Temple travels to South Bend Saturday to take on the fighting Irish for the first time since its four point loss in Philadelphia on Halloween in 2015. Although college gameday won’t be making the trip to Indiana for the game, the September 2nd showdown is still an important game for both teams. Here’s look at both teams, position by position, with an evaluation of which team has the edge going into the opening game.
Quarterbacks- Notre Dame
Starting off with the most important position for any football team, the quarterback. Both teams enter the season with some uncertainty under center, as both saw their starting quarterback of a year ago leave for the NFL; ex-Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer is now with the Cleveland Browns, and former Owl Phillip Walker is currently a member of the Indianapolis Colts.
Starting with the visiting Owls, all four quarterbacks have been battling it out for the starting position since spring ball began. The candidates for the spot are freshman Todd Centeio, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt junior Frank Nutile, and redshirt freshman Anthony Russo.
Centeio is the dual threat that can come in and pick up where Walker left off. Like Walker, Centeio can get it done with his legs, as well as his arm, which will keep the defense honest, and open the door for the read option, as well as run pass options. Centeio was ranked as the 12th best starting quarterback in the American Athletic Conference in a usatoday article by Paul Myerberg. “There are four contenders for the starting job,” wrote Myerberg “But Centeio has the legs and mentality to separate himself from the pack.”
Next on the list of potential candidates is Logan Marchi. Marchi battled with Nutile to become the backup to Phillip Walker for his redshirt freshman season. He saw brief game action early in the season against Stony Brook, and Charlotte, when he picked up his first, and only completions of the season, and his career to this point. Marchi threw a total of 112 touchdown passes, and rushed for 12 more in his high school career according to Owl Sports, showing he can also get it done with his feet if he needs too.
Nutile backed up Phillip Walker in the 2015 season, and threw his only touchdown pass against Charlotte. He also saw action against Stony Brook, and Charlotte in 2016, along with Marchi. A three star prospect coming out of high school, Nutile was ranked as the 28th best player in New Jersey, according to Owl Sports. He had offers from other AAC schools in Cincinnati, and UCF, before choosing Temple.
The final candidate for the starting job is highly touted prospect Anthony Russo, out of Archbishop Wood. The redshirt freshman originally committed to play at Rutgers, and received looks from LSU and Les Miles before finally choosing Temple. The 6-4 228 lb. quarterback was first team all-state at Archbishop Wood, where he helped lead the Vikings to back-to-back state championships in 2013, and 2014. Russo has the best arm of the four, and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top, and leads the Owls against Notre Dame.
As for the Irish, the job of starting quarterback has been taken by junior Brandon Wimbush. The 6-2 228 lb. quarterback has little game experience, like the candidates for Temple, but has been on the team since 2015. Wimbush was a first team pick by MaxPreps his senior year of high school, and was ranked as the number two dual threat quarterback in the nation by rivals. He threw for over 3,100 yards in his senior season at St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey, where he completed the most passes of anyone in the state. Wimbush will look to take the Irish back to a bowl game after missing out a year ago.
The running back position is where the Owls should have an edge against the Fighting Irish. After the graduation of Jahad Thomas, the newest member of the New York Jets after his brief stint with the Dallas Cowboys, the Temple running back corps is as still as strong as ever- led by junior running back Ryquell Armstead. The 5-11 205 lb back is coming off a sophomore season in which he rushed for 919 yards and 14 touchdowns while sharing the starting position with Thomas. He averaged almost six yards a carry as a sophomore, and rushed for over 70 yards per game. Armstead is the newest single digit tough guy for the Owls, as he will wear the number seven of former standout, and first round pick of the Arizona Cardinals Haason Reddick.
The Owls also have good depth behind Armstead in running backs David Hood, and Jager Gardner. Both running backs have seen game action in the last two seasons behind Thomas and Armstead.
The Irish return their leading rusher from a year ago in Junior Running back Josh Adams. Adams rushed for 835 yards in 2015, and 933 yards in 2016, to go along with 11 touchdowns in that span. Adams will be the feature back again in 2017, behind an offensive line that returns four starters from a year ago. The Irish rushed for almost 2,000 yards as a team a season ago, and will look for the same productivity, if not more, to take the pressure off of a first year starting quarterback in Wimbush.
Wide Receivers- Temple
Wide receiver should be another position of strength heading into next week for the Owls, with a handful of returning starters, and impact receivers returning for this season. Leading the group is redshirt junior Ventell Bryant, who was a dominant force in the second half of the season after missing the first couple games with injury. Bryant posted 895 yards receiving on the season on 54 receptions, and four touchdowns on the season, according to Owl Sports. He posted an impressive 81.4 receiving yards per game, and 16.6 yards per catch. Bryant will look to remain the team’s number one receiver once again in 2017.
Following closely behind Bryant is redshirt senior Keith Kirkwood, who became a high value target for Phillip Walker as the season went on. The 6-3 220lb wide-out had 648 receiving yards on the season, to go along with four touchdowns. Kirkwood became the first player to be awarded a single digit number under new head coach Geoff Collins, and he will dawn the number five, formerly of Jahad Thomas. Other returning impact receivers include Adonis Jennings, Brodrick Yancy, Marshall Elllick, and Isiah Wright, who all were involved in the offense a year ago, and will look to continue to make an impact.
Notre Dame also brings back their leading receiver from 2016 in Equanimeous St. Brown. The junior receiver had just under 1,000 receiving yards on the season, with 961 yards on 58 receptions, to go along with nine touchdowns, tops on the team. The Irish also return tight end Durham Smythe, who caught four touchdowns out of the tight end spot a season ago.
Offensive Line- Notre Dame
The offensive line of Notre Dame will be one of the major strengths of the team heading into the 2017 season. A unit that led the way for Josh Adams, and the running game for the Irish that rushed for 1,960 yards as a team, will return four starting offensive lineman from a season ago. Leading the way is Philadelphia native, and William Penn Charter grad Mike McGlinchey, who started every game at right tackle for the Irish a year ago. The 6-8 315 lb tackle led the way for an offensive line that was a finalist for the first Joe Moore award, given to the nation’s top offensive line unit.
Another key member of the offensive line for the Irish from 2016, and heading into 2017 is left guard Quenton Nelson. Nelson started all but one game a year ago at the left guard position, helped the rushing attack average over five yards a carry collectively, which ranked eighth best in the nation. The Irish also averaged 207.6 rushing yards per game, ranking top 30 in the nation in that category, thanks in no small part to the offensive line, and Josh Adams. Along with McGlinchey and Nelson, Notre Dame also brings back senior offensive lineman in Sam Mustipher, and Alex Bars. The Irish will look for the running game to take pressure off of Wimbush, and lead the offense in 2017.
The Owls also return key pieces along the offensive line from a season ago. Redshirt senior right tackle Leon Johnson leads the way for a unit that rushed for 2,466 yards in 2016, according to ESPN. Johnson started all fourteen games last season, including the AAC championship, and military bowl. Lining up to the left of Johnson will be another redshirt senior in right guard Adrian Sullivan. Like Johnson, Sullivan started all fourteen games at the right guard position in 2016, after only seeing action in two games his sophomore season. Rounding out the returning starters from 2016 is redshirt sophomore Jovahn Fair. He started all but one game at left guard, helping to lead the Owls to 31 rushing touchdowns on the season. Temple will also count on two newcomers to the offensive line in Matt Hennessey at center, and Cole Boozer at left tackle. Redshirt junior Jaelin Robinson should also see some time on the offensive line, after partly sharing some offensive line duties with Leon Johnson a season ago.
Defensive Line- Even
Temple will bring back a strong defensive line unit again in 2017, which will have to play well against Notre Dame’s offensive line on Saturday. Leading the way entering the 2017 season for the Owls is redshirt junior Michael Dogbe. The 6-3 280 lb tackle totaled 43 tackles a year ago after becoming the starter in week five. He totaled 5.0 tackles for loss in 2016, along with a forced fumble against UCONN.
Another impact player making a return is redshirt senior defensive end Sharif Finch. Finch was granted a medical redshirt after playing in just four games a season ago. He blocked a punt week one against army, adding to his already impressive total of five blocked punts in his career. For his career, Finch has scored two defensive touchdown, and nearly had a third in 2015, returning an interception to the one yard line against Penn State. He has totaled 89 tackles in his career, along with 13.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. He recently was awarded the number six, formerly of Stephaun Marshall, and will look to continue his knack of forcing turnovers, and getting to the quarterback.
Other key members of the defensive line entering 2017 for the Owls are Jacob Martin, Greg Webb, and Freddie Booth-Lloyd.
Adding to the theme of returning starters, Notre Dame will bring back two starting defensive lineman in Jerry Tillery, and Andrew Trumbetti. Tillery started twelve games a season ago, and Trumbetti started seven. Other players to watch along the defensive line for Notre Dame are seniors Jay Hayes, and Jonathan Bonner, alongside sophomore Julian Okwara.
Linebackers- Notre Dame
The Owls will enter 2017 with a young, but fast group of linebackers. After losing starters Avery Bradley, Stephaun Marshall, and Jared Alwan, Temple will look to have the young linebacking corps pickup where they left off, helping lead a top 10 nationally ranked defense from a year ago.
One of the major pieces for the defense will be sophomore William Kwenkeu. The 6-1 225 lb linebacker played in all fourteen games a year ago, mostly on special teams. The maryland native registered fourteen total tackles on the season, one tackle for loss, and a fumble recovery. The Owls will look to Kwenkeu, who has experience in important games, to help lead a tough, run stopping defense.
Lining up next to Kwenkeu will be fellow sophomores Shaun Bradley, and Sam Franklin. Franklin also played all fourteen games alongside Kwenkeu as a key member of the special teams unit. The Owls will look for his success to translate from special teams to success as a starting linebacker. Bradley has some experience at linebacker, as he received reps last season. The 6-1 225 lb linebacker totaled six tackles in eleven games in 2016, along with one forced fumble. Other players to watch at linebacker are Jared Folks, and Chapelle Russell.
The Irish bring back a couple of seasoned started in the linebacking group that will take the field on September 2nd. Senior Nyles Morgan will look to lead a strong defense entering the season, as he totaled 88 tackles a season ago, along with 6.0 tackles for loss, and 4.0 sacks. Coming out of high school Morgan was ranked as the 34th best player in the nation by scout.com, and has lived up to the expectations. For his career, Morgan has totaled 152 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. The senior will look to continue his dominance on the field in his final year for Notre Dame.
Returning alongside Morgan is junior linebacker Te’von Coney, who started eight games a WLB a season ago. Coney totaled 61 tackles in 2016, including 10 total tackles against Virginia Tech. He also picked up 1.5 tackles for loss on the season. Notre Dame will look to these two returning starters to lead the defense in 2017.
The Temple secondary is arguable the best unit on the team, and most likely the American Conference. It boasts a dominant safety duo in Sean Chandler and Delvon Randall, two single digits poised to lead the secondary in 2017. Beginning with Chandler, who made the transition from cornerback to safety in 2016, did not skip a beat in the defense. In a season where he missed four games early in the season, Chandler 51 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 pasess defended, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Lining up beside Chandler will be Delvon Randall, the newest player to wear the number two in cherry and white. The junior safety emerged as the starter coming out of camp, and did not look back. He registered 65 tackles out of the strong safety position, to go along with 6.0 tackles for loss, and nine passes defended. He was also a turnover machine in 2016, with 4 interceptions, and two fumble recoveries. The Owls will look to the safety tandem to force turnovers, and make plays in the run game throughout the season.
The cornerbacks will also be a strength for the team entering the season. Artrel Foster, the newest single digit returns, and incoming transfer Mike Jones will look to make an impact in his first season with the Owls. The Temple secondary was ranked as the best secondary unit in the AAC by USAtoday’s Paul Myerberg. With the help of a good run defense, the group will look to once again be a top notch secondary unit in 2017.
The Irish also bring back two starting safeties in Drue Tranquill and Devin Studstill. Cornerback Julian Love also returns to South Bend as a sophomore starting at the cornerback position. A year ago the Irish secondary allowed under 200 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks, and will look for more of the same this season.
Special Teams- Temple
The Owls will have an advantage in the special teams game whether they start kicker Aaron Boumerhi, or Austin Jones. Jones, a senior, had a strong start to the season before injuring his knee against Memphis, knocking him out for the remainder of the season. Enter Boumerhi, who subsequently hit 15 of 17 field goals on the season, with a long of 48 yards. The punt game should also be a strength for the Owls with the return of Alex Starzyk, who will compete with freshman Connor Bowler for the starting tight end position. DE Sharif Finch also leads the nation in career blocked punts
Notre Dame enters as a -17 favorite on September 2nd, and will look for the offensive and defensive lines to lead them in the opener of the 2017 season. Temple will rely on its secondary, and wide receivers to make plays and take pressure off whichever first year quarterback gets the start next Saturday.
Follow @TU_SportsDesk for all gameday coverage