Buyer’s market: Don’t forget the kicker

If Rod Carey didn’t know Cristian Zendejas’ name, he does now.

Especially if he reads his own twitter feed. Several fans, from Temple and elsewhere (including this one), sent Carey the above video of Zendejas, the son of former Philadelphia Eagles’ kicker Luis Zendejas.

It would take the Zendejas Story full circle as one of the great stories of Philadelphia sports folklore had Luis in the middle in the infamous Bounty Bowl between the Eagles and the Cowboys.

It’s now up to Carey to pull the trigger and offer a scholarship.

Yeah, we know kickers usually don’t get a full schollie but Carey should make an exception in this case.

Temple hasn’t had a reliable long-distance placekicker since the days of Austin Jones and Aaron Boumerhi. Guess what Temple did in those days? Win the AAC East both years and the overall AAC when Boomer stepped in to replace Jones after he was injured on a kickoff in the Memphis game.

Luis (left) and Cristian Zendejas

Was Boomer the reason Temple won the championship? You could make an argument that P.J. Walker, Nick Sharga, Jahad Thomas or Robby Anderson were more important on the point-scoring side of the ball but there’s no doubt in my mind had one of the post-Matt Rhule kickers taken over for Jones, the Owls would have not won the championship.

Boomer saved the Owls’ bacon (or whatever Owls eat).

In typical Carey fashion, though, he let Boomer go because Boomer had an injury. Boom went to BC and had a decent finish to his career.

Zendejas, who is still uncommitted as of 12:23 a.m. this morning, would give the Owls a reliable long-distance kicker and, in an era where a lot of games are decided by three or less points, he could be the difference between a winning and losing season. The fact that a guy with this kind of leg hasn’t been scooped up yet indicates he might be willing to go to the first school who shows him love. It’s also an illustration of what a buyer’s market this year’s portal is due to the extra year of eligibility given to all of the seniors in college football.

In this buyer’s market, given Temple’s needs and Zendejas’ stated wants and skills, it’s a perfect match.

Giving Cristian a scholarship would be a clear signal to Temple fans that Carey is starting to get serious about fixing Temple’s atrocious special teams. Going with the status quo is courting another year of disaster in that area.

Let’s hope his dad doesn’t hold a grudge against Philadelphia.

Monday: Fair Weather or All Weather

Season ticket deadline: Why the rush?

It would be nice to see these kind of crowds back but nothing is guaranteed for 2021.

The plan as rolled out by the Temple football season ticket office was to set a deadline for Feb. 26.

I let it slide.

I don’t think I’m the only one.

Looking at it from a sheer marketing perspective, the product they are trying to sell is just not a good one right now.

Hmm.

Do I want to sit in a seat and watch another 1-6 (or 2-5) start and suffer like I did from 1991-2008?

No.

Been there, done that.

Hell, I might wait until after the Rutgers’ game and re-up. Beat Rutgers and I am all in and that bar would have been a very low one as recently as two years ago.

Furthermore, do we really know if fans will be allowed in the stands?

Just as importantly, will tailgating be allowed in Lot K or FDR Park? The tailgating experience is at least 50 percent of being there in good years, about 90 percent of it in the bad old days. Right now, 2020 was the bad old days and I’m hoping it was an outlier but the signs are not encouraging. Tailgating is not guaranteed for 2021.

I certainly hope so and think so, but I don’t KNOW so. That alone is enough to postpone any decision on season tickets until the effect of the vaccine on the entire pandemic is determined, maybe even as late as August.

If the ticket office was smart, they would have moveable deadlines and not have set the one that just expired. It’s going to be hard enough to sell tickets this season.

Making it easier to sell them should supersede any arbitrary deadline.

Friday: The Bounty Bowl and Temple

UCF’s coaching hire is bad news for Temple

If the Enemy of My Enemy is a bad hire, and the AAC has had a few of those, don’t look to Gus Malzahn as falling on his face at UCF.

Geez, as a Temple fan, I hope he does what Charley Strong did moving over from a great coach at Louisville to a lousy one at Texas before falling on his face at USF. Dana Holgerson had five-straight winning seasons at West Virginia before putting up a lackluster 7-13 loss the last two years at Houston.

The thought process is a lot of these “big-time” Power 5 guys who are forced to resuscitate their careers at the G5 level don’t put in the energy that got them there in the first place.

I don’t see that with Malzahn simply because he was a G5 head coach before taking the Auburn job at Arkansas State and knows what it takes to win at this level. Malzahn was 9-3 with a Sun Belt championship at Arkansas State and that punched his ticket to Auburn, where he merely was 65-38 (including 39-27 against SEC teams).

Like the NFL mantra for drafting (‘always pick the best available player”), picking the best available head coach is always a good philosophy. Did Temple pick the best available head coach when it selected Rod Carey? No, his Indiana connections with Pat Kraft and Temple CFO Kevin Clark made him the most comfortable pick available.

The difference between Auburn and Temple is that the Auburn administration didn’t blink at spending $21.5 million to buy out a 65-38 head coach but Temple is blinking like a broken tail light at spending $6 million to buy out a 9-11 head coach.

UCF picked the best head coach available and it might be the best hire in G5 history.

Could he fall on his face like Strong and, so far, Holgersen?

Possibly, but there is nothing in Malzahn’s history to show he won’t be anything but successful.

In that case, he is the friend of my enemy and that’s not a good thing for the Owls.

Temple football: What could go right?

Temple went from having the most dynamic special teams in the country to terrible in Rod Carey’s two seasons

On the surface, Temple football looks like a dumpster fire right now.

The Fire Chief allowed his best firefighters to walk for other departments and the hiring process to find capable replacements is going slower than expected.

That’s the surface.

Is there anything underneath?

At least Rod Carey will have the best hoodie in the AAC

Well, put it this way. The entire Temple coaching staff was responsible for multiple championships in a FBS league and five wins–presumably with lesser talent–over Big 10 teams against only two losses.

Maybe they know something we don’t know.

For Temple to turn a 1-6 season into a 6-or-better-win season, maybe this is what they are thinking:

One, everyone remains healthy. The first units on offense and defense are fairly impressive yet there are big holes to fill on the offensive line and defensive line but normal attrition for injuries has to be factored into the equation. Look at what happened in the championship year of 2016, for example. When Austin Jones, who had kicked 17-straight successful field goals, went down, Aaron Boumerhi took over that job and did not miss a beat. Averee Robinson got injured at nose tackle and Freddy Booth-Lloyd went in and locked down the Navy fullback in a 34-10 AAC title win. Does Temple have that kind of depth? I don’t see it, but maybe they do.

Two, a renewed emphasis on the running game. With the RPO system, it seems the Owls could never get out of their own way on offense. Temple football has always been establishing the run first, then throwing off fakes to it. If by adding Iverson Clement and Ra’Von Bonner convinces them to establish the run first, then the Owls should be a much more explosive team. Put it this way: If EITHER Clement or Bonner get 1,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns rushing, Temple wins at least six games. Does this staff have that kind of commitment to the run? Doubt it, but maybe that’s the thinking at the E-O right now.

Three, Duece Mathis in a system that he’s comfortable in, thrives. If Mathis plays like a SEC starter, and starts finding Jadan Blue and Randle Jones for explosive plays in the passing game, the Owls will be hard to stop. Anthony Russo’s best full regular season at Temple was 21 touchdown passes against just 11 interceptions. If, say, Mathis does 22 touchdowns versus 10 interceptions (in other words, just a little better than Russo), the Owls will be successful.

Four, an aggressive approach to special teams. For two years, Rod Carey has been more than content to view the fair catch as a positive special teams’ play. That’s got to end. If the Owls don’t return kicks, they should block them. It’s got to be one or the other. Giving up positive plays on one third of the team never helps but that’s not been this staff’s DNA dating back through their time at NIU.

That’s it. That’s the path to a winning season. Maybe that’s the thought process at the E-O. If it is, it would be a welcome change.

Monday: The Enemy of My Enemy

Wagner: There’s got to be a better way

Wagner and Lafayette stick out like sore scheduling thumbs on this list

One of the impressive things about scheduling in the post-COVID era is the fact that teams are able to change schedules on the fly.

That also should be the reason Fran Dunphy–or whoever is in charge of the schedule-making these days–should be looking to trade the Wagner game for someone else.

Anyone else who plays FBS football, really.

Most Temple football fans aren’t hardcore like me so I got a lot of “Wagner? WTF?” when going over the game-by-game schedule this fall. Unfortunately, I’ve known for at least a couple of years that Wagner was on the schedule. I didn’t think it was a good idea then. I don’t think it’s a good idea now, even for a team coming off a 1-6 season.

“We need more Wagners on the schedule,” another Temple fan said, assumingly half in jest.

At least we think half.

My point is this: Just what does Temple get playing Wagner? Win and it’s ho-hum. Lose and the “Joe Philadelphia” fan is laughing for a number of weeks. Yes, Wagner not too long ago lost to UConn by “only” 21-14 but two weeks later that same Wagner team lost, 24-14, to Division II East Stroudsburg University. (When I went to Temple, it was known as East Stroudsburg State Teachers College.)

I could see playing Akron or another MAC team like Buffalo or even NIU. Wagner, though, not so much and certainly not Lafayette next year.

Temple should have never played Stony Brook (a 38-0 win) or Bucknell (a 56-12 win) recently. This scheduling philosophy seems to be a holdover from the Pat Kraft era.

One argument is that Temple needs to get at least six wins to get to a bowl game and scheduling teams like Lafayette and Wagner improves its chances of getting there. That argument needs to be disabused. If Temple can’t beat six FBS teams every year, getting to a bowl game is the least of its problems.

The Owls need to play FBS teams, period, end of story. Two Power 5 teams a year is a reasonable amount, but there’s no reason the rest cannot be filled by teams who play a FBS schedule.

If Temple ever gets around to hiring a permanent AD, tinkering with that schedule should be at least one priority.

Friday: What Could Go Right

Sobering Mid-February look at schedule

A week ago, we mentioned in this space that you’d have to have a pretty strong pair of Cherry and White-colored glasses to think a 1-6 team transformed itself into a winning one this offseason.

Maybe we were wrong so we went to the mat and went over the 2021 schedule game by game.

If you think by adding a quarterback from Georgia (who is charged with replacing a top four all-time Temple quarterback) and a couple of Power 5 running backs are going to do the trick, those are pretty strong glasses.

There is hope, though.

Five impact players still to be added can move the needle from a two- or four-win 2021 season to a six-win one. What do we mean by impact players? Guys who’ve started and excelled on a Power 5 team. Defensive linemen who have multiple sacks and tackles for losses. Defensive backs with interceptions and multiple starts. Difficult to get those kinds of guys? Yes. Impossible? With over 1,600 and counting players in the portal still, hardly. Unless Temple gets five of those types, I don’t see a significant uptick in wins in 2021.

It’s that simple.

A 1-6 record has shaken the national belief in Temple football and it’s going to take a whole lot of winning to get it back.

In hopes of eating my words come December (and will only if the 2021 Owls post a WINNING season), here is a sobering look at what will probably happen with this current group of players:

Rutgers 31, Temple 14 _ Rutgers seems to have turned it around under former coach Greg Schiano who, like Al Golden at Temple, is a proven winner at his former place of employment. If Temple loses this one, it will go to show how far Temple has fallen from a team that beat Maryland (20-17) in 2019 to losing to a team that same Maryland team beat (48-7).

Temple 21, Akron 14 _ This could easily be a loss as the Zips closed out last season impressively, with a 31-3 win over Bowling Green, whose head coach in that game was former Temple offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, but you’ve got to believe the Temple program is better than the Zips and I believe that there is enough holdover talent to get this done.

Boston College 34, Temple 23 _ If Isaiah Graham Mobley and Khris Banks make game-changing plays in this one, that will be a real kick in the nuts.

Temple 38, Wagner 7 _ The last time Wagner played an AAC team it lost “only” 21-14 but that was UConn so it didn’t count.

Cincinnati 38, Temple 0 _ Cincy has had four of the last five top AAC recruiting classes. In the same time frame, the best Temple can do is finishing in the middle of the recruiting pack. It’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s.

ECU 28, Temple 3 _ Temple has only slightly improved from last year’s 28-3 loss but arguably ECU has also improved so it’s a potential wash.

Houston 31, Temple 10 _ The Cougars get revenge for a 59-49 loss to Temple when the Owls had a running back good enough to score six touchdowns in the game (and a commitment to the run that enabled him to do it).

Memphis 41, Temple 29 _ The Owls had Anthony Russo at quarterback when they were able to put up 29 points on Memphis last year. If Duece Mathis is as good as advertised, he will at least be able to match the output.

Navy 34, Temple 31 _ So far, the Temple coaching staff has only faced two triple option teams, Army in the early NIU days and Navy last year. They haven’t figured out a way to stop the triple option in over a decade. Maybe they should have the Air Force, Army and BYU staffs visit the E-O for a chalkboard session. Since Pride Goeth Before the Fall, I don’t anticipate that happening so Navy scores over 30 again.

UCF 38, Temple 17 _ Instead of trying for a touchdown on fourth and goal at the two for a 38-21 loss, Rod Carey goes for the field goal to cover the spread. The boos from the smattering of 4,345 fans at Lincoln Financial Field are palpable.

Tulsa 44, Temple 7 _ The Golden Hurricane prove that a school with 3,764 full-time students can beat a school with 40,000 full-time students if the right ratio of those students are big-time football players.

USF 39, Temple 31 _ USF lost at Temple last year, 39-37, when its quarterback inexplicably put the ball on the carpet at his own five. People usually learn by painful mistakes like that.

There you have it. Unless five impact players walk in the door between now and April, Temple is staring at a 2-10 season. Five impact players can help the Owls pick off the USF, Memphis, Navy and maybe Houston games but the Jimmy’s and Joe’s aren’t there now, nor are the X’s and O’s.

Don’t say the coaching staff hasn’t been warned.

Monday: Back to the Future

Transfer Portal: Making a list

Congratulations to these folks with Temple connections for winning the Super Bowl on Sunday night.

Somewhere, someone is making a list and checking it twice.

Bruce Arians always roots for Temple and last night Temple rooted for Bruce Arians

All over college football staffs with intentions of winning and keeping their jobs have a list of 1,652 players still available in the transfer portal (up from 1,588 last week) and the buyer’s market bodes well for Temple football.

Should the Owls target the right positions and the right players, there is room for significant improvement. If they hold pat, they are looking at another very poor season. The key, it would seem to be, is jumping into that portal and showing the top guys some love now.

Looking over the roster now, these are the needs that jump out:

Owls need to show North Carolina portal guy Brant Lawless-Sherrill some love.

Linebacker (2):

The Owls really have only one standout returning and that’s 2017 Gasparilla Bowl MVP William Kwenkeu. They need to supplement him with at least two starting-level players. Available as of today are a pair of three star recruits looking for homes, Anthony McKee of Pitt and Jon Smith of North Carolina.

Defensive tackle (1)

The Owls got a couple from North Carolina in Lancine Turay and Xavier Gill and guess what? Another, Brant Lawless-Sherrill, a four-star 6-0, 270-pound run stopper, is still looking. It probably would not take much for Turay and Gill to put Temple in his ear. If Philadelphia is not the place for him, Ellison Jordan, another four-star, might want to go from Penn State to Temple.

Offensive line (1)

Claxton Bradley, a four-star (6-5, 296-pound) tackle from USC is still in the portal. USC, like Temple, is located in a big city so Bradley probably is not adverse to an urban campus experience. Another lineman available is Rutgers’ Jamaal Beaty (6-2, 299).

Corner (1)

Freddie Johnson and Ty Mason are the two top Temple holdovers but the recent departures of Linwood Crump Jr. and Christian Braswell decimated the depth behind them. UConn transfer Keyshawn Paul should be in the mix but getting a player like Jon Gipson, a three-star recruit still in the portal out of South Carolina, would not hurt.

Whatever, you’d have to have an extra-strong set of Cherry and White-colored glasses to think the talent on this team as currently constituted can significantly turn 1-6- into 6-1 or better. Adding five difference-makers might not do the trick either, but it could not hurt.

That’s the No. 1 job Rod Carey has between now and April and he has to hope for his sake he does better at it than he did as his No. 1 job in October and November. His career may depend on it.

Friday: A Mid-February Projection

Monday: Back to the Future

Temple football’s sinkhole problem

With each and every passing snowstorm, thoughts of pulling up stakes in Philadelphia and downsizing to Florida seem more appealing every year.

At least to me. If I never see another snowflake, that would be just fine.

There are advantages and disadvantages to said solution. One is sinkholes. From my preliminary investigation, they are everywhere down there. There is no “sinkhole proof” area and, if your house is the unlucky one, you are out a huge deductable even with the best insurance.

Temple football has its own sinkhole problem and it has nothing to do with the ground underneath the E-O Complex.

Too much talent is eroding from the building and the talent brought in to replace it does nothing to address the depth problem underneath. Simply put, the Owls are in a situation where the starters have to stay healthy or the underpinnings of the program fall apart. Starters have replaced starters and even some top Temple reserves have joined the portal and nothing has been done to address that depth issue. Temple needed to address the starters leaving the building and, for the most part, it has. Depleted depth caused by key backups leaving? Not so much.

That’s true every year but moreso this one.

Two tackles came in to replace Dan Archibong and Ifeanyi Maijeh but Khris Banks, who provided depth at that position, is off to Boston College.

The Owls’ linebacker corps is largely untested in real games and, with the exit of Christian Braswell, better hope and pray that Ty Mason and Freddie Johnson make it healthy through what is hoped to be a 12-game season because there is not much experience behind them, at least experience playing for a winning Temple program.

In the above video, coach Rod Carey is excited for the season but presumably he was excited for last season as well. He can be “super excited” all he wants but the proof is winning more than losing. I’d rather have Carey dreading the offseason and finishing 6-1 than being “super excited” and finishing 1-6.

The offensive line should be pretty good but recent departures of top subs has loosened the soil undereath the starters. Iverson Clement and Ra’Von Bonner might find plenty of holes behind the No. 1 group but what happens should two or three go down? Those holes close up right away.

In the sinkhole industry, that might be a good thing. In football, where injuries are a part of the business, the whole house goes under.

Monday: Top 5 Portal Targets

Arians will roll the dice in Super Bowl

Bruce with strength coach Link Gotshalk and John Chaney (Photo courtesy of Willard Cooper)

When he was the head coach at Temple, Bruce Arians had a saying:

“No risky, no bisky.”

That was shorthand for “No risk it, no biscuit” and, if there’s one thing consistent about his time at Temple was that Arians practiced what he preached on both sides of the ball.

Arians’ accomplishments at Temple were, in my view, extremely underrated. He was a terrific recruiter and a good enough head coach to post two winning seasons against what in both seasons was rated the No. 10 -toughest schedule in the country.

He produced a Heisman Trophy finalist in Paul Palmer and the “quarterback whisperer” had a trio of fine quarterbacks in Tim Riordan, Lee Saltz and Matty Baker in five years.

In a 35-30 win at Rutgers in 1988, defensive coordinator Nick Rapone followed the playbook of most DCs at that time and went to a prevent defense with 1 minute, 52 seconds left in the game and RU having no timeouts. A quarterback named Scott Erney carved up that prevent and the Scarlet Knights had the ball on the Temple 30.

This time, Arians used the timeout and got in the ear of Rapone and told him to rush eight and drop back three. Temple sacked Erney three times and the game ended with a defensive tackle named Swift Burch sitting on top of him. (That same Rutgers team won at Penn State, 21-16.)

“If I was going to lose, I was going down with my guns blazing,” Arians said afterward, holding the game ball. “We called jailbreak–which is an all-out blitz–on the final three plays and, fortunately, it worked. I’m a former quarterback. I know the best pass defense is putting the quarterback on his back side.”

No risky, no bisky.

In his final game, a 45-28 win over Boston College at the Vet, Arians called two flea-flickers that resulted in touchdown passes to Mike Palys that basically won that game. There seems to be an unwritten rule in college football that if you try one trick play in a game and it works you don’t try the same play in the same game again. Arians never believed in unwritten rules. He made defenses make quick decisions with lot of motion like on this play:

Meanwhile, we don’t see flea-flickers at Temple anymore even once in any game.

No risky, no bisky.

It is a philosophy Arians had at Temple and took with him throughout his NFL career.

Nobody really knows what will happen on Sunday night, but if it involves a risky decision, Arians knows what the call will be.

Here’s hoping when he gets home that biscuit will be the best tasting one of his life.