By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
SOUTH BEND —
History will be made today at Notre Dame Stadium as the Temple Owls come to town for their first-ever meeting with the No. 14 Fighting Irish.
For Notre Dame, the 2013 season opener represents a chance to turn the page and close the book on 2012 — a season that saw the Irish put together one of their best seasons in years, going 12-0 in the regular season and ascending to the No. 1 rank in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches polls before falling to Alabama, 42-14 in the BCS National Championship Game.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he and his staff don’t know much about the Owls,
A member of the new American Athletic Conference — comprising many of the former Big East schools — Temple went 9-4 in 2011 in its final season in the Mid-American Conference and defeated Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl, 37-15. Last season, the Owls struggled with the move to a new conference and finished 4-7.
“They return a lot of players from last year. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to see,” Kelly said earlier this week. “We think we do, but I think this is one of those openers where we’re going to have to kind of make some adjustments along the way, and they’ve got some good football players. You know, I think the things that we look at, first of all, in the opener is playing the game the right way.”
For Kelly, that means paying attention to detail, and not coughing up the football. The Irish are 10-0 in Kelly’s tenure when they do not commit a turnover.
Kelly said the Irish — who averaged fewer than 26 points a game last season, the lowest average of any team playing in a BCS bowl (78th in the nation) — need more production from their offense.
And the Irish lost four key pieces of last year’s offense: Quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for the 2013 season for academic reasons; tight end Tyler Eifert and running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick graduated.
Despite those missing puzzle pieces, Kelly said the Irish can and will be more productive on offense.
With senior quarterback Tommy Rees back at the helm, Kelly feels confident.
“Tommy Rees is going to help us score more points than we did last year, and our offensive line and our running backs and our balance at the wide receiver position is going to allow us,” Kelly said.
Temple is coached by first-year head coach Matt Rhule, a former Temple assistant who worked at the school under former head coach Al Golden from 2008-2010. Steve Addazio left Temple after last season to become the head coach at Boston College.
Rhule said his team is excited about playing a top-caliber team like Notre Dame.
“They’re a tremendous opponent, a team that played for the national championship last year and is ranked this year,” Rhule said. “I think for us, we want our guys to relish this moment. It’s about playing the best of the beast, and that’s what we’re going to go do.”
The Owls are led by junior quarterback Connor Reilly, who will take his first snap under center in college against the Irish.
Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich said he and his teammates won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere at Notre Dame Stadium.
“We’re going to treat it like any other game,” Matakevich said.
Key returning offensive players for Temple include junior wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick, who had 30 receptions for 363 yards and a pair of TDs in 2012 and senior running back Chris Cover (444 rushing yards on 111 carries with two TDs last season.
Temple has upset just two nationally ranked teams in its history: A 28-24 victory over then-No. 14 Virginia Tech on Oct. 17, 1998; and a 24-21 win over then-No. 16 Pittsburgh on Sept. 19, 1987 ... The Irish are one of four brand-new opponents for Temple in 2013. The Owls will also have their first meetings with Central Florida, Idaho and Memphis .. Temple will be the 71st different opponent visiting Notre Dame Stadium since its opening in 1930. The Irish are 57-12-1 in those games. Overall, the Owls are the 142nd opponent for Notre Dame. The Irish are 118-20-3 when facing an opponent for the first time.