SOUTH BEND — The growing pains have been obscured a bit by the big offensive numbers around them.
Not that anyone is suggesting “Tight End U.” doesn’t fit a group of four healthy Notre Dame tight ends who came into the season with one career start and no career catches among them.
But Irish head coach Brian Kelly continues to push for them to come of age, as the ninth-ranked Irish (6-1) visit No. 21 Temple (7-0) Saturday night in a national showcase game. The fact that five of the nation’s top seven teams have the weekend off only heightens the spotlight on ND’s Halloween matchup.
The fact ND is headed into a run of highly ranked defenses underscores the urgency in the collective evolution of freshman Alizé Jones, sophomores Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua, and grad Chase Hounshell — a converted defensive lineman.
Luatua has been the most consistent blocker of the group. Jones is the leading pass-catcher of the four, with nine receptions for 117 yards.
“They are a bit inconsistent,” Kelly said Tuesday. “And most of it is (that) we put them in some very pronounced positions on the edge of our offense. And so they have to make big-time plays for us.
“They are not inside cut-off players for us. We are trying to get to the perimeter. They have got to capture the perimeter for us. So it's a little bit different in our offense. They are high-profile position players for us. And they are getting better each and every week.”
Hey, hey, hey. Good bye?
Brian Kelly’s approach to bye weeks has varied during his six seasons at ND.
The results from those approaches have not. Kelly’s teams are 7-1 in games following an open date while at ND, 18-2 in his head coaching career.
This season ND’s fall break from classes synched up with the bye week on the football schedule, and Kelly used that alignment to give his team a break rather than pushing and tweaking.
“They needed just to get off campus,” he said. “They had been here a long time. A change of routine was all that they needed, and really, more of an academic break than a football break. I think that was probably the energy that they needed to get restored.”
He added that if Notre Dame could align fall break with the bye week every year, “that would be a huge piece for us.”
Consider the wish granted, at least for 2016, when that exact alignment repeats itself.
Feeling at home on the road?
The last time Notre Dame won a true road game over a team that finished the season with a winning record was Nov. 24, 2012. The No. 1-ranked Irish took out a USC team that ended up with a 7-6 mark, 22-13.
Saturday night’s matchup at Temple represents the next chance to do so — that is unless Virginia (2-5), which the Irish edged 34-27 on Sept. 12, reverses its fortunes dramatically and in a hurry.
Though it’s the home of the NFL’s Philadephia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field is Temple’s football home as well.
They’re one of five FBS schools that play all of their home games in an NFL Stadium. The others are Miami (Miami Dolphins), Pitt (Pittsburgh Steelers), San Diego State (San Diego Chargers) and South Florida (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
At second glance
Saturday’s clash between the Irish and Temple will be the second-ever meeting between the two teams.
Notre Dame’s 28-6 victory over Temple in the 2013 opener for both teams was ND’s first game after playing for the 2012 national championship and the Owls’ first under head coach Matt Rhule.
Some notable details from the game:
• Current ND running back C.J. Prosise started at wide receiver in that game. Current wide receiver Amir Carlisle started at running back and was the game’s leading rusher with 68 yards on seven carries.
• All four field goal attempts — by three different kickers — were missed, two from Temple kicker Jim Cooper (32,43), one each from ND kickers Nick Tausch (39) and Kyle Brindza (44).
• The leading tackler in the game was a Temple sophomore linebacker named Tyler Matakevich (11).
Heading into Saturday, he has 420 career tackles, the most by an active player in the FBS. The now-senior also is the only FBS player to lead his team in tackles every game this season.
Matakevich can become the seventh player in FBS history to record 100 or more tackles in four seasons.
• Notre Dame All-America linebacker candidate Jaylon Smith made his college debut and first start in that game and recorded one tackle.
• Current Temple quarterback P.J. Walker was on the roster, but didn’t play in that game. He did become the starter later in the 2013 season.
• Twenty-two players on the current active rosters from each team saw action in the 2013 game.
“They are much more athletic as a football team now than they were then,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said, “especially on the defensive line and certainly, in the skill positions. Really changed the look of their football team, but there certainly was a toughness about them then that there is now.”
• Temple leads the nation in blocked kicks with five — four punts and a PAT the Owls returned for a defensive two-point conversion.
• Something has to give in the third quarter Saturday night. It’s Notre Dame’s best quarter from a point-differential standpoint (65-20), but it’s also Temple’s 75-9.
Former Notre Dame and Indianapolis Colts punter Hunter Smith’s life after football is taking off.
The Indianapolis Star reported Monday that Smith and his band — the Hunter Smith Band — have signed a deal with country music superstar Blake Shelton to open at Shelton's Back Porch Revival show, Aug. 27 in Iowa City, Iowa.
Per the Star: “The five-man band plays gigs all over the United States. It has opened for classics such as John Michael Montgomery and Eddie Money, but of late is getting more and more bookings with national acts.”