Double Death Penalty

seanstopperich

Sean Stopperich, who helped bring down the SMU program, ended up at Temple with BA.

Both SMU and Temple have something in common in that both school’s received the Death Penalty for their football program.

SMU had the formal one, the first “modern” death penalty—the NCAA’s power to suspend a program for a year—while Temple had a self-imposed one based on years of neglect.

You decide which was worse, but sitting through an 0-11 season and a 20-game losing streak which I did as a Temple fan in the Bobby Wallace Era was pretty bad.

stopperich

Temple never paid players $1,000 a month and with free cars—like SMU boosters did in the 1980s—but some of the 1980 Temple teams probably could have given the pay-for-play guys a pretty good game. The late Sean Stopperich, whose family was relocated from Pennsylvania, reneged on a scholarship with Pitt and signed with SMU and his story was featured on ESPN’s 30 for 30 expose on the SMU Death Penalty.

Ironically, Stopperich ended up at Temple, where he played a few games before a shoulder injury ended his career. He was part owner of a gym in the Pittsburgh area when he died in 1995.

In those days, under Bruce Arians, the Owls went 6-5 twice and both winning records were posted against the then-No. 10 schedule in the country. Arians’ 6-5 seasons were in 1984 and 1986.

To show you how much times have changed at Temple, the current Owls are playing against the 126th-ranked schedule in FBS football. That’s pretty hard to do when you are in highest-rated G5 league, the AAC, but thanks to Charlotte and Stony Brook, the Owls are doing it this year.

SMU’s highly-paid players lost their entire 1987 season due to sanctions and could play no home games in the 1988 season. The Mustangs went 52-19-1 from 1980 through 1986.

The 1984 SMU team went 10-2 with no common opponents with Temple. The 1986 SMU team went 6-5, like Temple, and beat Boston College, 31-29. That year, the Owls lost to BC, 38-29.

When SMU and Temple played in the 1940s, neither was a national power as the 2-4-1 Owls tied the 4-5-1 Mustangs in 1946 and 3-6-2 SMU and 2-5-3 Temple tied, 6-6, in 1942.

Decades later, both programs lost their way because one put too much illegal money into the program and the other did not put enough legal money into the program.

Now, both are trying to come back from the dead and the Owls have had more recent success than the Mustangs. It was a long, hard, climb, but both appear headed upward.

Friday: Game Preview

5 Things We’ve Learned So Far

USATSI_9014180_149008644_lowres

Romond Deloatch is probably more valuable to the Owls as a rush end than a WR.

To me, the big surprise has that Temple football has not been as good as expected.

So far, but that does not mean it has to last so long.

That’s not just a Temple fan talking here, it is from the perspective of places like The Sporting News that picked the Owls to finish first in the AAC East. That still can happen, but the results of the first four weeks gives even the most optimistic fan pause.

Temple could not get the job done against Army, despite having eight months to prepare for the triple option. Somehow, Buffalo—a team with considerably less talent than the Owls—did get the job done. The Owls could not get the job done at Penn State, committing 120 yards in penalties (including numerous false starts and offsides). Had the Owls been a disciplined-enough team to cut those penalties in half they likely would have won. Mike Pettine Sr. proved the way to eliminate penalties at Central Bucks West was repetition, repetition and more repetition and then by grabbing a few facemasks and yelling a few choice words to offenders at practice so they do not become repeat offenders during games. Temple could use a Mike Pettine now. That’s where you clean up penalties, in practice, not in games.

That does not look like it happens at Temple or at least has happened so far. These are the five things we’ve learned about the AAC and the Owls through 1/3d of the regular season:

noles

Noles scored 55 on USF.

  1. USF Might Be Vulnerable

For the first couple of weeks, USF established itself as the clear favorite to win the AAC East. It showed some vulnerability, though, in a 55-35 home loss to Florida State on Saturday. Remember, this was the same Florida State defense that allowed 70 points to Louisville the week prior to the game against the Bulls. Temple DC Phil Snow will have to devise a specialty defense, perhaps involving a spy on quarterback Quinton Flowers, to slow down the Bulls’ offense. As we learned against Army, though, Snow is not comfortable devising specialty defenses.

few

Nick Sharga and Jahad Thomas

  1. Nick Sharga More Valuable At Linebacker

As valuable as Nick Sharga is as a blocking fullback, he’s a better linebacker and moving him to defense would help the Owls shore up a hole on that side of the field. Sharga had 15 plays as a fullback and 15 more as a linebacker in a 31-12 win over Memphis last year, and he was easily one of the defensive stars of that game. Rob Ritrovato has shown to be a serviceable blocker at fullback and can do that job.

  1. Pocket Needs to Roll

When Phillip Walker rolls one way and throws the other, as in the wheel route throw to Jahad Thomas, he is a lethal passer. The same can be said when he rolls one way and throws on that same side, as in the touchdown pass to Brodrick Yancy. The more the Owls can roll the pocket, the more dangerous their offense becomes. That needs to grow exponentially going forward.

  1. Knack For Sacks

When Marcus Smith was a backup quarterback at Louisville,  he asked for a few snaps on defense and ended up with seven sacks at practice one day. The coach at the time, Charlie Strong, then moved him permanently to defense. Romond Deloatch set what is thought to be a Temple practice record for sacks with the same seven, but the difference was that head coach Matt Rhule moved him back to offense. Deloatch has a knack for this sack thing, and since none of the other Owls have shown it, he needs to be moved back to defensive end—at least for third and longs. Who knows? Maybe he could become a first-round pick, too. Temple has plenty of good receivers; it needs a sackmeister and Deloatch is certainly that.

  1. Temple’s Slow Start Is Fixable

Temple has shown flashes of brilliance on offense and probably will continue to improve in that area. The Owls, though, need help on the defensive side of the ball. They have a former defensive tackle starter as a backup offensive guard, Brian Carter (6-1, 304), and they could use that experience and bulk back on the defensive side to stop the run. Add Sharga and Deloatch and hit APPLY, and that could be the fix the defense needs. We know one thing.

It could not hurt.

Wednesday: Not-So-Sudden Death

Holding Serve

None of the Temple Owls were carrying tennis racquets on Saturday afternoon, but the result of the day was that they held serve nonetheless.

The Owls were supposed to win at home, and they did, 48-20. They held serve, but not much can be learned about a game like this. Before the game, we predicted 48-7. At least we got the 48 right.

The defense, though, is going to have to play better.

Charlotte was just another one of those games that new athletic director Pat Kraft likes to schedule and that former athletic director Bill Bradshaw would have avoided like the plague. Bradshaw liked the regional games against Power 5 teams, while Kraft likes the tune-ups against punching bags. Expect more of the Kraft-like games in the future (Bucknell, Villanova) mixed in with games Bradshaw scheduled (Rutgers, 2020 and 2021)  along with Kraft adding Boston College to the mix.

charlottegame

27,786 was a nice crowd considering the 1-2 record.

If the Owls are going to contend for the AAC title, the Owls will have to shore up the middle of their defensive line and generate a pass rush that has been late in arriving. There are signs that the pass rush is coming as four-star recruit Karamo Dioubate seems to get comfortable with the college game more every day. The Owls need to improve their rush defense and a possible fix would be moving former defensive tackle starter Brian Carter back to defense from the offensive side of the ball. Putting him in there as a tackle with fellow Harrisburg Area nose guard Averee Robinson could help shore up the run defense and help with a push up the middle that could collapse the pocket. Romond Deloatch, arguably the team’s best receiver, had the team’s only sack. He might be needed on defense when Ventell Bryant comes back from an injury. For that matter, so could starting fullback Nick Sharga. Those are decisions for the coaches to make, though. I think all three moves would help the defense establish some needed consistency and maybe defensive coordinator Phil Snow should lobby for those players.

On offense, Phillip Walker showed a nice touch on a pair of scoring tosses and Brodrick Yancy showed why head coach Matt Rhule compared him to former slot receiver  John Christopher in terms of toughness. Christopher was in the house on Saturday, getting an award for academic prowess.

The other takeaway is that Jahad Thomas is the team’s No. 1 offensive threat and maybe the best overall player on the team. Unlike the other backs, he has a knack for either making the first defender miss or shaking off the first defender and getting into space. He was missed in the Army game and could have been the difference-maker in that one. The Owls need to find creative ways to get the ball to him in space, and they may have hit on at least one with that long wheel route. Two years ago, Jamie Gilmore dropped a perfectly thrown wheel route in a 16-13 loss to Memphis; this time, Thomas did not.

Other than that, the learning process continues against SMU and the Owls will need to hold serve once again at high noon in a week.

Monday: 5 Things We’ve Learned So Far

A “Meh” Homecoming

homer

Even an 0-6 Temple team drew a tailgate crowd like this back in 2013.

The odd twist to this week’s TV Guide is that Comcast Sports Net Philly has added Temple to its noon lineup on Saturday.

Bad move, because a “Blah” Homecoming is soon to become a “Meh” Homecoming.

Like, “Meh, I could be there but since it’s on tv …. ”

Temple needs the softcore/fringe/lazy—you pick the word—portion of its fan base to begin showing up on a more regular basis and nothing mutes that crowd more than the game being on “real” television. (If it’s on a stream system, like ESPN3, that does not seem to affect the attendance.) Real television gives the casual Temple fan an excuse to miss the game, sit back at home, watch the game on his HDTV, then use his laptop to go on a Temple fan site and criticize the lack of a Temple crowd.

That’s how it usually works, the people who you know who live in Philadelphia and have off on Saturday and watch on TV are usually the first to write the Temple crowd sucks. If you are not part of the solution, you are certainly part of the problem.

One example is a former great Temple basketball player who is off on every Saturday and Sunday who posts photos of him and his kid at every home Eagles’ game. He usually only makes Temple football games on one day a year and that is Homecoming.


That’s how it
usually works,
the people who
you know who live
in Philadelphia
and have off on
Saturday and watch
on TV are usually
the first to ask why
the Temple crowd
sucks. If you are
not part of the
solution, you are
certainly part
of the problem.

Now, with the remote so handy, even that might be doubtful. It’s amazing to me that a Temple grad can go to every Eagles’ game at the same stadium and put himself through that hassle does not even support his school’s football team with the same level of enthusiasm. That is a systemic problem with the Temple softcore fan base.

There is a hardcore fan base of roughly 20,000 who we see at every home game (raising my hand here) and a softcore fan base of about 15K more who we saw at the Army game. We lost them with that loss for the season, and I doubt we will see much more than the 22,000 announced we had for Stony Brook even with Homecoming.

Maybe 25,000, but probably no more.

You can thank the triple-whammy of local television, lazy softcore fans and the Army loss for what promises to be a “Meh” Homecoming. The opponent, Charlotte, is not that appealing but big-time schools play Nicholls State and still sellout for Homecoming. Last year’s Homecoming Game against Tulane was one of my best experiences as a Temple fan. This year, I do not expect it to be anywhere near as good.

The only stat that matters is 1-2 and that’s just not good enough.

It will be a long climb back to a good crowd for the rest of this season and it could affect things like recruiting and bowl possibilities. Temple had nine months to prepare for Army and was an undisciplined team against PSU. One-hundred and twenty yards in penalties makes you wonder what this team does in practice the other six days of the week. The way it approached Army makes you wonder what they did the six months before that.

Tomorrow: Game Analysis (since it won’t be off TV, it will be posted around 10:30 p.m.)

Monday: 5 Surprising Things We’ve Learned So Far

Wednesday: The Death Penalty

Friday: SMU Preview

Saturday: Game Analysis

 

guide

New York Post Betting Guide. Our picks this week: USF getting the 5, Louisville covering the 26.5 and Michigan State covering the 5. Temple covers the 27.5 and beats Charlotte, 48-7.

The End of An Era

Haason Reddick has got to make that play on McSorley on that long pass to the tight end. Very reminiscent of Sean Daniels’ miss of a tackle on the Fordham game-winning touchdown against Temple in 2013. This unfortunately will be (in my mind) the last game we will see Temple play against Penn State in my life or the life of any of my fellow baby boomers.

Every once in a while, a Temple fan will write something so brilliant, it deserves a wider audience than the intended one.  Such was the case with this treatise written by former Temple player Dave (Fizzy) Weinraub at the end of last season and, now, by a Temple poster named MH55—I know who he is, but we’ll let him have the same level of anonymity that he desired when he wrote this on the Penn State Blue White Illustrated Message Board:

Due to P5 separation, B10 scheduling and college football circumstances in general, I have a distinct feeling this could be my last trip to Beaver Stadium wearing the Cherry & White. I’ve been coming to PSU/Temple games for more than 20 years and noted this is my 6th trip to see the Owls there. I have a lot of fun memories, mostly outside the stadium, from trips to Happy Valley. There was the day Curtis Enis ran wild and we got shellacked 66-14 but I was able to outdrink most of the patrons in the Crow Bar later that night. There was the afternoon I saw a slob vomit after trying to eat one of the world’s biggest hamburgers at Dennys Beer Barrel Pub.. There was a pregame tailgate where everyone seemed to enjoy my novelty laugh box which I brought into the stadium only to be told by about a dozen Lion fans they would shove it uncomfortably into my rectum when Temple took an unexpected 7-0 lead in 1997. Final 52-10 Loss.

Obviously, I’ve seen Temple closer to home. I went to Giants Stadium in 1996 and 1994’s affair at Franklin Field, both unusual and unfortunately, losing experiences. I’ve also seen Penn State at Lincoln Financial Field where frankly, we should have won in 2011 with a roster full of NFL talent and NCAA capable players. Sadly, we had the cowardly Steve Adazzio at the helm who views the forward pass and an attack offense with more disdain than Johnny Depp has for Amber Heard. Still, I was finally able to soak in and enjoy last year’s trouncing as a culmination of all the frustration we’ve had in my 25+ years of following the travails of the Owls in college football as well as versus Penn State University.

_MH55

That was just part of the post, a bravo and well-done tribute to the Temple-Penn State series and a lot of unfulfilled trips to Beaver Stadium. Mark goes on and says that he emptied his bank account on the nine points the Owls were getting. While we’re happy he made a whole lot of money on the Owls, we wish they could have come up with one more point where the good guys would have outscored the bad guys and been a disciplined enough team to come away with 60 or so yards less in penalties, not 120. My memories are similar to his, and I will never forget holding a copy of the Centre Daily Time at the iconic Rathskeller one Friday night  in 1979 and noting Temple was a 3.5-point favorite. I said to a Penn State friend that we might never see Temple favored against Penn State again. (The Owls were upset, 22-7, before a then-record crowd at Beaver Stadium.)

My friend, Mark, had more recent experiences but I am sure he feels the same sense of loss with the end of this series. I had a nice talk with former Temple AD Gavin White, the quarterback in the 1950 game, who told me that the Owls would have won the 7-7 tie had he been allowed to throw the ball more. I still believe him because I know what a good and honest man he is. The PSU assistant coach (they had only two) in that game was a rookie named Joe Paterno.

Back to MH55, though. He’s right about another thing: Temple will never play Penn State again, at least in many of our lifetimes. Even in a bowl game, both parties have to agree and I do not see Penn State agreeing to play the Owls. It’s been a nice series in the modern era that started with the 1975 game. Just wish it had been more competitive and that the college football world had not disintegrated into this money-grubbing mess we have now. College football without the regional games of the not-so-distant past is a very sad thing, indeed.

Friday: A “Meh” Homecoming

Recalibrating Expectations

Matt Rhule says the Owls can regroup and make a run for the AAC title. I pray he’s right and we’re wrong.

Just when they lost me, they reeled me back in on Saturday.

No, not the Temple Owls, who lost a game they should have won that day, but two groups of guys who played later in the day who might have proven Temple is a little better than I expected.

The Army West Point Knights and the Stony Brook Seawolves, who opened some eyes with pretty shocking performances a few hours after most Owl fans were bummed by the result in State College. They indicated that Temple might have played two very good teams before a subpar effort against PSU.

Army won at UTEP, 66-19, while Stony Brook took down No. 2 FCS Richmond, 42-14. Both were impressive wins for a number of reasons. Army was unstoppable on the road at a FBS team that won by 15 over another FBS team, New Mexico State, two weeks ago. Stony Brook, a team that was shut out by Temple, scored 42 points on a team that beat Power 5 Virginia, 37-20, in the first week of the season on the road. (UConn beat Virginia by a field goal on Saturday.)

So any recalibration of TEMPLE expectations has to include the total body of work, including the Army and Stony Brook games. There is also the distinct possibility that Penn State, Stony Brook and Army all finish with very good years so that has to be factored into a Temple recalibration.

unfinished

First the bad news because going into this season, I wrote that this was the team that had the best chance of breaking the Temple school record of 10 wins and finish with 11 wins. I wrote that expectation should be the MINIMUM expectation, with the maximum expectation that the team achieve its own stated goal of “Unfinished Business” which, to them, meant winning the overall AAC title.

I don’t think that is going to happen, not just based on the first three Temple games but because Houston has separated itself from the rest of the league. For Temple to get to 11 wins, it would have to win out and I also do not think that is going to happen, either.

Now, the good news because this season can still be a  success if the Owls can get to 10 wins again including a bowl win over a P5 team and that remains a realistic possibility. Hell, if that P5 team is Penn State,  I will sign for that game now.

Here’s how I see the rest of the season playing out:

Saturday: Temple 48, Charlotte 7. Charlotte is not only worse than Stony Brook, it is much worse. Charlotte allowed 70 points to Louisville and, while that is no disgrace, being beaten by Eastern Michigan, 37-19, is.

10/1: Temple 35, SMU 21. The Mustangs struggled to beat Jerry Falwell’s school, Liberty, on Saturday. No amount of praying will help them against Temple. 3-2.

10/6: Temple 21, Memphis 14. I had this as a win prior to the season, as a loss after Penn State and now as a win after the Army and Stony Brook results, but it is not going to be easy on the road. Memphis beat Kansas, which is probably a whole lot worse than Penn State and Army. 4-2.

10/15: Temple 28, UCF 19. This won’t be the blowout it was against an 0-12 UCF team last year, but if UCF can go from 0-12 to beat a 10-win Temple team, the Owls have got more problems than I think they do. 5-2.

10/21: South Florida 31, Temple 27. South Florida is, quite simply, a better team than Penn State and Phil Snow has two blind spots in his rear view mirror—the triple option and the dual-threat quarterback. Unless he spies Champ Chandler on Quinton Flowers, he is about to move into that left lane and get clobbered by that Mack Truck. Since Snow never follows our advice, mark USF down as a loss and no AAC title game this year. 5-3. (USF beat Syracuse by 22 and a poor NIU team, 48-17.)

10/29: Temple 24, Cincinnati 17.  Tommy Tuberville is beginning to show his coaching age with some strange calls on the field. The Owls will take this into the fourth quarter and finish him off. 6-3. (Cincy beat Purdue, but was hammered by Houston, 40-16.)

11/4: Temple 36, UConn 10: Temple beat Stony Brook, 38-0, which beat Richmond, 42-14. Richmond beat Virginia, 37-20. UConn beat Virginia, 13-10. While you usually cannot go on comparative scores, those margins are so stark they show there is a huge talent and speed gap between the Owls and the Huskies. UConn also barely beat a Maine team (in OT) that lost to Toledo, 45-3. 7-3. (UConn also lost to Navy in a close one.)

11/19: Temple 10, Tulane 3: Unless the Owls party hard on Bourbon Street, the defense shuts the Green Wave down.  8-3. (Tulane lost to Navy, 21-14.)

11/26: Temple 24, East Carolina 21: Not easy, but the Owls finish strong. 9-3. (East Carolina beat North Carolina State and lost to South Carolina.)

Since I do not think it will be good enough to even get in the championship game, the best the Owls can do is win the bowl game they are assigned to—they probably will not get a choice—and finish with consecutive 10-win season.

I hope they prove me wrong and run the table, and at least host the AAC title game, but concerns on the offensive and defensive lines make me doubt they will ever finish the Unfinished Business they had in mind when they thought of that slogan.

Wednesday: The End of An Era

Friday: A Meh Homecoming

 

Coaches Still Slow On The Uptake

nottd

Big 10 replay officials blew this call as proven by this Glenn Tinner photo.

Sitting around with a smaller-than-usual post-game tailgating group after the Stony Brook game, my longtime friend Mark asked me a question.

“Mike, are you going to the Penn State game?”

“No.”

“No? Why?”

“If they had beaten Army, I would have. My feeling is if this coaching staff can’t scheme for the teams they should beat, I have no confidence in them scheming for a team that might be on their level or a little above so I don’t want to go all the way there and then have to make the trip back all pissed off.”

“C’mon, bro,” Mark said, “How many years have you been following Temple football?”

Too many, I said.

Mark’s point was that I should accept disappointment by now. I had, and still have, a different take.


Making Walker a
dropback passer
is trying to fit
a square peg into
a round hole.
The sooner the
coaches realize that,
the better the chances
for future success.
They have a unique
weapon and they should
use him as such.

I wanted one year, just one, that Temple beat all of the teams it was supposed to beat and maybe reached up and beat one or two teams it was not supposed to beat with a solid if not brilliant coaching game plan.

I have not seen that year since the 13 years Wayne Hardin coached the team, but I had my hopes. After a 34-27 loss to Penn State on Saturday, my belief has not changed about this staff being a little slow on the uptake about basic football principles. Before the first game of the season, we outlined here the standard operating procedure to shut down a triple option—44 stack, nose guard over the center, tackles in the A gap, eight in the box and force them to pass. If a triple option team beats you passing, you walk over and shake their hand afterward. If they beat you running the ball because your linebackers played 4-5 yards off it, you walk over to your defensive coordinator and use that same hand to slap him in the head four or five times.

This is all simple shit that even a good high school coaching staff knows. We even outlined in this post how to play Army BEFORE the game and, of course, the slow-on-the-uptake staff had to do things their way.

As we all know now, the Owls left the A gaps open, and played their linebackers 4-5 yards off the ball and they were predictably gouged by the fullback. Afterward, the kids got blamed and the coaches got a pass in the post-game press conferences conducted by, surprise, the coaches.

Slow on the uptake also could be the phrase to describe use of the Owls’ personnel.  Earlier this week, we wrote a post on our five keys to beat Penn State and the No. 1 key was “Roll That Pocket.” Phillip Walker is a much more dangerous threat to defenses when he rolls in the pocket and becomes a threat to run the ball as well as pass it. Linebackers and safeties have to come up to stop the run and Temple receivers, covered when Walker drops back in the pocket, suddenly are running free through the secondary when he is on the move. Yet new offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas insists on making Walker a Matt Ryan, dropping him in the pocket more often than not. Maybe that’s because Thomas coached Ryan with the Atlanta Falcons. You cannot turn Russell Wilson into Tom Brady, nor can you turn Phil or P.J. Walker into a Matt Ryan. Walker completed 25 of 34 passes for 286 yards, but had very limited success when he was forced to drop back. When he took that step to the outside, receivers got separation like the Red Sea parted.

Making Walker a dropback passer is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The sooner the coaches realize that, the better the chances for future success. They have a unique weapon and they should use him as such.

Walker sees the field a lot better and has a lot more success when the Temple coaches move the pocket for him, a fact that they should have known long before yesterday. The learning curve for this staff is too long and winding and leads to too many dead ends. The process needs to speed up if this team is going to have meaningful success the rest of the way.

Until then, my blood pressure will not allow road trips.

Monday: Recalibrated Expectations