(image via @verypiratey)
Don't know much about the Temple Owl football team? It's ok, neither did I. That is, until I hooked up with Nick Menta of Philadelphia's Comcast SportsNet. He writes for their blog, The 700 Level. The following is a Q&A that we did. You can catch my answers to his questions over at The 700 Level.
Lot's of stuff here, so let's get going…
This is the first meeting between the two teams in football. What was the level of excitement from the fans, students, and players when this was first announced? Is that level greater or less intense today?
They held a presser at the Liacouras Center (where the basketball team plays) back in Feb. 2011 to make the announcement. Steve Addazio had just taken over as coach, and fans were really in love with him at the time. He's a pretty loud guy, the program was coming off its second straight season of at least eight wins, it would secure its first bowl win in 32 years about 10 months later — times were good.
Temple had already hosted Penn State once in 2007, and was gearing up to do it again the following fall. That game had set a Temple attendance record at Lincoln Financial Field, and it was a pretty cool environment. That kind of non-con date was also important at a time when conference games included matchups with Akron and Buffalo in the MAC. So the program was moving in the right direction, and a series with Notre Dame represented more forward progress.
Times, I should point out, are still good, but a lot of stuff has happened in the intervening three years. Temple did win that bowl game, running back Bernard Pierce — now a Super Bowl champ with the Ravens — set a bunch of records, Temple made its way back to the Big East, you and I were going to be conference neighbors and have cookouts and shit, but then the Big East imploded, Temple re-entered what was left after losing a lot of senior talent, had a rough transition, had its first losing season since 2008, Addazio bolted for B.C., the American Athletic Conference took shape, Al Golden's old assistant was hired as the new head coach and now everybody loves him.
Football's back, fans get to take a road trip, Touchdown Jesus, etc, etc. Yeah, there's excitement. Should be a fun time.
Most Notre Dame fans could barely mention one name on Temple's roster- if any at all. Talk about (briefly) your best four. Be sure to include jersey and position. For real… this stuff is important.
- — Sophomore OLB Tyler Matakevich, #8: Became the first Temple freshman to record 100 tackles in a season and won the Big East's Rookie of the Year award in 2012.
- — Junior QB Connor Reilly, #12: He's making his first-ever college start. The guy playing QB seems kind of important, right?
- — Senior H-Back Chris Coyer, #10: Coyer was the guy who quarterbacked Temple in 2011 Gildan New Mexico Bowl and was named the game's offensive MVP. He started nine games under center last season, but the passing game was almost non-existent under Addazio, and Coyer wasn't very effective in limited opportunities. He was repositioned to H-Back in the spring and caught two TDs in Temple's spring game. Here's a video of him blowing up a kid on a block in the season opener last year. Expect him to move around from the backfield, to the slot, to maybe even under center every now and then (think Northwestern, but to a far lesser extent).
- — Junior WR Jalen Fitzpatrick, #5: Temple's leading receiver last year and most explosive player. He lined up in the slot in 2012 and is now listed on the outside, but I imagine they'll move him all over throughout the year to try to get him him the ball- screens, end arounds, direct snaps (kid was a QB in high school).
It seems that no one, even Temple fans and media, knows much of what to expect this year from the Owls and their new head coach, Matt Rhule. Do you have any idea, or any hint at an idea? What do you expect from this team?
Rhule was an assistant under Al Golden for six years and was one of the guys who helped rebuild the program after it was nearly voted out of existence by the Temple board of trustees in 2004.
Yeah, there's some idea. He's calling his offense a pro spread. We got a bit of a look at it in the spring. He's certainly going to air it out more than Addazio ever did. Temple was fifth in the FBS last year with 120.8 passing yards per game, ahead of only Army, Navy, Air Force and New Mexico — all of whom run the triple-option.
There's a lot of familiarity with Rhule just because he was here for so long before leaving to spend a year with the New York Giants last year. Of course, he's running the show now, so there's certainly an element of surprise. Rhule stressed over and over in his press conference on Tuesday that he won't coach tight on Saturday. So like I pointed out above with Coyer and Fitzpatrick, you can probably expect some gadgetry.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame and Notre Dame Stadium is not a very hostile environment to play in for the visiting team. We are a gracious fanbase and the host of hosts. Is this your first visit to Notre Dame? What do you expect? What has the football team said as far as their expectations are concerned about the trip to ND?
My first time heading out. I have some friends out there, so I expect it to be enjoyable.
As far as the team goes, Rhule (see above) wants to stay loose and expects his players to take their cues from he and the coaching staff on that front. Plenty of guys are excited. Some guys, like Reilly, are making their first college start and get to do it at N.D.
As Reilly put it last week: "It’s definitely going to be a great experience. But once we enter the game on Saturday, and the ball hits my hand, it’s just a football game,” and that's your stock football answer.
Rhule's been playing loud music in practice all throughout practice, including the Notre Dame fight song. Temple has experience playing Penn State at Beaver Stadium, which is their closest point of comparison. Rhule's trying to get them to embrace the environment rather than block it out. In short, it was something like: Yeah, there's Touchdown Jesus. No way around it. Might as well enjoy it.
What scares you about Notre Dame's defense? What scares you about Notre Dame's offense?
On defense, Nix and Tuitt, obviously.
On offense, T.J. Jones could be a real problem for a Temple secondary that had a lot of problems last year. I think everyone at this point knows the book on Rees is to rush three and drop eight, but you have to stop the run first. I wrote about this on Wednesday. Temple's going to be rotating safeties, and four of the five guys on the depth chart at the strong and free spots didn't play last year. So yeah, dropping extra guys to help them in coverage and hopefully mess with Rees is the preferred plan, but you've got to stop the run first. Otherwise, you can't afford to drop into coverage like that.
There is a 30-point spread on this game. Is that legit, in your mind? Notre Dame has had trouble in the past with covering those large spreads; does this give you hope?
Legit? Eh. You know as well as I do that point spreads are more about generating action than making an accurate prediction.
As for whether to take or lay, I loved this line when it came out early way back in June. Back then I think it started around 24 or 25 and it was obvious that thing would creep to exactly where it has. Temple (+30) is getting a lot of locally, likely for the following reasons:
- A) What you mentioned about ND and big spreads. Over the last two seasons, the Irish have won by more than 30 points three times, doing it against Navy twice. The other was Miami — not bad. Otherwise, yeah, that's a lot of points.
- B) People hate Notre Dame.
- C) This feels like a smart pick. People tweet that they capital letters LOVE Temple (+30) and probably feel great about themselves afterwards.
That said, saying you love a game and putting down on it are two separate things, and I think there are way too many question marks here — with both teams — to feel great about this thing. For Temple specifically: new offense, new coach, new QB and more.
You always want to have that Matt Damon "it's a skill game, why does this still seem like gambling to you?" attitude when you make a play. And this line feels like gambling. I wouldn't be surprised either way, and that's not good.
So when I make my phone call to the old guys sitting around the bank of rotary phones in South Philadelphia this weekend, I think I'll be leaving Temple-ND off my ticket.
Tell me more about Temple Football. Anything- just tell me more.
Anything? Well …
THERE'S A LIVE MASCOT THIS YEAR. Stella the Owl. Stella is a 3 1/2-year-old, great horned owl from the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, Pa. Her claws are horrifying.
Hooter will still be around though. Hooter's good people.
Give me your predictions- ALL OF THEM. Any of them. just take a deep breath, wash down that piece of sushi with a cold PBR and give me any and all predictions for this Saturday's game that you want to say. "Squirrel running on the field" is always acceptable.
Never eaten a piece of sushi. But the Philly Special is a can of PBR and a shot of Whiskey for usually about four bucks. Four or five of those and you're setting over/under on Michael Vick starts this year at about 3.5.
- —Well, here's a photo gallery of Brian Kelly making faces and yelling at Tommy Rees. That'll happen. That always happens. It's my favorite thing about your program. FOUR MORE YEARS!
- –Reilly, Coyer and Fitzpatrick will all take snaps. Reilly obviously gets the bulk but they try a couple trick plays with the other two.
- –Louis Nix messes up someone's entire day.
- –Tavon Young intercepts Tommy Rees.
- –I spend the whole weekend judging you people vs. Penn State. Don't blow this.
- –Oh, and a squirrel runs on the field. Then Stella swoops down, carries it off and it's never seen again. Actually, she'll only be at home games. But if I'm that squirrel, still …