marked the occasion by announcing that Kelly’s contract has been extended through the 2017 season.
Kelly said it was a “great win” for his team. “You never know what to expect in an opener,” Kelly said. “We didn’t have any turnovers, and we kept the points down on defense.”
One of the chief questions coming into Saturday’s opener was whether the revamped offense under senior QB Tommy Rees would be able to score more points than a year ago.
So far, so good. Rees was 16-of-23 for 346 yards with three TDs and – most pleasingly for Kelly – no interceptions.
Rees said he knows he still has some things to work on.
“I think you need to improve every game to game,” Rees said. “Michigan’s going to present another challenge for us, and we’ve just got to stay prepared, stay level headed and just move forward and get ready to execute.”
It took all of 1:26 for the Irish to get on the scoreboard for the first time in 2013, as Notre Dame drove 77 yards in just three plays — one of those a 45-yard run by junior Amir Carlisle, a USC transfer who sat out all last season due to injury. Rees and DaVaris Daniels hooked up on a 32-yard TD strike to stake the Irish to an early 7-0 advantage.
That quick strike might have led one to ask, “What will the Irish do for an encore?”
The answer to that question was a three-play, 87-yard drive in 1:01 – this one set up by a 52-yard pass from Rees to senior receiver and co-captain T.J. Jones and culminating in another 32-yard strike from Rees to Daniels.
Rees was 5-of-7 for 130 yards and two TDs in the opening 15 minutes.
The Irish defense was able to keep the Owls contained for much of the first half, and Temple missed field goal attempts of 31 and 43 yards.
But just before halftime, the Owls drove 77 yards on a clock-devouring drive helped by a pair of Irish penalties inside the red zone and cashed in on a 1-yard Kenny Harper run. The PAT was blocked and with less than a minute until halftime, Temple trailed just 14-6. With a brief defensive stand and the ball to start the second half, Temple could have had a chance to pick up some momentum out of the locker room.
But the Irish nixed that idea with one play: Rees hooked up with junior tight end Troy Niklas – all 6-7, 270 pounds of him – on a 66-yard TD pass to send the Irish into the locker room up 21-6.
Rees was 11-of-16 for 268 yards and three TDs in the first half.
Temple had a good sustained drive to start the second half, moving to the Notre Dame 6. But the Irish defense stiffened again and with no confidence in the kicking game, the Owls went for it on fourth down and a Connor Reilly pass fell incomplete.
The Irish traversed the 94 yards in seven plays, culminating with a 2-yard run by George Atkinson III to take a 28-6 lead, and it seemed the failed drive took the wind from beneath the Owls’ wings.
Notre Dame forced another three-and-out, then drove to the Temple 27, but a 44-yard field goal try by Kyle Brindza was wide left.
Temple coach Matt Rhule was disappointed in his team’s performance.
“I think we shot ourselves in the foot,” Rhule said. “Obviously, the two missed field goals were difficult for us, and as a result, (we) kind of tried to throw the ball in the green zone and the red zone later.”
The Irish head to the Big House next week for a matchup with Michigan.
The flag presentation just before kickoff honored 20 Notre Dame football family members who passed away in the last year. Perhaps most prominent among those was former offensive lineman Mirko Jurkovic (’95, 1988-91), who died of colon cancer in January … The pregame weather forecast was eerily reminiscent of that for the 2011 opener at home against South Florida, which led to the first two weather delays in the history of Notre Dame Stadium – but severe weather tracked to the south and just a few intermittent rain showers grazed the area before the game.