SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Tommy Rees threw a pair of 32-yard touchdown passes to DaVaris Daniels, a 66-yard scoring pass to Troy Niklas and Notre Dame had three quick scoring drives en route to a 28-6 victory over Temple on Saturday.
The 14th-ranked Irish jumped to a 14-0 lead on a pair of three-play drives on its opening two possessions and appeared headed for a blowout. But when the Notre Dame offense stalled, Temple squandered a pair of scoring chances, with Jim Cooper Jr. missing a pair of field goals. An unsettled feeling settled in at Notre Dame Stadium when Kenny Harper scored on a 1-yard run to cut the lead to 14-6. The Irish regained control, however, with Niklas’ TD with 43 seconds left in the half.
The victory by the Fighting Irish (1-0) was the 200th career win for coach Brian Kelly, improving his overall record to 200-68-2 and at Notre Dame to 29-11. The Owls (0-1), picked to finish ninth in the 10-team American Athletic Conference, fell to 2-76 all-time against ranked opponents.
Rees was 16-of-23 passing for 346 yards, registering his fourth career 300-yard passing day as the Irish improved to 11-0 under Kelly in games when they have no turnovers.
Although Temple was heavy underdogs, it was still a bit of disappointing start for first-year Temple coach Matt Rhule, a former assistant coach for the Owls who last season was an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants, because of missed chances.
There were some encouraging signs for Temple, though. First-time starter Connor Reilly was solid, completing 23-of-46 passes for 228 yards, which was more than the Owls had in any game last season. He also ran for 65 yards on 12 carries. Rhule installed a pro spread offense after the Owls had the fifth-fewest passing yards in the nation, averaging 121 yards a game.
For Notre Dame, though, the victory was welcome after a turbulent offseason following an embarrassing 42-14 loss to Alabama in the national championship game. It sets up a big game next week at Michigan.
Rees, who took over as starter after Everett Golson was suspended for the fall semester, got off to a great start, completing his first three passes for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns. TJ Jones had six catches for 138 yards and Notre Dame had 543 yards total offense, with Amir Carlisle running for 68 yards on seven carries.
One of the questions about Rees was whether he could beat opponents deep, with even offensive coordinator Chuck Martin saying he probably wouldn’t respect Rees’ arm strength if he were going against him. But Rees threw the pair of long TD passes to Daniels, who didn’t have a touchdown catch last season. Daniels beat Temple cornerback Anthony Robey on both TDs. The first drive started with Carlisle breaking a 45-yard run up the left sideline to the Temple 37, while the second was set up by a short pass to Jones, who broke two tackles, for a 51-yard gain.
The Irish drove to midfield on their next possession, but the drive stalled. That’s when Temple began showing signs of life after Notre Dame safety Bennett Jackson was called for pass interference. The Owls drove to the Notre Dame 15, but Cooper missed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide right. They drove to the Notre Dame 17, but Reilly was called for a delay of game when the Irish showed blitz. Cooper then missed wide right from 43 yards.
The Owls finally scored on their next possession, driving 78 yards on nine plays. Reilly completed four of six passes on the drive for 64 yards, with Notre Dame safety Elijah Shumate being called for pass interference in the end zone. After Irish nose guard Louis Nix was called for roughing the passer, Kenny Harper scored on a 1-yard run. The Irish didn’t give up a rushing touchdown in going 12-0 in the regular season last year until the eighth game against Oklahoma. Cooper’s point-after kick was blocked by Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones.
The Irish answered 18 seconds later when Rees hit Niklas at midfield and he juked his way past two Temple defenders and raced for the touchdown.
Temple opened the second half with another strong drive, advancing to the Notre Dame 6-yard line. Reilly threw four straight incomplete passes as Rhule decided to go for it on fourth-and-6 instead of trying another field goal. The Irish responded quickly again with a 94-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 33-yard pass from Rees to Chris Brown. George Atkinson scored on a two-yard run to make it 28-6.
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