AAC Champs: Why Not The Owls?

There was happiness everywhere in Owl country from coast to coast, but especially in Nashville.

There was happiness everywhere in Owl country from coast to coast, but especially in Nashville.

There’s not much to tell from a first-week AAC first-week football schedule that includes Connecticut being hammered by BYU and Houston vs. UTSA. If defense wins championships, neither Tulsa nor Tulane showed much of it in a 38-31 win by the Golden Hurricane. Fans will not find out much about East Carolina in a game against North Carolina Central.


“Vandy’s defensive line will
consist of Vince Taylor at nose,
who started 11 games last year.
Adam Butler, an absolute terror
who started 5 games after flipping
over from offensive tackle,
and Nifae Lealeo, a US Army All American
freshman who weighs in at a svelt 315.
As for the secondary Vandy returns Paris Head
who had as many picks last year as the entirety
of the Temple defense and Andrew Williamson
who boasts two picks …. top to bottom
this will be the most talented Vandy roster in history”
_ Vandy fan Tdog

There was, though, one game that really opened a lot of eyes and that was Temple’s 37-7 win at Vanderbilt. That’s because the Owls totally dominated a SEC team which returned 15 starters, including a quarterback, Patton Robinette, who started and won games at Georgia and Florida. The Commodores’ offensive line returned intact, with the exception of one player, Wes Johnson, and this was a group that held out some of the best defensive lines in the best conference in the country.

Nine months ago, Temple made a trip to Tennessee and came away with a 41-21 win over Memphis. Thursday’s win in Nashville was even more dominating. The last group of Yankees who had that much success in that state were led by U.S. Grant.

Owls celebrate Averee Robinson's touchdown, making him and Adrian the only brother combination to score defensive touchdowns in the 87-year-history of Temple football.

Owls celebrate Averee Robinson’s touchdown, making him and Adrian the only brother combination to score defensive touchdowns in the 87-year-history of Temple football.

When James Franklin left to take over the head coaching job at Penn State, he did not leave the cupboard totally bare in Nashville. This was more Temple good than Vanderbilt bad and, in an AAC that could be wide open, this wins means the Owls could be major players in the conference this year and for years to come.

UCF lost a first-round quarterback pick to the NFL. Houston was dominated by Vanderbilt in a bowl game last year. Cincinnati has a talented quarterback in Gunner Kiel, but he’s also a guy who has not dropped back against a real rush in two years. That means something because Temple has a real rush. The Owls were all over Robinette like few SEC teams were and the reason was that they moved a couple of speedy linebackers up to defensive ends. The Owls had to do very little blitzing but, when they did, the consistent front four rush made the blitzes all the more effective. A blitz from linebacker Avery Ellis led to a sack, a fumble and a touchdown return by nose tackle Averee Robinson.

It was some very impressive coaching from second-year coach Matt Rhule and DC Phil Snow to make those kind of personnel changes.

It’s a long season and Temple would be wise to learn from its last dominating win over a Power 5 team, when the Owls went down to Maryland and beat the Terps, 38-7, in 2011. Full of themselves, the Owls were beaten, 38-13, at home by Toledo the next week. Maybe Rhule, an Owl assistant at that time, should show them that film.

Speaking about being full of themselves, remember this post by our Vandy friend visitor Tdog last week:

“Vandy’s defensive line will consist of Vince Taylor at nose, who started 11 games last year. Adam Butler, an absolute terror who started 5 games after flipping over from offensive tackle, and Nifae Lealeo, a US Army All American freshman who weighs in at a svelt 315. As for the secondary Vandy returns Paris Head who had as many picks last year as the entirety of the Temple defense and Andrew Williamson who boasts two picks and a wealth of experience. You’re spot on on the question marks at wr and the last 2 spots of the secondary, but top to bottom this will be the most talented Vandy roster in history”

Hmm.

If the Owls do not get full of themselves in a week against a very good Navy team, they have as much a chance of building the kind of momentum that could catapult them to an AAC title. Of all the AAC teams so far, they have a chance of building the best resume after two weeks.

Temple Football 2014: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Owls

Temple's P.J. Walker will be ahead of the curve and his blockers this fall.

Temple’s P.J. Walker will be ahead of the curve and his blockers this fall.

There is nothing like the start of the season in any sport and Temple head coach Matt Rhule might have said it best: “There is not a team on our schedule we cannot beat and there is not a team on our schedule who can’t beat us.”

In picking the outcome of this season, I’m taking the King Solomon Approach—splitting that schedule baby in half and coming up with six wins, six losses. That should get the Owls back to the Military Bowl, where my prediction is that they won’t have a rematch with any of the military academies (Navy is going to be the only one making a bowl and the Mids will opt for a more high-profile one).

I want a rematch with Rutgers but doubt the Scarlet Knights will win six games.

Here are my Owl predictions:

Thursday, Aug. 28, at Vandy

I see this one going pretty much the same way the UCLA game went in the Eagle Bank Bowl. The Owls scratch and claw for the lead most of the game but, in the end, five years of Power 5 Conference recruiting catches up to them. Commodores salt the game away by  with a Patton Robinette quarterback sneak on fourth and inches. “We thought about going to a shotgun handoff but coach (Derek Mason) talked me out of it,” offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell said. “I don’t want to use all the words he said, but he asked me if I was bleeping nuts but he didn’t say bleeping.”  Vandy, 31-21.

Saturday, Sept. 6 Navy

Biggest game of the season and Navy will win nine games but this will not be one of them. Temple DC Phil Snow is not good at defending three wides, but very adept at devising methods to stop the triple option. Key play: A 99-yard kickoff return for a score by Khalif Herbin revisiting memories of a similar play by James Nixon in the 2009 win at Navy. Key block in that one was provided by Matt Falcone. Key block in this one will be by John Christopher. Temple, 21-16.

Saturday, Sept. 20 Delaware State

Temple takes advantage of five Hornet turnovers in a 24-7 win. “Fordham taught us to never be overconfident,” Rhule says, holding the game ball.

Saturday, Sept. 27 at UConn

Austin Jones kicks the game-winning field goal in overtime as ESPN’s Kevin Neghandi, a Temple grad, is in attendance. Kenny Harper runs the ball straight up the middle for three straight plays after Nate L. Smith picks off a pass. “I wanted to put the ball in the middle of the field, that was my strategy,” Rhule said. “I said the best kicker in college football is going to have to win the game for Temple and he did.” Temple, 17-14, in OT. UConn players are quoted after the game as saying they have a strong feeling of de ja vu.

Saturday, Oct. 11 Tulsa

The last time Tulsa visited South Philadelphia it came away with a 15-10 win over a Bruce Arians’ coached Temple team. The results were reversed this time. Temple, 15-10. After the game, the Tulsa Chancellor fires head coach Bill Blakenship, saying “losing to Temple is unacceptable.” When asked to comment, Temple President Neil D.Theobald says: “Who the bleep are they to talk that kind of bleep about us?” An instant AAC rivalry is born. 

Friday, Oct. 17 at Houston

Houston coach Adam Levine dinks and dunks Temple all the way down the field on slant patterns over the middle. “Last year, their strategy was to keep us in front of them, let us make the catch, but take away the big plays,” Levine said. “We figured they’d do the same. We bled them to death.” Houston, 38-24.

Saturday, Oct. 25 at UCF

Without Blake Bortles, UCF relied on ball control and its defense to win a slugfest. “What happened to No. 19?” George O’Leary said, referring to Temple wide receiver Robbie Anderson. “That kid killed us last year.” When told Anderson flunked out of school, O’Leary shook his head.  “Our kids don’t even go to class in the fall.” UCF, 19-12.

Saturday, Nov. 1 East Carolina

East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden wins a passing war with P.J. Walker. Temple and East Carolina fan Winkel spends the first half on the Temple side of the field and the second half on the Pirate side. “The difference was my receivers held onto the ball and his dropped it,” Carden said. East Carolina, 36-30.

Friday, Nov. 7 Memphis

Tight end Romond DeLoatch catches three touchdowns over the middle as Temple rolls to a 41-12 win. “That was open for Chris Coyer and we thought it would be open for Romond, too,” Rhule said. “Fortunately, we were right.”

Saturday, Nov. 15 at Penn State

One hundred and six thousand Penn State fans cheer as Christian Hackenberg toys with the Temple secondary. Nits’ defense driven nuts by Walker, though, and Temple comes back from a 28-7 deficit in the second half to tie the game, but lose, 59-49. “My bad,” James Franklin said. “I should have run the ball with a 28-7 lead. You cannot give this Walker kid eight second-half possessions and that almost cost us the game.”

 Saturday, Nov. 29 Cincy

Tommy Tuberville comes out in three wides and throws sideline patterns down the field that cause the Owls fits. “We saw what Houston did, but we thought we’d use the out pattern instead of the slants in the middle of the field,” Tuberville said. “For some reason, their DBs play the man and not the ball. Fortunately for us because Gunner (Kiel) put it up for grabs and they could have had at least three pick 6s. They gave us 5 yards every time we wanted it.” Cincinnati, 31-24.

Saturday, Dec. 6 at Tulane

With a bowl game on the line, Tyler Matakevich gathers the defense around him and gives an impassioned speech at halftime with the game tied at 7-7. “I’ve never lost to f-ing Tulane in my life before and I’m not going to start losing to f-ing Tulane now,” Matakevich said. Owls cheer wildly, pounding their helmets on the gold floor of the new Tulane stadium locker room and play the defensive game of the year in the second half, shutting the Green Wave out  on the way to a 21-7 win. “I didn’t mention that I never played Tulane,” Matakevich grinned. “I didn’t think it was important at the time.”

Sunday, Dec. 7—bowl selection Sunday party at the LC, 6 p.m.

Thoughts On Depth Chart

John Christopher

John Christopher

For the longest time, the only depth chart accessible on Owlsports.com–Temple University’s official athletic website–was the one released prior to the Memphis game of last year.

That was a long time ago.

In the last couple of days, though, a pre-game one for Vandy (9:15 p.m., Thursday, SEC Network) was released and here are at least a couple of thoughts from this end. If John Christopher’s ankle injury suffered in Monday’s practice keeps him out, that’s probably one of the worst injuries the Owls could have because he is not only a starting wide receiver, but a snapper on both punts and placements. (The backup snapper is a true freshman.)

Even though the Owls have four new OL starters, they should be in good shape because a lot of those guys saw plenty of time last year and did well. Somewhat surprised to see Averee Robinson listed as second team, but Hershey Walton is a very good player and has the experience edge.

This year’s surprise names are starting safety Boye Aromire and backup fullback Eric Neefe. 

Hopefully, the Cherry helmets return on Thursday night.

Hopefully, the Cherry helmets return on Thursday night.

Here’s the depth chart: 

OFFENSE

Left Tackle: Dion Dawkins (6-5, 315, So); Samaj Reed (6-7, 300, r-Fr)

Left Guard: Shahbaz Ahmed (6-3, 285, Jr); Aaron Ruff (6-3, 300 Fr)

Center: Kyle Friend (6-2, 305, Jr); Jacob Quinn (6-5, 295, r-Jr)

Right Guard: Brendan McGowan (6-4, 300, r-So); Leon Johnson (6-6, 300, r-Fr)

Right Guard: Eric Lofton (6-5, 300, r-Jr); Adrian Sullivan (6-5, 280, r-Fr)

Tight End: Wanemi Omuso (6-2, 255, r-Sr); Saledeem Major (6-3, 254, r-Jr)

Wide Receiver: Jalen Fitzpatrick (5-11, 185, Sr); Brandon Shippen (5-11, 185, Jr)

Wide receiver: John Christopher (5-10, 185, r-Jr); Khalif Herbin (5-7, 170, r-So)

Quarterback: P.J. Walker (6-1, 200, So); Connor Reilly (6-3, 215, r-Sr)

Running back: Kenneth Harper (6-0, 225, Sr); Jamie Gilmore (5-8, 190, Jr)

Fullback: Marc Tyson: (6-0, 230, r-Sr); Eric Neefe (5-10, 243, r-Fr)

DEFENSE

Defensive End: Praise Martin-Oguike (6-2, 250, r-Jr); Avery Ellis (6-2, 246, r-So)

Defensive Tackle: Matt Ioannidis (6-4, 285, Jr); Bryan Osei (6-2, 250, r-So)

Nose Tackle: Hershey Walton (6-4, 300, r-Jr); Averee Robinson (6-1, 285, So)

Defensive End: Sharif Finch (6-4, 240, So); Jacob Martin (6-3, 230, Fr)

Weak Side Linebacker: Tyler Matakevich (6-1, 235, Jr); Michael Felton (6-0, 215, Jr)

Middle Linebacker: Nate D. Smith (6-0, 235, r-Jr); Stephaun Marshall (5-11, 205, r-So)

Strongside Linebacker: Avery Williams (5-10, 210, r-So); Zayd Issah (6-3, 205, So)

Left Cornerback: Anthony Robey (5-10, 190, R-Sr) OR Anthony Davis (5-11, 180, Fr)

Right Cornerback: Tavon Young (5-10, 174, Jr) OR Sean Chandler (5-11, 180, Fr)

Free Safety: Alex Wells (6-0, 200, Jr); Nate L. Smith (6-1, 185, r-So)

Strong Safety: Boye Aromire (6-0, 200, r-Jr); Jihaad Pretlow (5-11, 190, So)

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Placekicker: Tyler Mayes (6-2, 215, r-Jr) OR Austin Jones (5-10, 190 Fr); Jim Cooper (6-1, 195, So)

Punter: Mayes OR Perry Colby (6-2, 180, r-Jr)

Kickoff: Cooper; Jones

Holder: Reilly; Christopher

Long Snapper: Christopher; Corey Lerch (5-10, 200, Fr)

Punt Returner: Herbin; Christopher, Smith, Nate L.

Kickoff Returner: Herbin, Thomas, Shippen

Flux in Kicking Game Good, Not Bad

It’s officially game week and the focus is on Vanderbilt.

Err, maybe more Stanford and UCLA.

Huh?

That’s because while the Temple Owl coaches are looking at Vanderbilt film to get an idea of personnel, the real film study is Stanford and UCLA and that’s probably a smart thing to do. Stanford, because Vandy head coach Derek Mason was the DC out there and runs a 3-4; UCLA, because that’s where current Vandy OC Karl Dorrell was in his last college football stop and he runs a West Coast offense.

To me, the biggest news out of Temple camp this summer has been the emergence of Jahad Thomas at running back. That was an unexpected development between the end of last season and now. He’s been described as a “one-cut runner” and the last “one-cut runner” Temple had was Baltimore Ravens’ starter Bernard Pierce. 

Meanwhile, the Temple kicking game is in a state of flux and, unlike last  year, that’s a good thing, not a bad one. In the video above, head coach Matt Rhule said the indecision on which kicker to go with is a product of all the kickers doing a good job. Last year, the indecision was because of the opposite reason. Temple made only three field goals all of last year and was killed by kickoffs that often reached only the 10 or 15. 

If they are all even, I’d go with the kid with the highest upside and that appears to be true freshman Austin Jones, who is able to boom kicks through the end zone in addition to being an accurate placekicker. Temple hasn’t seen that since Brandon McManus, which only seems like 100 years ago now.

In reality, it was just the year before last. 

Scouting Vanderbilt: Let’s Hope Temple Does, Too

Hopefully, the Owls' plan includes attacking Vanderbilt's weaknesses, which are the DL and DBs, and staying away from the strengths (LBs).

Hopefully, the Owls’ plan includes attacking Vanderbilt’s weaknesses, which are the DL and DBs, and staying away from the strengths (LBs).

There was so much head-scratching in an underachieving season last year that just about every Temple football fan still has scars on the heads.

From the shotgun handoff on 4th and three inches at Rutgers to the use of a punter to kick an extra point—when you had a perfectly good backup kicker to do it—Owl fans were “wtf’ing” all season.


Play-action brings the linebackers up for run support
and dumping the ball over their heads could create
major run-after-catch opportunities for players like
Herbin and John Christopher. Keeping a dynamic blocker
like Harper in after faking the ball into his gut
can only help P.J. Walker’s protection.

Arguably, nothing compared to the way Temple was perceived to have scouted the opposition. At times, it appeared the Owls never popped in any opponents’ film before taking the field against them. The Owls passed the ball against the worst rush defense in the nation, Idaho, and failed to commit to the run against a FCS defensive line (Fordham) that averaged 247 pounds across the front. The next week, a St. Francis of Loretto back with considerably less talent than any of the top three Temple backs, Kyle Harbridge, gained 297 yards on 29 carries against that same defense. Either the Red Flashes have a bunch of Mensa members on their coaching staff or they just took the Fordham depth chart, put the DL weights into a calculator, divided by 4, and devised a rational game plan to attack the Rams. Since the scouting budget at SFL is minuscule, I’m guessing the latter.

Now game week starts and Temple fans hope things  are different this season.

Vanderbilt is the opponent in a week and its new coach, Derek Mason, likes to play a 3-4 defense and Owl fans can only hope the Owls have spent the summer devising a good plan to attack it. The Commodores return only 10 starters, the second-fewest in the SEC. No SEC returns a smaller percentage of last year’s total offense, so the Owl defense should have a better chance stopping it  than, say, they did a year ago at Notre Dame.

Still, as good as Vanderbilt was under current Penn State coach James Franklin, it lost to Missouri by a 51-28 score and Texas A&M by a 56-24 score. Temple should have beaten a UCF team that blew out Baylor.

The Owls should also look at what UCLA did under head coach Karl Dorrell because Dorrell will serve as Mason’s offensive coordinator this season. Hint: It’s a West Coast offense and probably not a good one (this from Bruins’ Report):

During his five seasons with the Bruins, Dorrell went 35-27, losing six or more games in all but one campaign as his teams largely struggled to execute his version of the West Coast offense. The lone exception was in 2005, when a veteran team featuring running back Maurice Jones-Drew and tight end Marcedes Lewis posted a 10-2 record.

The Commodores lose Jordan Matthews to the Eagles, but they still have a playmaking wide receiver in sophomore Jordan Cunningham (15 receptions, 123  yards). Other than that, a whole bunch of new guys.


TFF’s keys to the game:
1. Khalif Herbin must have 15 touches (5 runs, 5 catches, 5 returns)
2. Play-action to set up intermediate passes for big RAC opportunites
3. Trust your 2 best players (Kyle Friend and P.J. Walker) on 4th and inches
4. Generate pass rush along front 4
 

Vandy’s strength is the offensive line, losing only all-conference left tackle Wes Johnson.

Its two top running backs are Jerron Seymour (716 yards, 14 touchdowns) and a scatback-type in Brian Kimbrow (341 yards). Seymour is a very similar runner to Kenny Harper—good for 8-yard bursts in the red zone but lacks the capability of taking a handoff at the 20 and going 80 to the house. A Matt Brown or a Bernard Pierce (and a Khalif Herbin) do have that capability.

The Vandy defense returns only three starters, all linebackers, so Temple would do well with play-action fakes and rollouts and dumping the intermediate passes over the linebackers’ heads. Those three starters are Kyle Woestmann, Caleb Azubike and Darreon Herring. Play-action brings the linebackers up for run support and dumping the ball over their heads could create major run-after-catch opportunities for players like Herbin and John Christopher. Keeping a dynamic blocker like Harper in after faking the ball into his gut can only help P.J. Walker‘s protection.

Vandy’s special teams will struggle without Murderleg (Carey Spear), whose days are numbered at Eagles’ camp because he cannot even beat out Dead Leg (Alex Henery).

Khalif Herbin will be able to do serious damage on punt and kickoff returns, if he is given the chance.

Hopefully, while scouting Vanderbilt, Temple coaches will remember that Owl name—and the name of St. Francis of Loretto’s Kyle Harbridge—as a reminder (to quote Andy Reid)  that they need to do a better job at not only scouting foes, but taking advantage of their weaknesses.

Time’s yours.