Temple coach worried about Notre Dame defensive front
BY LaMOND POPE Sun-Times Media August 26, 2013 7:05PM
“I have to be a behemoth, a wild man in the middle,” nose guard Louis Nix III said. “I can’t get pushed back.” | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images
Updated: August 27, 2013 1:06PM
Matt Rhule saw his share of imposing defensive fronts last season as the assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants.
His first game as Temple’s head coach is Saturday against No. 14 Notre Dame, and he recognizes that his offensive line has a huge task ahead of itself.
“They are going to face four of the best defensive linemen that they’ll face all year,” Rhule said Monday, “and maybe in their lives.”
The battle up front will be one of the keys to the game (2:30 p.m., Ch. 5, 890-AM).
“We have great continuity across the front,” Notre Dame defensive line coach Mike Elston said last week. “We should be a solid unit.”
Saturday marks a couple of firsts for the Owls. In addition to Rhule’s first game, it will be the first start for quarterback Connor Reilly, who was named the team’s most improved offensive player after spring camp.
“He’s got a really strong arm, and he’s able to make quick decisions,” Rhule said. “Those are the two things that allow him to be successful for us.”
Reilly beat out Clinton “Juice” Granger for the starting nod. The junior hasn’t thrown a pass in his college career, so look for the Owls to try to establish the ground game.
“There’s no greater friend of a quarterback than the run game,” Rhule said. “If we allow them to pin their ears back and just rush, then it makes for a long day.”
“We have to manufacture some sort of run game. At the same time, get the ball out of our hands quickly when we do decide to drop back and throw it because you’re not going to have a lot of time. You’re not really trying to defeat coverage, you’re trying to defeat pass rush this week.”
Rhule knows it won’t be easy against the Irish.
“With them, personnel-wise, that’s probably the best defensive line in the country,” Rhule said. “[Nose guard] Louis Nix, we’re probably not sleeping around here thinking of him. Whatever he weighs, 350 pounds, he is a dominant, dominant college football player that takes over games [and] establishes the line of scrimmage.
“Both him and [defensive end Stephon] Tuitt together, they’re two probably top-five, top-10 picks in next year’s NFL draft. Everything for that program on defense starts with them.”
Rhule also was impressed with linebackers Prince Shembo, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox.
“[Shembo] can pass rush, he can drop, he’s just a really versatile player,” Rhule said. “While you can try to scheme, defensively they have such a fantastic defensive line that really takes over games.
“While there are names like Tuitt and Nix and those guys right now on defense, we also know the other guys that are going to step in whether it is Calabrese or Fox, they are outstanding football players and they are going to play well as well.”
Sophomore center Kyle Friend is the anchor of Temple’s line. Converted tight end Cody Booth and sophomore Zach Hooks are the likely starting tackles. Transfer Pete White and senior Jeff Whittingham should start at right and left guard, respectively.
“They are going to have to work as a group and work in conjunction with each other to try to turn this into two-on-ones and get doubles when we can and try to neutralize their strength, which is obviously the defensive line,” Rhule said. “They’ve got to work together as a group and they can’t take a play off. They know that. That’s got to happen pretty quickly for them.”