Updated: October 1, 2013 6:52AM
SOUTH BEND – Connor Reilly has never attempted a pass for Temple.
The quarterback has a new coach in Matt Rhule. And five members of Rhule’s staff are new to the program.
It all adds up to a unique challenge in terms of preparation for No. 14 Notre Dame.
“I think I know more about Eastern Michigan’s defense than I do anybody else,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said earlier this week. “Coach (Phil) Snow, who’s their defensive coordinator, was at Eastern Michigan last year, and I found myself talking in terms of what Eastern Michigan was doing, and obviously that’s not their talent pool. They’ve got Temple players.
“So there’s that unknown.”
The teams meet in the season opener Saturday.
The unknowns aren’t limited to Temple.
Notre Dame gets its first look at how the offense will flow with Tommy Rees back at quarterback. Rees does have plenty of past experience. He’s appeared in 33 games and has made 18 starts. This is the first time he is starting a season opener.
“I haven’t changed in how I prepare for practice and how I go out there and compete,” Rees said. “It gives me an opportunity to go out there and compete, along with being the voice on offense that everyone is looking to.”
Conversely, this will be Reilly’s first start, period. The junior threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns in the Owls’ spring game.
“He can make all the throws and at the same time he processes things very quickly,” Rhule said. “When you face a group like (Notre Dame’s defensive line), or this secondary and these linebackers, you can’t sit there and pat the ball and hope things work out for you. You’ve got to get the ball out of your hand and make some tough throws off the bat. His arm strength and his decision making have separated him for us.”
Reilly beat out Clinton “Juice” Granger. It was one of the first major decisions as a coach for Rhule, who was an assistant for six years with the Owls before spending last season as the assistant offensive lines coach with the New York Giants.
Temple also has new offensive and defensive coordinator, adding a wrinkle to the game.
“They return a lot of players from last year. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to see,” Kelly said. “We think we do, but I think this is one of those openers where we’re going to have to kind of make some adjustments along the way.”
Key player: DE Stephon Tuitt. Rhule spent a large portion of his time on the American Athletic Conference teleconference praising Notre Dame’s defensive line, including Tuitt. The junior led Notre Dame with 12 sacks last season. He has been listed on several preseason All-America teams and could start this season on a good note.
Notre Dame will win if: It takes care of the football. Kelly stressed the importance of a clean game for the opener. Rees has also mentioned how he understands that a good play might mean throwing the ball away instead of trying to force something. Expect Notre Dame’s defense to give the Owls fits.
Temple will win if: Notre Dame gets caught looking ahead to Michigan. The Irish and Wolverines meet next week in Ann Arbor, Mich. If Notre Dame looks too far ahead to the primetime showdown, Temple might have a shot at keeping this game close.
Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Temple 7