Notre Dame survives upset-minded Owls on the road

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

PHILADELPHIA – After all, it was Halloween.

Man, this was a strange one.

A third-quarter incident on the Irish sidelines. A couple red-zone interceptions. A premature launching of fireworks after a fourth-quarter Temple touchdown pass that never happened. Another quick trigger finger on the boomers after a targeting penalty in the end zone. On the last play of the game, with the Irish ready to pack away the win, Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer was stripped of the ball, but recovered. A stubborn underdog that refused to melt in the new-found bright lights.

Still, somehow, the Notre Dame football team found a way to avoid what would have been a stunning upset — even though they were spotless Owls — and left the land of cheesesteaks with a 24-20 victory.

There were uncomfortable times.

Late in the third quarter, television cameras caught former Irish player and current assistant strength coach David Grimes barking at an official. When head coach Brian Kelly realized what was happening, Kelly charged Grimes and had to be separated by staff members.

Just a hint of the frustration level. Simmering. Bubbling.

Temple faithful — everyone but the pyrotechnics guy, that is — handled the scope and the magnitude of the game … no, the event … without flinching. The Temple-record crowd of 69,280 didn’t bat an eye when Notre Dame went the distance on its first offensive series — as the Owls gave up their first points on the first possession since Oct. 24 of last year.

Temple’s effort shrunk the gap between the Power 5 and the Group of Five like a cotton shirt in a hot wash and a drier on high. The Owls, nocturnal beasts that they are, thrived during prime time.

As they say, Hoooootttt.

Owls linebacker Tyler Matakevich can play on any defense. College football’s active career tackles leader was everywhere. It seemed his name was called on every other snap.

Notre Dame slinks out of town with a win, and that’s about it. Style points? No such thing.

In terms of a national perspective, Temple probably won’t get the credit it deserves, taking the ninth-ranked Irish 15 rounds.

KeiVarae Russell, beleaguered in the secondary for most of the game, came up with his second biggest play of the season (behind his pick against Southern Cal) when he intercepted P.J. Walker’s pass to clinch the win late in the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame hadn’t set the world on fire inside the opponent’s 20-yard line through seven games — ranking 83rd in the country (23 scores in 28 tries) — and continued its struggles. Not only did Kizer throw a couple picks, but the Irish offense in general was largely ineffective.

There were some significant first-half concerns that spoiled the 14-10 lead Notre Dame took into the halftime locker room.

Two red-zone interceptions by the offense; both tipped. The Temple defense, lacking the star power of the Irish offense, made up for that perceived deficiency with a tenaciousness that Notre Dame had trouble containing at times. C.J. Prosise carried nine times for nine net yards in the first half.

The Owls had to be doing something right.

Heading into the game, Prosise talked about Temple’s penchant for swarming the ball and securing the tackle. That tactic bit Temple in the keister late in the second quarter. On third-and-one from the Irish 21, the swarm pinned in Prosise. However, Kizer recognized the situation, kept the ball on the read-option, and did his best Brandon Wimbush impersonation by outracing what was left of the Temple defense to the end zone.

It was easy to see how the Owls might have gotten 10 sacks against Penn State early in the season. They didn’t officially get to Kizer in the first 30 minutes, but they did enough to hurry him into some bad releases.

A 94-yard drive yielded by the Irish defense, made possible by three double-digit gains. In fact, in the first half — and the first series of the second half — Temple generated nine plays of 10 yards or more.

Notre Dame's offense celebrates after scoring their final touchdown of the game, Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ