Denial: A Broken Water Main at 10th and Diamond

That old saying that “Denial is More than a River in Egypt” apparently extends all the way to 10th and Diamond and that’s at least 10 long blocks from nearly any body of water, unless you are counting broken water mains.

At least that’s my most disappointing takeaway from Matt Rhule’s post-game comments after the Penn State loss above in the latest edition of Matt Rhule Weekly, especially the remarks about P.J. Walker’s play.

Rhule said P.J. is going to have to stop throwing interceptions and that’s reasonable but I really have to ask if Rhule is seeing the same things on the interceptions I am and a lot of Temple fans are—a guy who has to duck out of a rush like Houdini out of a straitjacket just in time see every receiver covered. The poor kid is just trying to make a play on most of those interceptions because he’s getting no separation and plenty of pressure.

Putting this on P.J. is really a heavy dose of denial by Rhule, even though he also adds in the qualifier “it’s on us as coaches, too.”  Yet the coaches have done nothing to make things easier for the most talented quarterback who has come to North Philadelphia since Adam DiMichele.

Harvard checking in, hopefully head coach Tim Murphy who completed an unbeaten season on Saturday.

Harvard checking in, hopefully head coach Tim Murphy who completed an unbeaten season on Saturday.

If he thinks things are going to get better if P.J. “just stops throwing interceptions” then he’s only kidding himself. There is a much larger issue here.

This whole offense is a cluster-bleep disaster delivered to Philadelphia by FedEx direct from Chattanooga, the last stop of his current OC. A trifecta of no running game, no wide receiver separation and no quarterback protection.

These problems are not insurmountable and that’s where Rhule should step in and assert his authority. Establish the run with the left side of the offensive line, behind future NFL tackle Dion Dawkins and future NFL center Kyle Friend. Give P.J. a blocking fullback, both to help in the run and pass protection. (Yes, I know Kenny Harper is on crutches, but if he can’t go, Marc Tyson can do the job.) Make P.J. a little more comfortable by featuring old state championship high school teammate Jahad Thomas—in federal witness protection since 157 rushing yards against Tulsa–as the tailback behind those blocks and someone to dump a screen pass off to in times of trouble.

Stop with the empty backfields and the three wides, four if you split out the tight end like Marcus Satterfield has been doing since ECU. Bring Colin Thompson, who blocks like a really good offensive lineman, in for max protect and to flare out for easy peezy outlet passes. (If you don’t know what those are, see Chester Stewart to Evan Rodriguez, Maryland game, 2011.) Use plenty of play-action, sticking the ball into Jahad’s belly and pulling it out, to bring the linebackers and safeties up in run support and give the receivers a better chance to get open. ROLL P.J. OUT AWAY FROM THE RUSH, where he’s made some of his best throws this season.

Tommy Tuberville is a damn good coach. Here’s an easy prediction to make: Every time Temple goes into an empty backfield, Tuberville will send more rushers than Temple can block and the end result will not be pretty. So maybe the Owls should never show the empty backfield look. Tuberville has Temple film. He’s salivating at the prospect of sending his best linebacker, ironically named Nick Temple, through the A gap, for sacks and tipped balls. Every time Temple goes “dog stare” into an empty backfield, Tuberville knows what defense to call.

Yes, P.J. Walker has to stop throwing interceptions but Rhule—not Satterfield, since he’s the CEO—has to at least give him more help. There’s no Robbie Anderson anymore and Temple cannot be running the same Robbie Anderson offense, especially in these last two most important games of the season.

It hasn’t worked for 10 games and that should be more than enough of a sample to dictate real change.

Two Weeks to Get Something (Different) Done

This is what Temple fans have been seeing all year, no separation between the wr (left) and the corner.

This is what Temple fans have been seeing all year, no separation between the wr (left) and the defender.

When it comes to people saying intelligent things, it’s hard to beat what Albert Einstein once said about the definition of insanity being doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.

If Temple loses out, and I think the chances of that happening are about even right now, that quote will be the story of the season—at least on the offensive side of the ball. For 10 games, the Owls have gotten no wide receiver separation and no quarterback protection from their three- and four-wide receiver sets, yet go through the “process” of sticking with those ill-advised formations in the hopes the process eventually clicks. Newflash: It’s not going to click.

In this photo, the left side of the Owl line is doing a good job blocking, but things break down on the right for P.J. when one guy cannot hold his block. Why not establish the run first to the left, then give P.J. time to throw with play action? Mystifying.

In this photo, the left side of the Owl line is doing a good job blocking, but things break down on the right for P.J. when one guy cannot hold his block. Why not establish the run first to the left, then give P.J. time to throw with play action? Mystifying. P.J. has no time and is sacked by No. 91.

After 10 games of futility, I do not see this process leading to different results. Two weeks to try something different. Max protect for a beleaguered—yet very talented—quarterback and give him some time to throw down the field. Establish at least a semblance of running. Throw off play action to give the receivers a chance at separation. Make some of the LBs and safeties come up to support the run and then dump the ball over their heads to for big run-after-catch opportunities.

Almost two weeks to get something done. Something different, not more insanity in Games 11 and 12 that we saw in 1-10.

Albert Einstein would no doubt approve.

In this photo, Temple rushes so few players against Hackenburg, 6 PSU blockers can occupy 3 Temple rushers. Ugh. Must be part of the "process." The passive approach on defense opened up the "A" gap for No. 22 and he has a big gain on this play.

In this photo, Temple rushes so few players against Hackenburg, 6 PSU blockers can occupy 3 Temple rushers. Ugh. Must be part of the “process.” The passive approach on defense opened up the “A” gap for No. 22 and he has a big gain on this play.

Crashing and burning in State College

Rushing only three much of the game, the Owls made Christian Hackenberg a lot more comfortable than he should have been.

Rushing only three much of the game, the Owls made Christian Hackenberg a lot more comfortable than he should have been.

Plenty of lesser talented Temple teams have walked into Beaver Stadium against infinitely more talented Penn State teams and walked away with better results than this once-winning Owl team did on Saturday.

What happened was a complete and utter disgrace. Quite frankly, with Penn State at an ebb in its program and Temple coming in with more scholarship depth due to sanctions, this was Temple’s only chance to beat Penn State, maybe for the next 73 years as well.



Name Change:
Nate should go down to City Hall
tomorrow and legally change his name
to Anyone L. Else. That way, the next
time Rhule says, “I don’t have anyone else”
the Stepfords can ask him if Else was injured

Temple simply doesn’t recruit on that level and, at least with this staff, certainly are not going to out-coach James Franklin. We can only hope he moves onto the Potato Skins, or whatever the Washington NFL team is called in a few seasons.

With talent removed from the equation, there can only be one logical conclusion to make: those other Temple teams were simply better-coached than this one is, for just a few reasons we’ll list here:

The Mr. Haney Offense

haney

When you go on the cheap to hire a hick offensive coordinator from Hooterville, like this one is, you get what you pay for. Temple rolls out the 3- and 4- wide receiver formations Marcus Satterfield won all those national championships at Tennessee-Chattanooga with (oh wait, he didn’t win any; never mind) every week and wonders why it struggles to move the ball every week. On offense, what the Owls have are a lot of really good players with unique skills who are not being put in the best position to win. Temple should not be struggling to score points in the AAC. The Owls have two potentially great blocking fullbacks in Kenny Harper and Marc Tyson, but they rarely use them that way. Temple has a potentially great tailback in Jahad Thomas, but they rarely use a fullback block at the point of attack to spring him for big gains. Temple has a potentially great tight end in Colin Thompson (a five-star transfer from Florida) and rarely throws him the ball. Temple has at least two offensive linemen who will be playing in the NFL on Sundays — tackle Dion Dawkins and center Kyle Friend — and rarely use those two with Thompson and Tyson running interference on toss sweeps to Thomas that could open up that entire offensive arsenal.

Speaking of that arsenal, Temple has a change-of-pace tailback who runs the ball well in space in Jamie Gilmore, but — you guessed it — they rarely use him that way. Hawaii transfer Keith Kirkwood (his OC called him Kirkland on a radio interview), John Christopher and Romond Deloatch — guys with magnets for hands — are rarely thrown to but instead target too many guys who do drop balls. The Owls have an extremely talented rollout quarterback, P.J. Walker, who they try to make a dropback passer far too much.

This offense is a cluster-bleep of trying to fit perfectly good square pegs into imperfect round holes.

With this talent and more traditional two-back and I-formations with plenty of play-action, Temple is as formidable on offense as it has been on defense this year.

Maybe more.

What Have You Done With All That Practice Money?

eo

Last year, Temple built a $10 million addition to Edberg-Olson Hall, which cost $7 million to build in the first place. Yet the team jumps so much on offense (and three offsides on defense) that you’ve got to assume that happens in practice, too. If so, should not practice be stopped and have the team do the play right 15 straight times before they move on, like Mike Pettine Sr. used to do with CB West? You’d be amazed how much peer pressure causes mistakes like that cease and it does carry over into games. Do we practice the throat slash? If so, why don’t we practice doing it behind our own bench instead of in front of the officials?

The Passive Aggressive Defense

snowbird

If Temple should have learned anything from Northwestern’s 29-6 win over Penn State, it was that head coach Pat Fitzgerald made Christian Hackenberg very uncomfortable by going out of his base 4-3 defense into a 5-2 for that game. Fitzgerald had the Wildcats hit Hackenberg so much, that he would throw the ball up just by hearing footsteps. Temple outsmarted itself by “mixing it up” and that only mixed up its own defense. The Owls often rushed only three and made Hackenberg way more comfortable than he should have been. Put three-time Pennsylvania large school state wrestling champion Averee Robinson over the center as a 5-2 nose guard and make Matt Iaonnidis and Hershey Walton the right- and left tackles with Sharif Finch and Praise Martin-Oguike at the ends (on running downs sub in Brandon Chudoff). Watch Robinson blow up the center and free those other guys to get in Hackenberg’s face. When you have two LBs like Nate D. Smith and Tyler Matakevich, you can play the 5-2. Temple’s strength on defense is its deep, physical and athletic defensive line. By rushing three, Temple was doing Penn State a favor and not playing to Temple’s own strength.  It should not be surprising for someone who allowed 44 points a game and 38 points a game in two of his last three seasons before being hired at Temple. If you are going to be flexible on defense, be flexible to be aggressive, not flexible to be passive. That’s Temple weak, not Temple TUFF.

Not-So-Special Teams

Nate L. Smith

Should officially change his name to “Anyone L. Else.”

When asked if John Christopher was returning punts against PSU in the pre-game presser, Rhule said: “I don’t have anyone else, to be quite honest with you.”  Of course, the group of reporters who meet the coach every Tuesday–Matt Rhule Pravda, I’ll call them–never thought to follow up on the question. Hmm. Nate L. Smith, who led the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in punt return yardage and touchdowns via punt return in 2011, returned Temple’s last punt against Memphis for 30 yards. Since Nate L. Smith played against PSU, we can assume he wasn’t injured. Nate should go down to City Hall tomorrow and legally change his name to Anyone L. Else. That way, the next time Rhule says, “I don’t have anyone else” the Stepfords can ask him if Else was injured.  Putting Smith back there gives Temple a chance to score or at least significantly change field position on every punt. When you are struggling on offense, you need to maximize opportunities to move the ball any way you can. Matt Rhule does have someone else, to be quite honest with you. Temple has given up on the punt return as an offensive weapon. That’s Temple weak, not Temple TUFF.

Par for the course and a just a few reasons why a season that started so promising is now headed for what could be a Hindenburg-like crash and burn.

Hell, Might as Well Use Him at WR, Too:

Friday: Transitive Property Says PSU, Matchups Say Temple

Pretty pedestrian stuff this week, except Matt’s answer when someone asked him if John Christopher was returning punts (16:05 time stamp): “I really have nobody else right now, to be honest with you.” I guess he forgot Nate L. Smith’s terrific return on the last punt of the Memphis game.

Years of watching and trying to predict outcomes of Temple football (and other NCAA) games have taught me two things:

Stay away from Transitive Property as the sole tool. TP is the theory that if Team A beat Team B and Team C beat Team A than Team C Will Beat Team B as well.

Look at matchups first.

We’ve detailed a couple of reasons why we’re picking Temple to beat Penn State all this week and none reference Transitive Property. I think Temple will win because Temple’s defensive line should disrupt Christian Hackenberg enough to cause at least one game-changing sack and fumble and at least one game-changing pick. Two of each or more would be nice, but I’m not greedy.

OC Marcus Satterfield looks down after Matt Rhule gives him the offensive game plan (fullback, tailback, plenty of play-action, no 3  wides) that he got from the Bernard Pierce and Al Golden days at TU. Rhule looks upbeat.

On Our Way: OC Marcus Satterfield looks down after Matt Rhule gives him the offensive game plan (fullback, tailback, plenty of play-action, no 3 wides) that he got from the Bernard Pierce and Al Golden days at TU. Rhule looks upbeat.

That’s a matchup working in Temple’s favor.

Another is that Penn State’s extremely disciplined defense runs into trouble against dual threat quarterbacks like P.J. Walker and I think Walker is a gamer and a winner who will turn enough third and eights into first and 10s with his feet. Hackenberg, on the other hand, is not capable of that. P.J. is also capable of scrambling around and finding sure-handed guys like Romond Deloatch and Keith Kirkwood on busted plays, assuming the Temple coaches are sure-headed enough to have those two targets in the game. If Hackenberg ran around on similar-type plays, chances are better than even Sharif Finch or Praise Martin-Oguike would have caught up to him.

That’s another matchup working in Temple’s favor.

Good thing because Transitive Property, at least in head-to-head matchups, does not favor the Owls. UCF beat Temple, 34-14, and Penn State beat UCF, 26-24.

On the other hand, Penn State “only” beat Akron, 21-3, and I’ve got to believe Temple is at least 19 points better than a team that has lost four-straight MAC games, including a 55-24 loss at old rival Buffalo.  Penn State lost to a Maryland team that struggled to a 24-17 win at South Florida, which “only” beat Uconn, 17-14. (Temple beat Uconn, 36-10.) Penn State lost to Northwestern, 29-6, a week after Northwestern lost to old Temple rival NIU, 23-15.

Of course, that’s why the game is played on the field and not on paper and that, thankfully, is only a few hours away.

Throwback Thursday: Rivalry Once

bruceandanthony

Bruce Arians with one of the greatest free safeties (and punt returners) in Temple history, Anthony Young. Remember when Temple used to return punts?

When Bruce Arians was at Temple and not Tempe like he is now, he used to tell a story about how Mississippi State and Mississippi—even though they were the two large in-state schools–were never rivals. Mississippi State got close a lot of times, but never could get quite over that elusive hump.
“Then one year when I was there  (at Mississippi State) we beat them and it became a rivalry,” Arians said.

Proof in black and white that the teams were rivals once.

Proof in black and white that the teams were rivals once.

Arians’ point was made. To forge a rivalry, you’ve got to win once in awhile.
Penn State vs. Temple is not a rivalry anymore, but it once was as shown in this headline (inset) after the win in 1941. Both schools are large state-related schools, one in the middle of the state, one in the state’s largest city. The only reason why the rivalry did not continue is that Temple went on the cheap in trying to hire head coaches after Pop Warner. Only when it hired a big-name coach (Wayne Hardin) did the Owls have a sustained 13-year period of success.
Arians was on his way at Temple until the school fired him and he got close to beating Penn State but, like Mississippi State before Arians became an assistant  there, could never quite get over the hump.
In his first press conference, some wiseguy reporter asked him, “Why does Temple even play football?” Arians shot back, “to beat Penn State.” It was a great answer and Mitten Hall, the site of that first presser, erupted into loud applause.



“Why does Temple
even play football?
To beat Penn State.”
_ Bruce Arians

That was one of the goals Bruce set forth when he took the job at Temple. He felt the fastest way to put Temple on the map was to beat Penn State, become rivals, then have a sales pitch for recruits. With under-recruited players, Arians almost did that a couple of times. His first game against Penn State was a 23-18 loss. In another, Paul Palmer rushed for 206 yards in a 25-22 loss.
He never quite got there, but no doubt Arians—still a Temple fan to this day and friends with many of his ex-Temple players, like Palmer, Kevin Jones and Sheldon Morris—will be sending congratulatory texts their way if Temple is able to pull off the upset on Saturday.

Hmm. Daz checking in?

Hmm. Daz checking in?

Last year, in a press conference after the win over the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, a reporter asked Arians if that was his biggest win ever as a head coach. Arians paused and said, “No when I was at Temple, the win over Pitt, which was the first time the school had beaten Pitt in 39 years, that was the my biggest one.”
There is only one bigger one to get at the school and Arians left that for Matt Rhule to grab in a few hours and restart a rivalry that should have never ended.