Fizzy’s Corner: The Houston Win

By Dave “Fizzy” Weinraub

Lot’s of play-action on first down, QB keepers, and mostly pin-point passing kept Houston off-balance.  It was an aggressive Temple football team that immediately took charge against a very good Houston team.  Quickly, the coaching staff found that Houston’s Achilles heel was their missing all-American defensive tackle, Ed Oliver, and Ryquell Armstead went to work amassing 210 yards on 30 rushes, behind outstanding blocking.   Oh, I almost forgot, he scored six touchdowns, too.  Along the way, Ventell Bryant broke the Temple all-time receiving record and now has 2,277 yards.

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Defensively, we contained the explosive Houston offense pretty well.  Blitzes from the get-go, a blocked punt, and an assertive man-to-man pass coverage kept award-winning Houston QB, D’eric King, as much under control as possible.  With 10:22 left in the game, we had a three-touchdown lead and it was time to relax; right?  Not on your life.

In previous weeks, we had great coaching for 30 minutes, last week for 45 minutes, and last night for 50 minutes.  We’re improving.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a marvelous win, one that should get us some top 25 votes.  If we win out, there’s a possibility we could end the season ranked.  (It’s one hell of a long way from when I thought we might not win a game after losing to Buffalo and Villanova.) That’s important because it would mean a good bowl slot against a power-five conference team, giving us tremendous recruiting exposure – instead of playing Sarah Palin University of Nome, Alaska, who’s premier win was against the Ute’s of Saskatchewan.  That bowl game, by the way, is scheduled to take place in Philadelphia, Mississippi, near the Choctaw Ridge. (Y’all remember Billy McAllister?)

So there are ten minutes left against Houston and we’re up 21 points.  On offense, there’s a dilemma.  Do we run the ball and the clock, or do we maintain our aggressive play calling and do some play-action on first down?  Well, we did throw some, but it was our run calls that got too conservative. They were mostly just straight down Broad Street, and then we’re giving the ball right back to Houston.

But it’s the defense I totally didn’t understand.  Why in the world were we still playing man-to-man pass coverage?  Our pass defenders were dog tired, and we lost one of our best to a dubious targeting call.  (The penalties mostly evened out, though.) In that situation, we should be rushing four, and playing various protective zones with the other seven guys, and there should always be a deep safety, last resort guy.  Instead, we got beat for two cheap touchdowns on thirty-some yard passes.  They should have been held to short-yardage gains which would have exhausted the clock.

Three other things as I nit-pick.  We still cover three wide-outs with two pass defenders and a half of a linebacker who cheats that way.  If I was throwing against that alignment, I’d go down the field with ten-yard passes.  (Don’t let South Florida see this write-up.)  Our coverage on the on-side kick was terrible, and we wasted time-outs on a field goal, punt, and kick-off.  (I’m so glad we didn’t need them.)

However, we’re 6 – 4, with a chance to go 8 -4.  The growth of this team has been remarkable and noticed by everyone connected to college football.  Tally-Ho!

Thursday: USF Kryptonite 

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The path is clear to nine wins

armsteadcherry

Walking around like a Zombie at the season-ticket holder party back in August, one of the Temple players make a 40-yard beeline for me, shook my hand, and said: “Hey, thanks for coming.”

Chapelle Russell might or might not have known who I was (kind of doubt it), but I had to get something off my chest and he was the first Temple player I could talk to at the time.

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“I can’t believe how many people are saying on social media that this is a six-win team,” I told him. “This is at least a nine-win team. At least.”

“We know it,” Russell said.

Now the path is clear to nine wins, even though this is an awfully strange way of getting there. (I figured they would split the Power 5 games, lose at Houston and UCF and win the rest.)

After beating Houston, 59-49, on Saturday night, the path to a nine-win season is as wide open as the holes the young offensive line was making for Ryquell Armstead. Beat reeling USF on Saturday, then beat putrid UConn on the final day of the regular season and then beat somebody like Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl or give some SEC team a seventh loss in the Birmingham Bowl.

I doubt the Owls go back to Florida again because they’ve been there and done that. Because of their TV market, I would love to see them get a chance at a Penn State-type in another bowl if the AAC can sell Temple as an at-large team in for an open spot in a more high-profile bowl (a long shot, I admit).

Whatever, we know they are going to a bowl now and it’s up to them how good the bowl will be.

The only way to get there is to continue doing what they’ve done so far since Anthony Russo has taken over as the quarterback–try to go 1-0 every week. In the USF week, the Owls can’t worry about the eighth or ninth win, they just have to try to get the seventh.

Then on to the eighth and so forth.

They rode Ryquell Armstead’s 29-carry, six-touchdown, 210-yard performance to a win at Houston and might have learned a valuable lesson against these spread teams. Run the ball, shorten the game by chewing up gobs of clock and using that success to make some plays in the play-action game.  Houston was the first time the Owls even tried to do that since the Maryland game.

Now, with Armstead’s performance, the Owls have the all-time record holder for single rushing touchdowns in an AAC game and Montel Harris’ seven touchdowns in a 63-32 win at Army represented the most rushing touchdowns for any Big East team when the Owls were in that league.

They should feed the beast right up until that ninth win.

Tuesday: Fizzy’s Corner

Thursday: USF Kryptonite (hint: it’s not the weather)

Saturday: Picks

Sunday: Game Analysis

TU-Houston: Making History?

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Temple Houston was the name of a fairly underrated short-lived TV series in the 1960s. Temple Houston, played by the actor Jeffrey Hunter, was the real-life son of Texas founder Sam Houston and a successful 19th Century lawyer.

Temple versus Houston is also a short-lived football series, so one-sided that most sets are turned off by halftime in a lot of the games.

Maybe that will change by Saturday night.

A regular football season usually consists of 12 games, a lucky 13th if your school is listed in the upper 2/3ds of 130 teams.

Rarely does a single game, even a bowl one, offer an opportunity to do something that has never been done before but that’s the chance in front of Temple’s football team on Saturday (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network).

Beat Houston.

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Since Temple began playing intercollegiate football in 1888 (four years after its founding in 1884), the Owls have never beaten Houston.

They were the victim of an incredibly bad interference call on an interception by Mike Jones that might have given them that victory last year but that was then and this is now.

They’ve only had six chances but you’ve got to figure that the odds of winning one will eventually go their way.

Vegas certainly doesn’t, as the oddsmakers set the line at 4.5 on Monday. By Tuesday, some Temple money drove the line down to 4 but now it has settled back to the original 4.5.

cherryhelmets

Owls are unbeaten in Cherry helmets this year and 20-7 with them over the last three. This is the helmet of choice for Houston Saturday night.

Fortunately, the game is not played in Vegas and the Temple kids have a chance to prove the experts wrong and do something that has never been done.

The Owls have more than a puncher’s chance. By comparative scores, they are more impressive than Houston except for one game. Three weeks ago, they beat Cincinnati, 24-17, and the week after that Cincy went down to SMU and won. Houston, on the other hand, wasn’t able to what Cincy did last week at SMU and lost 45-31. Temple beat East Carolina, 49-6, while Houston also beat East Carolina, 46-20. Temple beat Tulsa, 31-17, while Houston also beat Tulsa, 41-26 and both teams also won at Navy (the lone time Houston’s score against a Temple opponent was more impressive).

So, at least from a comparative score standpoint, the numbers indicate there is not that much to chose between the teams. As anyone who knows football can tell you, every game is different and that’s why Saturday night is a relative toss-up.

The game is at Houston, that’s one thing in the Cougars’ favor. So is history unless the Owls are fired up enough to make some history of their own.

In a season where this team has not separated itself from any great prior Temple team, this is the legacy the TU kids can establish if they can tackle just a little better than they did last week in Orlando.

Sunday: Game Analysis

Dark Side Is a Matter of Perception

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Did the Purple People Eaters ever give up 52 points in a single game?

How about the Monsters of the Midway?

Or The Steel Curtain, Killer B’s, Orange Crush or Fearsome Foursome?

No, no, no, and no.

Yet Temple’s not-so-famous “Darkside Defense” has now given up 52 points and 45 points in two separate games.

It’s getting pretty close to infamous.

Time to hand in that nickname badge at the door unless the team does something spectacular to earn Temple head coach Geoff Collins’ given nickname for his defense, like shutting out a high-powered  Houston squad on Saturday night (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network).

It used to be back in the not-so-olden days that you had to do something to get a unit nickname, like, you know, earn it. The 2011 Temple defense that posted consecutive shutouts under DC Chuck Heater probably deserved a nickname. Based on the body of work so far, this one does not. You can make all of the nice graphics about defensive statistics, but the one that should count the most is points allowed and, in two important games, this defense has come up short.

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Now Collins hands out nicknames like candy and The Dark Side is appropriate only if you were a Temple fan watching the gloom and doom of UCF scoring 24 second-half points on it.

The Owls, who by and large had been a sure-tackling team this season, got no pressure on the quarterback and gave a clinic on bad arm tackling in the second half that should be put on a DVD and sent to every high school coach in America to show kids how not to tackle.

Make no mistake, there is plenty of talent on this defense but there are no sadder words than what might have been. Could you imagine a Temple front four of Karamo Dioubate (6-3, 295) and Quincy Roche (6-4, 235)  at the ends and Freddy Booth-Lloyd (6-1, 330), Dan Archibong (6-6, 285) and Michael Dogbe (6-3, 280) clogging up the middle? Imagine is something you’d have to do because the Owls have rotated in two smaller ends and played High School All-American DE Dioubate out of position as a DT. As a result, they get pushed around too much in the middle and are vulnerable on edge rushes.

It would seem to me that keeping the “good guys” in the game should be a priority going forward. I’d rather have a “gassed” Dioubate, Roche, FBL, Archibong and Dogbe in there than some of the “fresh” other guys, so maybe that’s something the rookie defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker has to take a look at.

Rotation is supposed to be to keep the guys fresh but when the above playmakers are in the game, the Owls are a pretty good defense. They get into trouble when the smaller starters are in to get more easily blocked or the less talented backups. It all starts up front.

That’s part of the reason the points continue to pile up. Another could be a departure from fundamentals.

After a similar poor-tackling game against Pitt in his rookie year, Bruce Arians called a 6 a.m. practice where everyone put on full pads and hit for three hours. “Rookie coaching mistake,” Arians said of the Pitt game. “I let up on them because we had some injuries and we were not nearly physical enough. We hit in practice for enough hours until I was satisfied with their tackling. We really got after it and that was our most physical practice of the season. The kids got the message. People who played us the rest of that year had a lot of bruises and bumps and injuries in the training room the next day.”

Collins loves this team to death, but maybe some tough Arians’ love is in order now.

There is enough quality on this defense to finish out the season strong, but probably not enough quantity. The Owls should ride the quality as long as they can.

Until then, let the nicknames be earned, not given.

Friday: The Houston Side

Sunday: Game Analysis

Now for the Bright Side

Maybe it was being spoiled by the two years BGC (Before Geoff Collins).

Maybe it was the six weeks spent in the Top 25 one year, followed by seven weeks in the Top 25 the next.

As I saw it then, Matt Rhule set up GC pretty well for the next two years. The talent level was going to be Top 25 caliber for awhile and the momentum seemed to be there to keep the ball rolling.


The major difference
between the coaching
transitions at UCF and
Temple was that Josh
Heupel did not change
a thing about the
offensive identity
of his team, while
Collins allowed Patenaude
to completely gut an
offensive identity that
worked just as well
for Temple

In the prism I look through, every year Temple should do exactly what those 2015 and 2016 Temple teams did (either compete in or win the AAC championship game). Temple is the only school in its conference playing football in the exact geographic center of 46 percent of the nation’s population and should, in my mind, be able to recruit enough great football players to dominate a league of teams from places like Hartford, Greenville, Tampa, New Orleans, Orlando and Dallas on that fact alone.

Mix in the fact that Temple is a great university–one-sixth of the nation’s professionals are educated here–in the only World Class City (as named by the International Heritage Foundation) in any college football league, either P5 or G5. Stir another tidbit,  that most “regular” students in all surveys prefer a city environment for college to a rural one for their college experience, and Temple is in a most attractive position for recruiting.

Temple should dominate this league.

Something happened in between and, in my mind, it was abandoning the offensive scheme that these players were recruited to excel under (three-down fullback, two tight ends, establish the run and use play-action fakes for explosive plays in the downfield passing game).

birmingham

Birmingham still remains in play as a possible bowl destination for the Owls

It won’t dominate the league this year because its much-ballyhooed defense on Thursday night couldn’t tackle a drunk fat guy stumbling out of a bar at 2 a.m. It won’t because its offense could score only six in the second half after scoring 34 in the first half and the OC seemed more satisfied with the first half than disappointed with the second one (see video at the top of this post and thanks to Bob for supplying it). It would seem to me that scoring more than six points in the second half against the 91st-ranked rushing defense in the nation should not be all that hard, especially with backs like Ryquell Armstead, Jager Gardner, and Tyliek Raynor. Give those guys a caravan of blockers in the form of H-backs, fullbacks and tight ends in motion and it’s a pretty good bet that the Owls don’t have the red zone problems they suffered from in the second half.

Now you say it’s still mathematically possible for the Owls to win the league but too many difficult things need to happen. First, the Owls have to run the table. That’s the minimum. Second, either Navy, Cincy, and/or USF would have to beat UCF.  Central Florida would have to lose twice. (I could see Cincy beating UCF but not USF or Navy.) Cincy could run the table and have the same loss in the AAC East that Temple has and Temple would be playing in the title game, but that’s not happening.

So what is the bright spot?

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The bright spot is simply this: Even IF the Owls had won the AAC, there is probably no way they would represent the G5 in an NY6 bowl and, if you win the league, you should probably go to an NY6. The Owls forfeited that slot with two brutal opening losses where they were outcoached by a team that started 0-4 in an FCS league. Nobody is going to pick a G5 team with an FCS loss for any New Year’s Six bowls.

So what could happen?

A strong argument could be made that Temple could even lose to Houston and win the next two and still be in the same kind of bowl game with a 7-5 record that it would be with an 8-4 one. Hell, Temple could have probably won the league and not received a better bowl with a 9-3 record that it could with a 7-5 one.

That’s the bright side. The league would probably allow the Owls to pick from the either the Military Bowl (where they could play a beatable ACC team like Syracuse or Virginia Tech) or the Birmingham Bowl (where it could play a 6-6 SEC team) and that would probably be the best bowl matchup for Temple since UCLA in 2009.

And probably a lot warmer in Birmingham than Annapolis.

Next year, we can all get back to looking into that tunnel and demanding that the Owls take their first games as seriously as they are taking the last few and play in the same championship games they did in consecutive years before the current staff got here. The major difference between the coaching transitions at UCF and Temple was that Josh Heupel did not change a thing about the offensive identity of his team, while Collins allowed Patenaude to completely gut an offensive identity that worked just as well for Temple.

That’s the Top 25 baton the Matt Rhule staff handed off to the Geoff Collins’ one and, so far, it’s been dropped twice.

How many times do we have to say “maybe next year” for a return to the Top 25?

Wednesday: The Dark Side

Friday: The Houston Side

Sunday: Game Analysis 

Fizzy’s Corner: Another Blown Chance

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Editor’s Note: Dave “Fizzy” Weinraub, a former Temple player and later a coach, teacher, and writer, offers his thoughts on the UCF game.

 

                                           By Dave (Fizzy) Weinraub

When Peter Pan asked Tinker Bell where they were, she answered, “Why Peter, we’re in Never-Never Land.”

If you came away from the Central Florida (CF) game satisfied we were competitive but didn’t win, shame on you. I’m glad you’re not my coach.  This Temple team has unquestionably established they have top -25 talent, and yet, we now have a 1 & 2 record against ranked teams.  Overall, in woulda, coulda, shoulda land, (that’s the next island over from Never-Never Land) we are 8 & 0.  Unrealistic you say?  Bollocks!

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Against CF, the play calling in the first half was nothing short of spectacular, with lots of play-action on first down, and the fake field goal was something to behold.  Without question, Russo has provided the arm and the leadership we’ve needed for so long.  Time after time, Russo kept a drove alive with his legs and could teach Carson Wentz when and how to slide. Armstead ran healthy for awhile (Let’s not get back into that, because I’ll never forgive Collins.) and we went into half-time with the lead against one of the most explosive offenses in the country.

In the third quarter, however, the strategy seemingly changed and Mr. Hyde once more emerged in the offensive coordinator’s box. We ran the ball on every first down until the last two, (We could have run off the pass like we did in the first half.)  and it looked like the coaches were trying to use the clock to keep the ball away from CF.  In doing so, we gave up the momentum and put Russo in third and have-to pass situations.  This allowed the defense to ratchet up the pressure and force some throws and they got some sacks, and CF regained the lead.  Mr. Mo is a thin-skinned guy.  If he comes to the dance with you and then you give him the cold shoulder, rarely does he come back. I’ve watched teams in every sport start to be conservative and run the clock with the lead. Invariably, that leads to doom, especially when you’re playing a team like CF.  You need every point you can get.

Still, late in the fourth quarter, we could have pulled it out.  But we self-destructed on two motion penalties in succession at the goal line, and then missed the field goal.  How does that happen?  Congratulations to the CF quarterback Milton though, who put the game away with a terrific falling-down throw for the touchdown.  We ended up a day late, and a dollar short. Over the course of this season, we are now four dollars short. Oh, and a few more things.  Three times I watched the pass patterns when we had triple wide-outs on the right.  Each time, all three guys just went straight.  There were no crosses or picks.  Hello?  At first and goal and after a short gain, we came right back to Armstead the second time and got stuffed again.  We ran a trick play in the first half by splitting the offense, and it worked.  Why not another split play, where you do something off the first half play?  Of course, I’ve given up on asking for some misdirection, a reverse, and (gulp), maybe even a “Philly-Philly”.

Now to the defense.

CF’s speed was exceptional, and they killed us with the run.  As we always lined up in the 4-3, they knew just how to block.  The runner would start with a few steps in one direction, before cutting back the other way.  Those initial steps would set up a double team at the designated hole, and the uncovered lineman would come out and pick off a linebacker.  With their speed, “POP,” the runner was into the secondary necessitating difficult open field tackles.

As I’ve asked before, does it take a genius to coach a number of different alignments?  Why can’t we have five down lineman hitting different gaps or even six with someone backing off? Or what about the scheme we used to use where everyone stood up, danced around and hit a designated gap when the ball was snapped?  Anything to confuse the blocking.  Of course, we could blitz the hell out of them and take our chances.  We rarely blitzed and they scored fifty-two points anyway.

Well, you say, what about the horrible officiating?  I’m just getting to that.

I don’t often get into the bad calls since they usually even out.  However, this officiating was a total disgrace and one-sided.  The first was on the pass on CF’s first possession. The receiver clearly had his foot on the line, and one official called it out of bounds. And yet, no official thought to stop for the replay and our head coach didn’t throw his red flag.  They scored on that drive.  After that, they called a bogus holding penalty on us, and overlooked a CF takedown right in front of the referee, on a play which set up a touchdown. They called a ridiculous 15-yard penalty on Armstead after the tackler got halfway up and then came down hard on him again, and another for our receiver spinning the ball after his reception.  In a game like this, you don’t call those chicken-shit penalties.  The last doozie was the interference call at the goal line when there was hardly any contact and our defensive back turned properly and batted the ball down.  I thought the bad calls caused 21 points; either when they stopped our drives or continued theirs.

Summary

And still, we woulda, coulda, shoulda won the game. We have top twenty-five talent, but not top twenty-five coaching.  Our coaches must learn how to win and embrace momentum or we’ll stay in Never-Never Land forever.  If you think CF had a wide-open offense, wait till you see the play calls from Major Applewhite.  (I knew him when he was only a lieutenant.)  He’s taken all the plays we called in pickup two-touch games on the street and put them in his offense.  And South Florida ain’t far behind.

Temple must allow Russo to do his thing for sixty minutes, not thirty or forty-five.  By the time he’s a senior, he’ll be on some magazine covers.  The defense needs to do some different things.

Tomorrow: The Bright Side

Wednesday: The Dark Side

Friday: The Houston Side

Sunday: Game Analysis

Losing at UCF’s Game

At track meets, one of the most entertaining events is the “thrower’s relay” where a group of discus, javelin and shot put throwers show off their running skills on the track.

There are reasons those guys throw the discus, javelin and shot put. They are just as integral to the team’s success as the guys on the track, but that “unofficial” race is always good for laughs because those guys aren’t meant to be there.

Throwers don’t compete against runners and vice versa.

Unless you are counting Temple’s 52-40 loss at UCF.

The game was a winnable one if the Temple of 2015 and 2016 was on the field, forcing the UCF guys to play Temple’s game–run the ball with an elite tailback behind a fullback and chew up each quarter with eight-minute-type scoring drives against the 91st-ranked rushing defense in the nation and limit UCF possessions to a bare minimum.

Instead, Temple’s “throwers” tried to beat UCF’s track guys at their own game and no team in America can get in a track meet with them. Temple, rather than run the clock down to single digits before snapping on each play, snapped the ball in the high 20s almost every down.

updateducf

White helmets made the record 12-12 after UCF

On a night when UCF’s longest scoring drive was 2 minutes, 55 seconds, that’s not a sound game plan.

Temple’s only chance was to use lead blockers for running backs Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner and chew up the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of UCF Heisman Trophy candidate Milton McKenzie.

The 2018 Owls, while setting a school record for total yards, pretty much failed to utilize the one game plan that could have won them the game. The 2016 Owls would probably would have won this game with Armstead following Nick Sharga through the hole and the punishing body blows would have had a cumulative effect later in the game.

There were no body blows because Temple fell into the trap of playing UCF’s game, which is to run a track meet. This time, Armstead got 149 yards on 27 carries while hobbled in an empty backfield, and you’ve got to wonder what he would have done if he had a caravan of blockers (H-backs, fullbacks and tight ends) in addition to offensive linemen. My strong hunch is that this Temple team would have fared much better on the scoreboard playing the 2016 version of Temple TUFF offensive football. That version chewed up clock with running plays, kept the sticks moving with play-action, and helped the defense stay fresh.

This version gave the ball to UCF and way too many snaps to Milton and did not help the Owl defense at all. It was a dark night for the tuckered Darkside Defense.

Statistics pretty much favored Temple except in the area of penalties where the Owls racked up 15 penalties for 149 yards, some undeserved, but most deserved. Matt Rhule would have gone ballistic if the 2016 Ventell Bryant spun the ball after catching it, but Geoff Collins had a few words with Ventell after he drew a 15-yard penalty for it. Ventell did the same thing after catching a touchdown pass in the end zone, but the same refs who saw fit to penalize him the first time overlooked it the second (probably because he did not do it in front of a UCF player).

Don’t know what Temple was thinking when it drew up a game plan to get in a track meet with track athletes but, last night, statistics were for losers. I would trade all of those school records for a reversal of the scoreboard in a heartbeat.

It was a valiant effort against a great team with a lot of nice stats but the only stat that matters is 52-40.

It is the only one that ever does.

Sunday: Fizzy’s Corner

Monday: The Bright Side