Dear Rod: Flexibility Wouldn’t Hurt

armsteadcherry

Editor’s Note: As we approach signing day, time to wrap up a couple of concerns in an open letter to the coach.

Dear Rod,

Congratulations on a nice first season, but it could have been a lot better had just a few things been cleaned up.

Eight wins were just about what many expected–I predicted nine–but not in my wildest dreams did I believe these players would have been beaten 42-21, 63-21 and 55-13 by anyone.

There should be a plan to fix that.

Will the real Bernard Pierce please stand up?

We were warned by the Northern Illinois fans that, while you were a good coach, you were a little bit stubborn and I think a lot of that was revealed in the blowouts. Most of these guys were recruited for a power running game, not a read-option spread, and I was wrong to assume that you would have adjusted to your talent and not made your talent adjust to the coaches.

To me, good coaches don’t try to force-feed their system onto a group better suited for another system and you might want to consider that approach next season. Anthony Russo is a much better passer when the running game is established first without being burdened by deciding to run or pass. Plenty of ways to fix that. Insert a fullback (Tavon Ruley?) and put the tight ends in motion and bring more blockers to the point of attack that there are defenders. That would help spring Ray Davis for some big early runs.

Temple’s had great running backs in the past like Bernard Pierce, Jahad Thomas, and Ryquell Armstead because it established the run with a culture of toughness on the offensive line and often the use of a fullback to help run interference for that talent.

Ray Davis can be every bit as good as those guys but he needs help.

Once the run is established, the linebackers and the safeties inch closer to the line of scrimmage and play-action–not read option–is the way to defeat that kind of defense. A deft fake by Russo to Davis means that both Jadan Blue and Brandon Mack will be running so free through the secondary that Russo won’t know which one to pick out.

thomaspsu

Not much can be accomplished by asking Russo to run a read option. I know that’s the system you were familiar with at NIU with Jordan Lynch but Russo is a lot closer to Tom Brady in skill set than he is to Lynch and you don’t see Bill Belichick asking Brady to run the read-option. Great coaches find a scheme that fits their talent at hand, not the talent they want.

Running the ball shortens the game, chews up the clock and helps keep the defense off the field and you’ll find that being on the short end of scores like 62-21, 42-21 and 55-13 don’t happen nearly as much with that approach.

All of these concepts can be implemented by the spring as well as putting someone in charge of special teams and deciding whether you want to block kicks or return them or do both. Doing nothing on special teams, which was Temple in 2019, should no longer be an option.

Temple football is a great running game, special teams, and defense but it all starts with a great running game. It’ll be four more years of recruiting before you can get the players who can run your stuff.

Meanwhile, I think most Temple fans would like to see a little more flexibility in the thinking in the coaches’ room in 2020 than we saw last fall.

That might be as important as anything that happens on the practice field before the ball is kicked off in Miami.

Friday: Signing Day

The Dotted Line=No Stadium (Yet)

Urinals

This could be your urinal at Franklin Field next year if Temple does not reach an agreement with the Eagles.

One of the topics often talked about among Temple fans in the parking lot last year was the stadium issue.

Make no mistake, a major college football team without a stadium is an issue in the nation’s fourth-largest market.

Then it was 12 months, then 11, then 10 and then nine until Temple needed a place to play and did not have one, at least officially.

We’re about at the eighth-month mark and there is still no signature on the dotted line.

Soon enough, we will be at one. You’ve got to think this is a pretty big story on the Philadelphia sports scene but you are much more likely to read speculative pieces in the offseason on who the Eagles’ right backup guard will be then how the negotiations with Temple and Jeffrey Lurie are going.

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Hat tip to one of the greatest cornerbacks in Temple history, Joe Greenwood, for this graphic.

That’s where the Temple News comes into play. Somebody in the media now cares about an issue a lot of us care about and The Temple News, not the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News or Philadelphia Magazine, finally wrote something about it.

Basically, the bottom line is nothing has been done about a contract and there is no signature ceremony planned and we are running out of time. Urinals at Franklin Field could be the least of the Owls’ problems. The AAC might be forced to keep Temple off the home TV schedule due to Penn having control of Saturdays and that could affect Temple’s road game exposure as well.

Is this a concern?

It should be because the requests for season tickets have gone out and I’m not 100 percent sure I will be sitting in my comfortable Section 121 end-of-the-row seat or on a wooden bench getting splinters and ducking the pigeons at Franklin Field. Ninety percent, but not 100 percent.

tailgating

Since the last time Temple played a home game at Franklin Field, Penn has moved the tailgating area from the Palestra parking lot to Shoemaker Green here.

I guess Temple and the Eagles will work out a deal because really there is no other option. The university completely botched the stadium. To me, it was a no-brainer to build where the library is now, knocking down Maxi’s, the Conwell Inn and that entire Liacouras Walk and putting the Library in that big empty spot at 15th and Norris. That way, no neighbors to deal with unless the protest is against a library. That would not go over well even in neighbor-friendly Philadelphia City Council. This is what happens when you hire people from Indiana to run a Philadelphia university. The damage has already been done.

That’s a Humpty Dumpty that cannot be put together again. (Of course, there is a fix but it will be a costly one: Knock down the trade union building and put it at 15th and Norris and squeeze the Olympic sports there and put the football stadium at Broad and Master. That’s probably never going to happen.)

The irony of all this is that the entire impetus for the on-campus stadium was that the Eagles were holding Temple hostage and the university wanted to get a cost-effective way to spend their stadium money. The boomerang effect of the mishandling of the on-campus stadium issue is that they gave the Eagles even more leverage.

So whatever advantage Temple might have had bringing this whole thing up turns out to be the Owls shooting themselves in the foot. The fact that they are waiting to pull the trigger won’t make the pain go away.

Monday: A Plea to Coach Carey

 

Red Flags and Temple football

 

Red flags and green flags for the Owls

This is the only red flag Temple fans should care about.

Anyone who even casually follows auto racing, and I emphasize the casual part in my case, knows what a red flag means in that sport.

It means “conditions are too dangerous to continue” and that “cars are advised to proceed to the pit.”

Hmm.

A month ago, I would have said the 2020 season was definitely a green flag. Outside the linebackers, who were very good, just about everybody who made a difference was going to be back in the fold.

Since then, the best center in the country (Matt Hennessy) decided on the NFL draft, where he will probably be a 1-3 round NFL pick. The best defensive player in the AAC, Quincy Roche, decided another school would increase his chances of being picked in the NFL draft in 2021. The tight end decided first on Baylor and then on Ole Miss. The backup quarterback, who was a nice insurance policy if Anthony Russo went down, skipped town.

When will the bleeding of talent ever stop?

Even if it has, my expectations for the 2020 season have been knocked down a peg. If the 2018 and 2019 Owls could win eight games, I thought for sure the 2020 Owls would have a really good chance at double digits and an AAC title.

Now?

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This was it for the losses a month or so ago. It’s gotten much worse since.

Unless head coach Rod Carey pulls a couple of rabbits out of the hat by February signing day, I’d have to find my Cherry and White-colored glasses to think that 2020 will be anything more than a 6-6 season. Honestly, do you see Carey as that kind of magician? Good game day coach, for sure, but there seems to be some evolving evidence that he doesn’t have the same connection with the kids that coaches like Al Golden and Matt Rhule had. He’s got the X’s and O’s part down pat, not so much the Jimmy’s and Joe’s. Really, what can Carey do at this point to excite the fan base? Maybe sign the 1,000-yard running back in the portal from NIU or a Power 5 defensive end. That’s about it.

I can’t say for sure that Carey has lost the locker room but it would be hard for me to believe that if, say, Al Golden was here the connection between players and the coaching staff would have been enough for a lot of the kids who left to stay. Hennessy, to me, was a goner but losing Kenny Yeboah and Quincy Roche really hurt. There is absolutely nothing any objective observer can say to convince me that they would have been better off elsewhere than Temple.

For some reason, they believe otherwise.

Power 5 programs who lose talent can survive because those programs routinely recruit four- and five-star talent. A program like Temple cannot, especially when I don’t notice a similar exodus from UCF, Cincinnati and Memphis. Just look at the Miami opener, for instance. When the Owls beat Georgia Tech, 24-2, and Miami lost to Georgia Tech, 28-21, a couple of weeks later, winning in Miami next year seemed not only possible but probable.

Since then, though, the Owls lost a lot and Miami gained a lot, including Houston quarterback superstar D’Eriq King.

Cars might not be advised to return to the pit in 2020 but if fans remain in the parking lot and do not go into the stadium it’s because these red flags are directing them there. Not me, because even in 1-11 seasons and 20-game losing streaks, the game was always the thing. But the Temple fan base, on the whole, is more softcore than hardcore and deciding to make game day more about the day than the game will be a product of success or failure.

Since fans can’t go in the portal, their only option is to declare for Lot K on game day. It’s up to Carey to give them a reason to believe now and he’s running out of time.

Friday: The Dotted Line

2020: A hard year to be a college football fan

centeio

Barbara Walters used to say: “This is 2020.”

The signature line to the ABC news show could be used halfway through the new decade today with one caveat: “This is 2020. The end of college football as we know it.”

The second sentence is important today specifically to Temple football fans because of the happenings of the last month or so and how it impacts the year ahead. Not only did Temple football fans get kicked in the stomach by a 55-13 loss to North Carolina (a game that they were only a 6-point underdog), they then got punched in the head a few days later when AAC Defensive Player of the Year Quincy Roche announced he was leaving not for the NFL but for another school. Hard to believe Harry (Donahue) that Roche figured he’d have a better chance to be drafted higher if he went to another school after Temple had two recent defensive linemen (Mo Wilkerson and Haason Reddick) drafted in the first round.

Then, just a few days ago, capable backup quarterback Toddy “Touchdown” Centeio also announced that he was also going to another school. First-string quarterback Anthony Russo has referred to Centeio as his “broski” but maybe Centeio’s departure will force head coach Rod Carey to abandon this ill-fitting read-option offense for one more suited to Russo’s talents. I doubt it. Losing Centeio was not a plus.

Kicked in the stomach, punched in the face and then kneed to the groin is pretty much how it feels.

The worst was Roche, a Temple alumnus. Can’t imagine him showing up at the tailgates in a few years here. Maybe he will show up at those of the next team. It’s kind of a wash considering I thought he’d go to the NFL, but this is a worst-case scenario I could not even imagine on the day when the Owls played UNC.

narducci

This is pretty much how college football has changed in the last decade. Before 2010, a Temple fan could pretty much pick their favorite players (actually mine were all 85 guys suiting up on game days) and follow them through four years at Temple. Senior Day was always a sad occasion but it was offset by the fact that a new group was coming in every year.

Now we’re not even sure of a decent Senior Day anymore. Roche never had his year, nor did center Matt Hennessy. Centeio invested so much in the program he deserved one as well. A lot of it is understandable. Many of these kids had to go through three coaching staffs and their thought process has to be if it is a business for the coaches, it can be a business for the players.

Still, as fans, it’s really not fair and that doesn’t apply to just Temple. Almost all of the other “Group of Five” schools are adversely affected by the transfer portal and it doesn’t figure to get any better any time soon. Group of Five schools that recruited and developed players now face the prospect of developing them for Power Five schools. If Quincy Roche and Todd Centeio can leave Temple for other schools, will, say, Kenny Gainwell leave Memphis for LSU or some similar school?

Doesn’t seem to be fair to the fans, who either can’t or have no desire to cheer for anyone else. It would be a good story for 20/20.

Or 60 Minutes.

Monday: Red Flags

Tougher loss than any game: Kevin Grady

 

Screenshot 2020-01-11 at 9.29.11 PMThere have been plenty of tough losses over even an otherwise good period for Temple football.

The last two bowl games come to mind as does the most recent debacle at Cincinnati.

You can get over those kinds of losses. What has been tougher and tougher to deal with are the more permanent ones.

Kevin Grady was the latest of our tailgaters to pass away last week and, in that one package, there was not a more gentle soul or fierce football player than the running back for Temple from 1973-75. I started watching Temple football around that time and became a big fan of Grady, who could interchangeably play both halfback and fullback.

I didn’t know Kevin then, but in more recent years he showed up Saturdays at the Steve Conjar tailgates–and it was more often than not– I got a chance to talk to him and each time it was a pleasure. This year, I hadn’t seen much of him and was wondering why.

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The numbers only told part of the Kevin Grady story

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Brian Slade’s numbers, although that TE designation is 1983 is misleading

Evidently, he had some health problems that prevented him from attending. Then, last week, I heard he was gone. Temple tailgaters went through a similar loss a few years ago when former kicker Wes Sornisky died in a fire in Delaware at 64 years of age. Unfortunately, these occurrences are going to happen at a more rapid pace than we would like in the next few years. Bruce Arians’ players lost a similarly tough runner in Brian Slade in 2015 and, even before that, even Al Golden’s guys weren’t immune when both Kee-Ayre Griffin and Anthony Ferla passed away far too soon.

Grady is just the latest and deserves to be remembered for both his on- and off-field character.

Until Jager Gardner’s 94-yard touchdown run from scrimmage, Grady had the longest run from scrimmage in the history of Temple football. He was also part of the most successful two-year run in Temple history–his team went 9-1 one year and 8-2 the next–and over those two years, Temple had the longest winning streak in major college football (14).

That’s right. Temple. Among those wins was West Virginia and Boston College when both programs were very good.

Who knows if Temple will ever have a 14-game winning streak again? The way college football has evolved (devolved, in my mind), the chips are stacked so much against G5 teams like Temple that it is extremely doubtful.

Kevin Grady had an even more impressive streak of his own–65 years as an incredibly good person–and someone who made a positive impression on everyone he met. That’s a streak that probably won’t be duplicated any time soon, either.

Friday: Fandom in 2020

Other side of the portal: FCS

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Josh Pederson would represent a huge upgrade at TE from Kenny Yeboah and add a large family to the Temple fan base

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Nobody is calling Temple football a female goose, but it’s hard to interpret Quincy Roche’s leaving the program as anything other than him screwing his teammates and alma mater.

There has been a lot of talk lately that the Owls should follow the SMU model of poaching disgruntled Power 5 players who have been second-teamers at that level and advancement blocked by more talented players. Quarterback Shane Buechele, like Anthony Russo a former Elite 11 quarterback, immediately comes to mind.

That’s just one way and, sure, the Owls should pursue players in that part of the portal who represent upgrades and fill areas of need. (We’re thinking mostly of center and defensive ends in that second group.)

There is a problem with FBS portal players. If they are not good enough to start with Power 5 teams, how is Temple supposed to beat these Power 5 teams in bowl games with substandard talent?

The remedy could rest with FCS players and other outstanding players who compete in lesser-profile FBS leagues. Last year, 19 players were drafted out of FCS schools by the NFL and those types are the players Temple should be targeting.

Look at last year’s drafted NFL players out of the FCS. One of them was Nasir Adderley, the grandson of former Northeast High great Herb (a former Temple football radio analyst).

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Last year’s early-round NFL draft choices out of the FCS

Temple was lucky when it got Rock Ya-Sin to come for his final season after Presybertian went from a scholarship FCS school (like Villanova) to a non-scholarship one, like Georgetown.

Temple was instrumental in raising Ya-Sin’s stock from a UFA to a second-round pick. The Owls probably should go after those types over disgruntled FBS players because the Owls can show them what they did for Ya-Sin and these are players not only good enough to get on the field but good enough to help beat Power 5 programs, which should always be the Temple goal beyond winning the AAC title.

If the Owls are still looking for an upgrade over Kenny Yeboah (19 catches, 248 yards, 5 touchdowns in 2019), they should look at Louisiana-Monroe’s Josh Pederson (43 catches, 467 yards, 9 touchdowns), who happens to be in the portal and also happens to be Doug Pederson’s son. Doug could attend all of his son’s games easily if Rod Carey and staff are able to recruit Josh. The appeal of playing in his dad’s team’s stadium could be too good to pass up.

There’s another side of the portal and Temple should use every advantage it has. Grabbing “gruntled” FCS players should be easier than luring disgruntled FBS ones.

Monday: Tough Loss

Turning it Around: Reseeding AAC bowls

Mike Aresco, AAC commissioner,

Mike Aresco, AAC commissioner, probably is going to seed the bowls differently next year.

Somewhere in the Rhode Island office of the league this morning after a long vacation,  AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is kicking himself.

The AAC started out 1-3 in the bowls but finished 4-3. That’s better than two Power 5 conferences but could have been even more impressive. UCF fans were salty that Temple and not it was playing a Power 5 team in a bowl game and, in retrospect, it looked like those fans were right. The thought process probably was then that Temple would draw better to the Military, but the thought process was skewed because, to this league, prestige means more than money at this point.

If Aresco had to reseed the bowls, we’re going to guess he might have gone with these matchups instead:

Military Bowl _ UCF vs. North Carolina. The speed of the Knights would have been a much better matchup against the Tar Heels than Temple would have been. While UNC put up 55 on the Owls, UCF put up 62 and, if it traveled pretty well to Philadelphia (it did), it would have done the same to Annapolis. UCF, 39-35.

Gasparilla Bowl _ Temple vs. Marshall. Cincinnati went to Marshall and beat the Thundering Herd, 45-13. Temple traveled to Cincy and would lose a 15-13 game it would have won if it had an even marginally passable special teams. Temple, 35-14.

Birmingham Bowl _ SMU vs. Boston College. SMU finished 10-2 in the regular season and was “awarded” with that trip with a game against FAU in the Boca Raton Bowl. That game was played on FAU’s home field and an unmotivated SMU team lost big-time. Had SMU played a BC team that Cincy beat, 38-6, got to think that the result would have been similar. SMU, 28-7.

Aresco could have done nothing about the Cotton Bowl because Memphis earned its spot and Navy’s beating of Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl was definitely a feather in the league’s cap.

Also, the Armed Forces Bowl that saw Tulane beat former rival Southern Mississippi was a good matchup. That said, the best the AAC could have done was gone 6-1 and we’ve got to think that’s probably why Aresco is kicking himself now because, with a little better forethought, that’s exactly what would have happened.

Thanks to a 55-13 loss, Temple will probably be sent to bowl hell next year if the Owls even make a bowl and it will be a well-earned sentence.

Friday: The Other Side of The Portal