Same S*it, Different Saturday

Phil Snow

Phil Snow

If anyone spent some time listening to the AAC coaches conference call on Monday, it’s pretty safe to sum up the Temple game plan against East Carolina in four simple words:

Same S*it, Different Saturday.

That’s because Temple head coach Matt Rhule included in his summary this sentence: “I think we always have to take a step back, catch our breath (and) not listen to anyone on the outside tell us what’s wrong.”
Anyone on the outside …. Temple football should have such problems.

Looks like Kenny Harper will be spending more time  on the sidelines watching scenes like this than being P.J.'s protection as a blocking fullback.

Looks like Kenny Harper will be spending more time on the sidelines watching scenes like this than being P.J.’s protection as a blocking fullback.

Thanks largely to two-straight deflating losses coming off a 2-10 season, there is no “outside” when it comes to Temple football. Despite having three 24-hour sports talk stations, there has not been a single call taken on the air to talk about Temple football this season and probably few ever. Meanwhile, the town dissects every play in every Eagles’ game like it’s a frog in biology class.

The newspapers and internet are not any better. There is no critical coverage of Temple football in the Philadelphia Daily News or Philadelphia Inquirer, no columnist suggesting opinions on why the team was blown out in two-straight games. The coverage is pretty much straight forward game stories and an occasional feature.

The internet sites who follow Temple football, Owlscoop and Owlsdaily, range from being lapdogs for Rhule (Owlscoop) or right down the middle (Owlsdaily). The message boards on both sites seem to clamor for four more years of “patience” even if those four years are all losing ones.



“I think we always have to take
a step back, catch our breath
(and) not listen to anyone on
the outside tell us what’s wrong.”
_ Matt Rhule

Temple football has lapsed into irrelevance in its own city, quickly to be followed by apathy unless something big happens soon like a win over ECU or Penn State—with the emphasis on soon.
“Not to listen to anyone on the outside,” Rhule said.

What outside? There is no “outside” unless he’s talking about this site. If he is, we can assume Temple will be doing the same things this weekend that got it blown out in the last two.
So, as a favor to the fans who cannot bear to watch this train wreck anymore and are skipping the ECU game, we will give you a few of the offensive highlights now:

• Temple will give a half-hearted attempt to establish the run game with Jahad Thomas in the pistol behind P.J. Walker. When he gains one and two yards on his first two carries, it will abandon the run game and blame the blockers. “We have to do a better job blocking,” Rhule will say. “I will talk to them on Monday about it.” Nobody will remind Rhule he said the same thing after the prior two games.

• Temple will throw no less than five (5) two-yard passes on third-and-eight to a slow possession receiver, hoping he can break five tackles before getting to the sticks. None of them will work.

• Temple will not attempt a single toss sweep with Jahad Thomas running behind dynamic blockers in fullback Kenny Harper and tight end Colin Thompson. “I suggested to Marcus that was something we tried and worked to the tune of 268 yards and two touchdowns for Bernard Pierce behind Wyatt Benson and Steve Manieri at Navy,” Rhule would say after the game. “Marcus told me he never ran those kind of plays at Tennessee-Chattanooga and he’s not comfortable calling them and we left it at that.”

• Temple will line up three wides most of the time, but ECU will pick up all three in its nickel package and P.J. Walker will have no blocking back to protect him and one-half second to pick from three well-covered receivers. “P.J. is just going to have to thread the needle better,” Rhule will say afterward.

• The best blocking fullback in the AAC, Kenny Harper, will spend most of the day on the sidelines Saturday, waving a towel and cheering his teammates on as a backup tailback. “I thought Kenny showed great leadership on the sidelines,” Rhule will say afterward. “Even when it got to be 70-21, he was waving that towel higher than ever.”

  • Lincoln Financial Field security will mistake Temple defensive coordinator Phil Snow for a homeless man and attempt to remove him from the sidelines before Temple coaches intervene. Meanwhile, the Temple coaches will miss an ECU touchdown.

• Temple will fair catch five punts and start all of its possessions from inside the 20 because Rhule forgets that Temple once had dynamic tackle-avoiding and ankle-breaking punt returners like Delano Green who made that an offensive play.

Yes, keep doing what you are doing. That sounds like a plan. Not a good one, but a plan nonetheless.

Not P.J.’s Fault

All you have to do to determine the problem with the Temple offense is look at the last 43 incompletions P.J. Walker has thrown.

I have just finished watching them and there has been exactly one (1) Temple receiver open in the last 43 pass attempts that P.J. has missed. Granted, that was a bad overthrow but all of the other throws were tightly-contested ones with Temple’s receivers getting no separation. There is nobody open an alarming number of times in this ill-conceived offense. Nobody.

Would I pull a talented young quarterback for missing one pass?

No. This monstrosity is definitely not his fault.

Would I pull the scheme that created this mess?

Yes.



“We have to go back and look at
everything we’re doing ….”
_ Matt Rhule, Inquirer, Oct. 26, 2014

Really, you could see this train wreck coming three weeks ago in the Tulsa game. Tulsa is a terrible team and Temple’s receivers could get very little separation on even that porous defensive backfield. Walker had to thread the needle before getting pounded on a blitz to Jalen Fitzpatrick for a big touchdown in that one.

The problem is a solvable one and it’s a formula that has been outlined here before. Two backs, with Kenny Harper as a fullback leading the way for Jahad Thomas. The offensive line has not been blocking well but both tight end Colin Thompson and Harper are accomplished and effective blockers—even Rhule has said that—so sweeps to that side of the field probably would work a whole lot better than the head-scratching plays Temple is calling now.

Running Thomas behind Harper is like giving Thomas an extra pulling guard and, Lord knows, this offensive line could use that. Create shorter down-and-distance situations for Walker and have him throw when there is a tangible threat of a run. That way, Walker fakes to Thomas, freezes the linebackers and safeties, and opens those closed passing windows for guys like Fitzpatrick, John Christopher, Romond Deloatch, Keith Kirkwood and Thompson. More play-action and rolling the pocket could not hurt.

That’s the only way this Temple offense would ever work and it would be nice to see it at least tried before this season, like last one, goes right down the tubes.

TU-UCF: Too Many Ifs and Buts

If Temple rolls the pocket and throws off play action, it will win. If it keeps asking P.J. to throw into tight windows, it will lose. Simple as that.

If Temple rolls the pocket and throws off play action, it will win. If it keeps asking P.J. to throw into tight windows, it will lose. Simple as that.

In one of my several side jobs, I write prediction stories for Rantsports.com on college football.

This week, I got a call from my editor asking for a prediction story for the UCF-Temple game.

“Can’t do it,” I said. “Too many ifs and buts.”

I took the Rutgers-Nebraska, Marshall-FAU and Penn State-Ohio State assignments instead.

CBS Sports Network is on Channel 854 Comcast.

CBS Sports Network is on Channel 854 Comcast.

If I had a better feel for Temple’s approach to the game, this would be an easy assignment. For example, the first play of the Houston game, I thought would be a perfect time for the reverse Jalen Fitzpatrick pass to Robbie, err, Keith Kirkwood. Hit Houston before it had a chance to get settled. Houston doesn’t know Temple’s top wide receiver was a Big 33 quarterback. There’s no law limiting trick plays to one a game, let alone one a year. Heck, Bruce Arians can tell you they work multiple times in a game. Two trick  plays—flea-flickers from Matty Baker to Mike Palys—both resulted in touchdowns for the Owls in a 45-28 win over Boston College in the 1988 season. They do work if you have the gonads to call them. Arians had the gonads.

To me, this is a game Temple can either a) win by blowout; b) win close; c) lose by blowout d) lose close.

That pretty much covers all the bases and why I would stay away from this game if I was a betting man.

  1. Win by blowout: Temple beat a Uconn team, 36-10, that Tulane could only beat 12-3 (7-3 for much of the game). Tulane hung with UCF most of the way in a 20-13 loss.
  2. Lose by blowout: Temple looked pretty clueless on offense in a 31-10 loss to Houston. UCF beat Houston, 17-12.
  3. Win close: If Temple can hang with Penn State Nov. 15 (and I think this year’s version of the Owls can), it can steal a win at the end of the game with UCF on a field goal just like Penn State did. How delicious would it be if freshman kicker Austin Jones, from Orlando, kicks the game-winning field goal in a stadium where he’s kicked many times? I’ll take it, though I’d prefer scenario No. 1.
  4. Lose close: With P.J. Walker being asked to throw into so many tight windows, that is the most likely path to not getting the most out of this talented kid’s ability. Hopefully, the Temple coaches will finally devise a system where he’s throwing most of his passes out of play-action and others on the roll, forcing LBs and safeties to honor the threat of the run and opening those passing windows. I really think the Temple coaches believe in “the process” and the only process I’ve seen so far is a lot of passes that call for P.J. to thread the needle. Not a good process.

Related:

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2014/10/23/predicting-the-final-score-of-florida-atlantic-vs-marshall/

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2014/10/23/predicting-the-final-score-of-rutgers-vs-nebraska/

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2014/10/21/predicting-the-final-score-of-ohio-state-vs-penn-state/

Words of Wisdom

If you do not have time to watch, just advance to the 28-minute mark for some words of wisdom.

Part of the King James Bible, loosely defined, is credited for the phrase “out of the mouths of babes come words of wisdom.”
That phrase rang true for me while watching the latest version of Matt Rhule Weekly on Temple TV above.
Two young men—not exactly babes, but at least young–who work for the TV station, Zack Gelb and Chase Senior, showed an understanding of the Temple personnel that coaches twice their age who are 18 for 77 in third-down situations and 3 for 23 in their last 26 do not seem to understand.



People wonder why Temple is 18 for 77
and 3 for 23 on third down and the answer
is pretty obvious to everyone but the guys
presiding over the 18 for 77 and 3 for 23

“They have to show more commitment to the running game, particularly in the red zone,” Gelb said.
“Once Temple gets into the red zone, they get a little too cute with the play-calling,” Senior said. “Yesterday, you said you’d love to see Kenny Harper and Colin Thompson in the I formation and just pound the rock in the end zone. How about an I formation with Colin Thompson and Kenny Harper where Thompson runs it out into the flat and P.J. Walker can just dump it to him?”

Or why not Jahad Thomas behind Kenny Harper AND Colin Thompson?

People wonder why Temple is 18 for 77 and 3 for 23 on third down and the answer is pretty obvious to everyone but the guys presiding over the 18 for 77 and 3 for 23.

The solution is right in front of their eyes, heck even on their own Temple TV station, but they could be too stubborn to implement it. Good job by Gelb and Senior breaking it down this week.

Other Schools Are Getting the Job Done

Under this offense, P.J. is often faced with impossible down and distance situations. The fix is an easy one.

Under this offense, P.J. is often faced with impossible down and distance situations. The fix is an easy one.

Watching Temple implode like I have so many other times over the past two years, one over-riding thought occurred to me: How do the University of Texas at Freaking San Antonio and Western Freaking Kentucky do what Freaking Temple is not able to do?

Both schools beat teams Temple lost to with arguably far lesser talent than Temple. (Actually, it’s not arguable.) UTFSA beat Houston, 27-7, while Western Kentucky beat Navy for the second year in a row, 36-27 (19-6 last year).

Matt Rhule should have been on the phone with Bobby Petrino before Temple’s loss to Navy and he probably should have been on the phone with Larry Coker before the Houston game but, instead, he is enamored with “the process” and “having the kids trust us.”

One of the few Temple highlights was this hit.

One of the few Temple highlights was this hit.

When Western Kentucky’s  process and Texas-San Antonio’s process is better than your process, you need another process.

UTSA used a two-back approach and pounded Houston inside with quick-hitters led by a blocking fullback. When Houston adjusted by bunching the linebackers and the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, UTSA quarterback Eric Sosa faked the ball into the belly of his halfback, got a protecting block from his fullback, and found receivers running free through the Houston secondary.

It’s football, not rocket science.



It is apparent to anyone outside “the process”
that Temple’s best chance to win
is to go two backs, pound the ball
with Jahad Thomas behind kick-out blocks
around the perimeter from guys like
fullback Kenny Harper and tight end Colin Thompson
to create short down-and-distance situations
for P.J. Walker. Once that happens, Walker
can fake the ball into the belly of Thomas
and find Temple receivers running so free
through the secondary that he will not
know which one to pick out

Petrino’s process against Navy in a 19-6 win a year ago was using a fullback to get kick-out blocks for his speedy tailback, Antonio Andrews, and Andrews beat Navy outside to the tune of 180 yards. Geez, I wonder if Temple has a speedy tailback and a fullback who can block? The answer is yes in Jahad Thomas and Kenny Harper.  On defense, against Navy, Petrino eliminated Navy’s 2 on 1 and 3 on 2 advantages in the option by blitzing a safety from the blindside, often catching Navy in backfield losses before the Mids could even pitch the ball.

It is apparent to anyone outside “the process” that Temple’s best chance to win is to go two backs, pound the ball with Jahad Thomas behind kick-out blocks around the perimeter from guys like fullback Kenny Harper and tight end Colin Thompson to create short down-and-distance situations for P.J. Walker. Once that happens, Walker can fake the ball into the belly of Thomas and find Temple receivers running so free through the secondary that he will not know which one to pick out. Thomas might not remind me of Bernard Pierce–who had Wyatt Benson as his lead blocker–but he certainly reminds me of Todd McNair, who had Shelley Poole as his lead blocker. Harper is just as good a blocker as Poole was and Poole was great. Temple has not learned to gear its offense to the talent of its players; instead, the Owls force feed this offense on ill-fitting parts.

Under “the process” Walker often drops back to pass, has no time and is forced to throw into incredibly tight windows. Is it surprising that there are so many interceptions and sacks? Not to me.

Temple’s defense allowed Navy to attack the perimeter at will with basketball-fast-break-like 3-2, 2-1 advantages. What Petrino, now at Louisville, had figured out, the, err, braintrust at Temple is slow on the uptake.

Don’t even get me started on Rhule calling a time out with six seconds left in the quarter and 14 seconds left on the play clock.

Must be part of the process.

Temple Football: The Whole World is Watching

gameday

The Sports Bar has taken on a new meaning in American culture, particularly in the past 20 years.

Walk into any one and there are a number of games in different sport on at any time.

Tonight, because of a perfect storm, most of the TVs in every sports bar in America—and some non-sports ones—will be tuned into the Temple football game and I can think of no better time to establish the Temple football brand as a tough and exciting one across the nation than tonight.

For all of the evidence you need, just fast-forward the “guide” section of your TV listings to 9 p.m. tonight. Hit “sports” and this is what shows up:

Women’s World Cup Soccer Qualifying Pre-game Show. Err, no.

PGA Tour Golf. Hey, it’s night time. Who can see what’s happening?

Winchester Legends. Bob heads south of the border to Sonora, Mexico to see Desert Big Horn Sheep. Rather watch sheep watching grass grow than that.

Temple vs. Houston. ESPNU, 9 p.m. Channel 853, Comcast, ESPNU.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

For a Temple fan who has had to beg, plead and endure laughter for many years walking into sports bars all across America while asking for the Temple football game to be put on one TV, this is like dying and going to Heaven—without the dying part.

Now is the best time to change people’s long-held perceptions and misconceptions about Temple football. Let’s hope the ‘][‘ travels well tonight.