If this is going to be a different Notre Dame team this season, then new starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush is going to playing a key role. So far, so good as Notre Dame leads Temple 28-10 at the half in the season opener.
Wimbush has accounted for three touchdowns in the first half of the season opener in South Bend against defending American Athletic Conference champion Temple. Wimbush, making his first career start for Notre Dame, has thrown two touchdown passes and rushed for one more, Notre Dame opened up a 28-3 half on the strength of a 21-point first quarter, but the Owls have started to scratch back a little bit.
Logan Marchi completed a touchdown pass to Keith Kirkwood inside the red zone to cut into the lead, but that has been all the Owls have been able to muster aside from a field goal. Temple is playing the game without their top wide receiver, Ventell Bryant, who did not travel with the team due to a reported hamstring injury.
Temple has a lot of ground to make up against a more talented Irish team in the second half, and first-year head coach Geoff Collins will have his work cut out for him to turn this game back in his favor.
The Temple Owls (10-3) did their part to make the job a little bit easier for the College Football Playoff’s selection committee in the next 24 hours. A 34-10 victory in the American Athletic Conference championship game in Annapolis against No. 19 Navy (9-3) will more than likely mean MAC champion Western Michigan will be heading to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. For the Owls, it is the first conference championship in program history since 1967, and just the second conference crown for the Owls.
Temple took care of business in the first half by scoring touchdowns on each of their first three offensive possessions to go up 21-0, stunning the home Navy crowd in the process while key Midshipmen went down with injuries. Starting quarterback Will Worth was among those lost for the day in the first half, while Temple’s Phillip Walker was tossing two touchdown completions with great confidence; one 22-yard pass to Ventell Bryant and a 56-yard deep ball to Keith Kirkwood. Jahad Thomas ran in the first touchdown of the day for the Owls on the opening drive of the game.
For the first time in program history, Temple has won 10 games in a season in back-to-back years. This also marks Temple’s conference championship game victory, a year after playing in the first AAC Championship Game last season as East Division champion on the road against Houston. Perhaps the experience of last season came into play, as did the experience of playing Army in the season opener (which Temple lost). If he has not already, expect Temple head coach Matt Rhule to start hearing his name in a few more rumors and his phone to be a bit more busy as the coaching carousel continues to spin.
Temple is not expected to essentially come out of nowhere to pass an undefeated Western Michigan with three losses on their record, so the Owls will be first in line among the AAC programs to slot into bowl games with conference affiliations this season. A slot in the Miami Beach Bowl would be a nice reward, but a chance to play an ACC opponent in the Military Bowl may also be an option. That would mean returning to Annapolis for a second straight game in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Navy already had a spot in the bowl lineup reserved due to an association with the Armed Forces Bowl. The bowl invitation has already been represented but the Naval Academy was wise to hold off on accepting it until known whether or not a bigger bowl game could be on the horizon. That will not happen this year, as Navy is eliminated from the Group of Five New Years six conversation with the loss to Temple. So Navy will be heading to the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas on December 23. Their opponent is contracted to come from the Big 12, but that spot could be open if the Big 12 cannot fill all of its bowl spots. North Texas could benefit from such a situation, and having a team from Texas would be an ideal alternative for the bowl game. Navy still has one more game to play though, as they play rival Army in the annual Army-Navy Game next weekend in Baltimore. Considering some of the injuries that came into play Saturday, Navy’s health should be a concern with a rested Army coming up next week.
Navy will play the remainder of the American Athletic Conference championship game without starting quarterback Will Worth, Toneo Gulley or Daryll Bonner. All three left the game with injuries in the first half of the American Athletic Conference championship game in Annapolis. As if that were not enough, the Temple Owls were already up 21-0 at the time and looking to slam the door shut on Navy in its first conference championship game appearance in program history, and on Navy’s hopes of reaching the New Years Six by slipping past MAC champion Western Michigan. Temple leads Navy at the halftime break, 24-3.
Temple, playing in its second straight AAC game after losing at Houston last season, marched right down the field on the Midshipmen on the game’s opening drive. Jahad Thomas capped off the well-executed 12-play drive with a 15-yard touchdown run. The Owls pushed their lead to 14-0 on their next possession after the defense came up with a fourth-down stop at the Temple 41-yard line. Phillip Walker completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ventell Bryant. Navy would then uncharacteristically fumble the football away on the fourth play of the ensuing drive, leading to a third Temple touchdown, a 56-yard touchdown pass from Walker to Keith Kirkwood.
Temple’s Avery Williams was ejected in the second quarter for a targeting foul on backup Navy quarterback Zach Abbey. The helmet-to-helmet hit left Williams thriving in pain after the play before walking off the field as the review was underway. Abbey was playing in place of a banged-up Worth, who hobbled off the field moments earlier. Abbey would toss his first completion of his college career later on the drive, which ended with a field goal to get Navy on the scoreboard.
A late interception thrown by Abbey allowed Temple a chance to tack on a late field goal by Aaron Boumerhi from 48 yards out. Just moments earlier, Boumerhi missed from 50 yards.
If Temple goes on to win the AAC championship, it would seem very likely Western Michigan will head to the Cotton Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. Even with a win, there may not be enough Temple can do with three losses this season to wiggle past the Broncos.