SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame got off to a strong start to the new season and then received more good news after the game.
The No. 14 Fighting Irish scored on their first two possessions, each of them three-play drives, with Tommy Rees connecting with DaVaris Daniels on a pair of 32-yard TD passes in a 28-6 victory on Saturday.
The Irish announced after the win that coach Brian Kelly had signed a new five-year contract.
Kelly said he wasn’t too worried that the Irish (1-0) couldn’t quite seem to put the Owls (0-1) away, saying he had confidence in his defense.
“I was OK with the dink and dunk that they were going exhibit on offense,” he said.
For Notre Dame, the victory was welcome after a turbulent offseason following an embarrassing 42-14 loss to Alabama in the national championship game.
The victory sets up a big game against Michigan next Saturday night.
“We’re going to have to play better in all phases against Michigan next week, but we’re going to enjoy this victory today,” Kelly said.
The victory was the 200th career win for Kelly, improving his overall record to 200-68-2 and 29-11 at Notre Dame.
The Owls, picked to finish ninth in the 10-team American Athletic Conference, fell to 2-76 against ranked opponents.
“We left a lot of points on the field,” Temple quarterback Connor Reilly said.
Although Temple was a heavy underdog, it was still a bit of a disappointing start for first-year Temple coach Matt Rhule, because of missed chances.
“They proved that they can play with that team,” Rhule said.
Rees, who regained the starting quarterback job when Everett Golson was suspended from school for the fall semester, was 16 of 23 for 346 yards, his fourth career 300-yard passing day.
“I saw some really good things, and some things that we’re going to have to get better at,” Kelly said.
One of the questions about Rees was whether he could beat opponents deep in the passing game.
But Rees threw a 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 Amir 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 TJ Jones, who broke two tackles, for a 51-yard gain.
“One of the questions coming in was: ‘Can we push the ball downfield?’ I think we answered a lot of those questions right away with his ability to push the ball downfield. I think his patience was better and it will continue to get better,” Kelly said.
Rees said he was pleased.
“There are some things out there that we have to fix as an offense, but I was pleased with how the entire offense played,” he said.
There were some encouraging signs for Temple. First-time starter 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 yards passing in the nation, averaging 121 yards a game.
But Temple missed a pair of field goals wide right before finally scoring in the second quarter to cut the lead to 14-6, with Kenny Harper scoring 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 PAT was blocked by Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones.
The Irish answered 18 seconds later when Rees hit Troy Niklas at midfield and he faked his way past two Temple defenders and raced for a 66-yard touchdown.
Temple opened the second half with another strong drive, advancing to the Notre Dame 6.
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 2-yard run to make it 28-6.
For the Irish, it wasn’t the dominant defensive effort many expected against Temple.
“There’s things that we have to correct, but this isn’t last year’s defense, it’s this year’s defense,” safety Matthias Farley said.