The Notre Dame game was your typical Nate Smith performance. Temple's stat sheet shows seven tackles. Film will prove Nate Smith can bang with offensive linemen and also burst by them - and also can cover speedy receivers deep down the field.

Of course, the back of the jersey tells the real tale. There are, in fact, two Nate Smiths starting, and sometimes starring, on defense this season for the 21st-ranked Owls. A defensive end who converted from middle linebacker, and a safety.

As trivial as it sounds, the Nate Smiths initially presented a problem in need of a solution.

"It got confusing because everybody kept saying, 'Nate, Nate, Nate,' " said one of the Nates. "You wouldn't know which Nate he was talking to."

There are differing versions (naturally) about which coach came up with the solution but it's simple, spelled out on the back of their jerseys. That defensive end? In the eyes of the Temple football world, he's Nate D. Smith.

"Having my whole name on the back of my jersey is so funny," said Nate D. "It's hilarious."

The Nate Smith who was talking about the previous confusion? He's now Nate L.

"I call him Lucious," said Nate D.

The L stands for Lucious?

No, Nate L said, his middle name is Lee. The Lucious originated the way half the college nicknames in America do, someone thought he looked like Lucious from a movie. The name stuck. The coaches call him Nate L.

Usually.

"I'll say Nate D. looking at Nate L. and vice versa," said Temple defensive coordinator Phil Snow.

Nathaniel Duane Smith has rarely just been Nate Smith. Even when he switched positions earlier this year a headline read, "L.J. Smith's brother moves to defensive end for Temple." L.J., of course, played tight end for the Eagles. (L.J.'s first name is actually John, but that's another story).

An injury mostly kept Nate D. off the field at SMU but he is sixth in the American Athletic Conference this season with 6 1/2 sacks. Second on the team in tackles last season at middle linebacker, he was a force from the beginning at end, getting two sacks against Penn State. Meanwhile, Nate L. had seven tackles in Temple's pivotal victory against Cincinnati. Against Charlotte, Nate L. returned a blocked punt 16 yards for a touchdown and also returned an interception 74 yards to set up another score.

The D gives Nate a little more distinctive identity, in addition to the way he plays D.

"Everybody else on campus knows me as Nate D.," said Nate D.

From Highland Park, N.J., Nate D. got to Temple a year ahead of Nate L., an Archbishop Wood graduate. They actually met on a recruiting trip, Nate D. said, but the conversation didn't include last names. "Hey, I'm Nate." . . . "I'm Nate, too."

"It was real brief, just a handshake kind of thing," said Nate D.

After Nate L. committed to Temple, Nate D. said, a friend told him a Nate Smith was joining the team.

"What are you talking about? I'm here already," Nate D. remembers telling his friend. "Stop playing me."

"No, I'm serious."

Nate L. remembers their first Nate Smith to Nate Smith conversation. "It was kind of awkward," Nate L. said. "At the same time, we kind of said, 'Yo, we've got the same name.' "

Since he was a year ahead, Nate D. got regular playing time first. A year later, Nate L. was in the mix too. A solution needed to be found. Nate L. thought head coach Matt Rhule was the first to come up with the middle initials. Nate D. thought it was Snow, the defensive coordinator. Neither coach remembers, which means maybe it was a staffer in a meeting who came up with it.

What, Nate L. was asked, should the world know about Nate D.?

"Nate is the biggest jokester ever but he's the boss on the football field," Nate L said of Nate D. "Once we get off the field, Nate is a clown. But he busts his butt; he works hard ALL the time."

Nate D. was asked the same about Nate L.

"He's a quiet guy, but he's one of those quiet guys that works under the radar," D said of L. "Like you would never know that he's working, until you see it out on the field. He's a great guy, hilarious. A jokester."

So, two jokesters who work their butts off. That's Nate Smith in a nutshell.

What would the Owls be like without the Nates? It's not complicated, said Temple's defensive coordinator, taking a minute from preparations for another important game Saturday at South Florida.

"If either one is not playing," Phil Snow said, "we're not as good."

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus