Reilly kept owls moving
The list of responsibilities ran long for Temple quarterback Connor Reilly in his first career start.
Call the play. Set the protection. Execute any number of different plays. Chief among them was making sure he didn’t end up sandwiched between the ground and 357-pound Louis Nix or 322-pound Stephon Tuitt.
With savvy play in the pocket, Reilly survived to tell the tale of a losing effort in Notre Dame Stadium.
“There were a few things I know I missed,” Reilly said of reading the Notre Dame pass rush. “Coach definitely said, 'You might have died.' But I'm still here.”
The Irish, specifically Tuitt, sacked Reilly just one time in 46 pass attempts. Quick decisions and smart scrambling allowed Reilly to finish with 228 yards passing and 65 yards rushing in his first start. He led a Temple offense to 362 yards of offense, a total only two teams – Oklahoma (379) and Alabama (529) – surpassed against Notre Dame last season.
Not bad for a junior making his first career start inside storied Notre Dame Stadium.
"I was definitely nervous after the first snap, but once the ball hit my hand I felt good,” Reilly said. “It felt good to get hit although I'm going to have a lot of bumps and bruises tomorrow. I was comfortable.”
“Connor proved to everybody, in my mind, he's a competitor,” said Temple head coach Matt Rhule. “He's out there, running around, getting first downs. He doesn't take it to the ground. He gets hit. He's probably a little banged up and he keeps playing.
“So to throw that many passes and have one sack, that's impressive.”
The problems for the Owls came in the scoring department. Three drives ended for Temple inside the 27-yard line with zero points.
In the first half, the lost opportunities fell on freshman kicker Jim Cooper. He missed a 32-yard field goal to end the first quarter and a 43-yarder to end the first drive of the second quarter. He later missed an extra point following the Temple touchdown that would have made the score 14-13 in favor of Notre Dame if all three kicks split the uprights.
“We moved the ball and couldn't put it in the end zone,” Rhule said. “Have to give a lot of credit to their guys. They did a good job. Their coaches did a good job playing more man (coverage) and taking away a lot of our throws, and we kind of hit a lull there for a while and weren't able to get it started.”
The Owls finally scored on a one-yard touchdown run by Kenny Harper with 1:01 left in the first half. Cutting the deficit to eight, Temple established itself as a game competitor with the Irish. Moments later a 66-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Rees to Troy Niklas with 43 seconds before halftime deflated any semblance of momentum for the Owls.
“We spotted them two touchdowns early, and they got a gimme right before the half, which was obviously good plays by them and just miscommunication by us,” Rhule said.
Reilly and his offense responded well to start the second half. A 53-yard drive pushed the Owls to the Notre Dame six-yard line. The surge ended with a dud as four-straight Reilly incompletions halted the scoring chance.
Chris Coyer, the intended receiver on Reilly’s fourth-down throw, thought he might have been held in coverage but could have run a better route. Another close encounter with the end zone fit the struggles of the offense for most of the game.
“We never felt like we were out of the game,” Coyer said. “We knew that we just needed to put together a couple of drives where we got into the end zone. Unfortunately we just couldn't quite break that barrier. At times I guess it felt like there was a little saran wrap over the end zone there for us.”
Both Rhule and Coyer praised the play of Reilly.
“I think he fought really hard,” said Coyer, who started nine games at quarterback for Temple last season. “I'm proud of the way he played. I think that his performance is something that we can build off of. I think it's something that's going to be great for the team going forward.”
“That's how I thought he'd play and I hoped he'd play,” Rhule said, “and there are still things, you know? I just love coaching the kid. I'm out there yelling at him on the field, ‘What are you doing?’ And he's ‘Yes, sir.’ He's a winner.”
Reilly and the Owls couldn’t scratch out a victory against No. 14 Notre Dame, but they take away confidence for hanging with a team that played in last season’s national championship game.
“I think our guys realize they can play at that level,” Rhule said. “Obviously, you can't play a good team and give plays away, but they can play at that level for extended periods of time.’’