Notre Dame looks toward Michigan

Notre Dame looks toward Michigan
August 31, 2013, 9:30 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The hurdle has been cleared, and Notre Dame can now run full speed ahead toward arguably their biggest game of the season.

The Irish dispatched Temple, 28-6, on a dreary-turned-sunny Saturday afternoon in South Bend, with Tommy Rees lighting up the Owls' defense for 346 yards and three touchdowns.

So it's now on to Michigan for a game that's served as a measuring stick for both programs in the last two years. The winner of the last two Notre Dame-Michigan games has reached a BCS bowl; the loser has gone 8-5.

"I don't know if you find out where you stand, but I think you find out where your head is," wide receiver T.J. Jones said, "and where your team has the potential to be later in the season, because it's only week two."

[MORE: Tommy Rees starts Notre Dame's season with a bang]

Temple, though, exposed a few Irish flaws. Special teams, an area of deficiency last year, weren't good as a whole. Two of Kyle Bridza's punts from inside or around the 50 rocketed into the end zone, while he and Nick Tausch missed on field goal attempts. Jones fielded a punt around the five-yard line, and later the Irish had a block in the back penalty on one of his returns.

The Irish defense, as often is its strategy, allowed for its opponent to chew up yards on shorter plays, trading those for not giving up any big-chunk gains. After the game, coach Brian Kelly lauded his defense's ability to keep points off the board, though it took a bit of luck for that to be the case.

Temple kicker Jim Cooper missed 32- and 43-yard field goal attempts on back-to-back possessions in the first half. To begin the third quarter, Temple efficiently dink-and-dunked its way inside the Irish 10, and on second and goal from the six, quarterback Connor Reilly's pass went through receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick's hands in the end zone.

Notre Dame stopped Temple on the next two plays to force a turnover on downs. In four 50-plus-yard drives, Temple generated just six points (Jarron Jones blocked the PAT after the Owls' lone touchdown).

[RELATED: Notre Dame announces five-year extension for Kelly]

Particularly deficient early on was Notre Dame's middle linebacking duo of Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox, whose play Kelly graded as "spotty" in the first half. Fox admitted he was out of sorts on a few pass plays, contributing to Temple's ability to march downfield at a greater-than-anticipated rate.

Still, Kelly said he never was concerned about his defense and Notre Dame's chances of winning.

"I didn't feel like I had to click over and tell (defensive coordinator) Bob (Diaco) to bring pressure and get the ball back," Kelly said. "I didn't feel that at any time because I felt like we were going to put enough points on the board."

Notre Dame may not be as lucky in terms of its opponent ending drives without points against a Michigan team that, one would think, will execute better than Temple.

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Every Notre Dame player brought to the media on defense and offense said after the game there are plenty of areas that'll need improvement going into next week. But here's a trend a few Notre Dame players pointed to when asked about the Michigan game: This is a team that plays better on the road.

The Irish certainly did just that in 2012, though they lost their last road meeting with Michigan in either epic or heartbreaking fashion, depending on which fan base you ask.

"It's a different environment, but at the same time it's an environment that you can't duplicate," Jones said. "It's live, it's great, it's loud, and you just kind of feed off their energy even though it's not your fans."

Most players, though, deflected questions about the magnitude of the Michigan game outside of conceding that it's a major rivalry.

[RELATED: Ex-Irish RB Cierre Wood makes the cut in Houston]

"When you play Michigan, it's a special game for a Notre Dame player," Fox said.

As Jones was quick to remind, it's not an absolute the result Notre Dame gets in Ann Arbor will be indicative of their season ahead. After Michigan, Notre Dame still has to play Michigan State, Oklahoma, USC and BYU at home, Arizona State in Dallas and Pittsburgh and Stanford on the road.

But Notre Dame's route to a BCS bowl will be much easier to navigate with a win over Michigan. With Temple defeated on Saturday, the Irish can finally set their sights on following that path.