Anderson is X-Factor Against PSU

Hopefully, Matt Rhule has sat down with Robby and impressed upon him all those hand gestures that were legal 2 years ago are now 15-yard penalties.

When a school like Penn State regularly attracts over 100,000 fans to each of its home football games, the business of previewing every game both in print and on the internet is a lucrative one.

Newspapers are sold and site counters go out of control with every mention of each matchup with host Temple on Saturday. All of the things written about this game, almost none of them mention a guy that just about everyone will be talking about afterward and that is Temple wide receiver Robby Anderson. Only by Wednesday did Penn Live even mention him and that was a fine piece by a great writer named David Jones.

MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 30: Robbie Anderson #19 of the Temple Owls catches a touchdown pass against Andrew Gaines #28 of the Memphis Tigers on November 30, 2013 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. Temple beat Memphis 41-21. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

MEMPHIS, TN – NOVEMBER 30: Robbie Anderson #19 of the Temple Owls catches a touchdown pass against Andrew Gaines #28 of the Memphis Tigers on November 30, 2013 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. Temple beat Memphis 41-21. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Black Shoe Diaries, one of the best blogs ever, did a 1,000-word story on the matchups and did not even mention Robinson’s name.

The largely Penn State-focused press can certainly be forgiven for overlooking Anderson, since they have never seen him play, but many in Philadelphia have and are anxious to see him in action again. Anderson is the kind of weapon Temple fans are more than content to roll out at kickoff (3:30 EST, ESPN). Almost all of the Penn State-centric previews have focused on a repeat of last year’s matchups.

Anderson, who flunked out of Temple in January of 2014 as Robbie before his current resurrection and change of first-name spelling to Robby, brings a whole different dynamic to this one. When fans last saw him, in the 2013 finale at Memphis, he dominated the game, catching three touchdown passes in a 41-21 win. Memphis would go on to win the AAC last year.  That day, even though the Tigers rolled their coverages over to his side, they could not stop him.

It was the exclamation point on a spectacular 10-game season for the 6-3, 190-pound receiver, who caught 44 passes for 791 yards for nine touchdowns and averaged 18 yards-per-catch—the second highest average among all 126 FBS teams. Anderson has a remarkable skill set which includes a 44-inch vertical leap, sub-4.5-speed in the 40-yard dash and moves of a premier punt returner in the open field. In fact, he is also Temple’s starting punter returner this season.

Anderson’s late start  in 2013 can be chalked up to the fact that he was a defensive back in the spring and had to take care of family matters in Florida before rejoining the team later in the 2013 season. Just before a game at Idaho, Temple coaches tried him out at wide receiver and found that he and then true freshman quarterback P.J. Walker formed a cosmic connection and the rest was history.

Anderson will be on display for the nation to see on Saturday and, afterward, the question Penn State fans will be asking of their media is why they never heard of him.

Defense is in Good Hands with Coach Phil Snow

Any analytical look at the Penn State vs. Temple game film from a year can see a lot of foul-ups, but few were committed by defensive coordinator Phil Snow.

Sure, the Owls could have been more aggressive than the rushing three, cover eight, approach they used a year ago but does anyone really believe a call like that to be solely the propriety of the defensive coordinator?

I do not.

That’s a head coach’s call or at least probably was last year.

The Owls of this year might have a chance at lowering the 13.2 ppg mark of 2011.

The Owls of this year might have a chance at lowering the 13.92 ppg mark of 2011.

Snow did the best he could under that general game plan. If he has the influence I believe he has on the head coach, he will do his best to change that approach at least this Saturday against that particular quarterback. Expect a more attacking, not passive, Temple defense this Saturday and that is certainly the way to go against a relatively immobile quarterback like Christian Hackenberg.

If the Owls cannot get to Hackenberg with five, they should bring six. If they can’t get to him with six, they should bring seven. The whole defensive game plan should be predicated on putting him down.

Have the Owls learned their lessons from last year’s laid-back approach? Geez, you have to hope so. A clue as to how the team might approach this game plan came in the final moments against Tulane a year ago. This was the same Tulane team that beat Houston and a team that needed a touchdown in the red zone.

takeover

Instead of sitting back, Snow went after the Tulane quarterback with a blitz by linebacker Avery Williams. I’m sure he remembers how successful that approach was. If Temple goes down, it goes down with its guns blazing and not its hands up.

That should be the approach Temple takes against the Penn State offense. Snow’s job is to convince Matt Rhule that’s the right way to go on Saturday. He’s got enough street cred established to do it.

When Steve Addazio was here, he said Chuck Heater was the “head coach of the defense” and, for the most part, that worked out well. Giving Snow that kind of leverage on Saturday could not hurt.

Thoughts on the Depth Chart

Temple wide receiver John Christopher (7) stiff-arms first-round NFL draft choice Byron Jones (16)

Temple wide receiver John Christopher (7) stiff-arms first-round NFL draft choice Byron Jones (16), whose world record in the broad jump could not stop this completion. Christopher earned one of the three starting WR spots.

Not very many surprises on the depth chart except for maybe the emergence of Ryquell Armstead at the running back position.

If there’s one thing the Owls have lacked since Montel Harris’ brief but meteoric appearance is straight-line speed and Armstead, who runs a 10.8 100-meter dash, certainly has that. A 10.8 would tie him as the fastest running back in Temple history. (Back when Paul Palmer played, the dashes were 100 yards.)

Armstead will not get caught from behind, let’s put it that way. He’s still behind Jahad Thomas on the depth chart. Maybe we’ll see Thomas, who got a No. 5 for toughness, lead blocking for Armstead. As they say about chicken soup and the cold, it couldn’t hurt.

Here’s the offensive depth chart:

LT 66 Dion Dawkins ……………………….(6-5, 318, Jr)
74 James McHale………………………(6-6, 300, r-Fr)
LG 75 Shahbaz Ahmed …………………..(6-3, 305, Sr)
70 Jovahn Fair…………………………..(6-3, 300, Fr)
C 79 Kyle Friend ………………………….(6-2, 305, Sr)
68 Brendan McGowan ………………(6-4, 300, r-Jr)
RG 55 Brian Carter …………………………(6-3, 309, r-So)
52 Eric Lofton …………………………..(6-5, 302, r-Sr)
67 Semaj Reed ………………………….(6-6, 305, r-So)
RT 53 Leon Johnson……………………….(6-6, 320, r-So)
77 Jaelin Robinson …………………….(6-6, 319, r-Fr)
TE 86 Colin Thompson……………………(6-4, 250, r-Jr)
80 Kip Patton ……………………………(6-4, 241, r-Fr)
WR 19 Robby Anderson …………………..(6-3, 190, r-Sr)
10 Samuel Benjamin …………………(6-0, 200, r-Jr)
17 Brandon Shippen ………………….(5-11, 191, Sr)
WR 84 Romond Deloatch …………………(6-4, 214, r-Jr)
88 Adonis Jennings ……………………6-3, 190, So)
87 Ventell Bryant ………………………(6-3, 181, r-Fr)
WR 7 John Christopher ………………….(5-11, 189, r-Sr)
15 Brodrick Yancy ……………………..(5-11, 187, So)
QB 11 P.J. Walker …………………………..(6-1, 200, Jr)
18 Frank Nutile …………………………(6-4, 219, r-Fr)
RB 5 Jahad Thomas ………………………(5-10, 180, Jr)
25 Ryquell Armstead………………….(5-11, 205, Fr)

You did not have to have the intelligence of Stephen Hawking to know it was going to be tough to break into the starting lineup on the defense, but I think Nate D. Smith is probably going to be the best pure pass rusher we’ve seen at Temple since Adrian Robinson. Speaking of Arob, great to see No. 43, Averee Robinson, break into the starting lineup.  Temple would is now doing what I thought it should do all along with him, go 5-2 and play him at nose to fully utilize the gap leverage of a three-time large school heavyweight state wrestling champion. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Tavon Young returning punts. (Even though he’s the backup, I hope he works his way into the lineup as the starting punt returner.) He could be the best punt returner at Temple since another Young, Anthony.

Here’s the Defensive Depth Chart: 

DE 35 Nate D. Smith……………………….(6-0, 236, r-Sr)
56 Sharif Finch ………………………….(6-4, 257, Jr)
DT 9 Matt Ioannidis ……………………..(6-4, 292, Sr)
99 Freddie Booth-Lloyd ……………..(6-1, 315, r-Fr)
NT 43 Averee Robinson ………………….(6-1, 285, Jr
72 Hershey Walton ……………………(6-4, 314, r-Sr))
DE 58 Haason Reddick ……………………(6-1, 225, r-Jr)
91 Jacob Martin ………………………..(6-3, 231, So)
WLB 8 Tyler Matakevich ………………….(6-1, 232, Sr)
22 Chapelle Russell……………………(6-1, 214, Fr)
MLB 41 Jarred Alwan ………………………..(6-1, 237, Jr)
90 Nick Sharga …………………………(6-2, 240, r-So)
SLB 2 Avery Williams ……………………..(5-10, 200, r-Jr)
OR 6 Stephaun Marshall ……………….(5-11, 203, r-Jr)
CB 3 Sean Chandler ……………………..(5-11, 185, So)
16 Artrel Foster ………………………..(6-0, 186, r-So)
CB 1 Tavon Young ………………………..(5-10, 180, Sr)
15 Nate Hairston……………………….(6-0, 193, r-Jr)
FS 21 Alex Wells ……………………………(6-0, 203, Sr)
13 Nate L. Smith ……………………….(6-1, 188, r-Jr)
SS 32 Will Hayes ……………………………(5-9, 192, r-Sr)
37 Boye Aromire……………………….(6-0, 206, r-Sr)

PK 29 Austin Jones ……………………….(5-10, 196, So)
95 Tyler Mayes ………………………..(6-2, 204, r-Sr)
P 43 Alex Starzyk…………………………(6-3, 213, So)
95 Tyler Mayes…………………………(6-2, 204, r-Sr)
KO 29 Austin Jones ……………………….(5-10, 196, So)
95 Tyler Mayes…………………………(6-2, 204, r-Sr)
H 20 Tom Bradway ………………………(5-10, 190, r-So)
7 John Christopher …………………(5-11, 189, r-Sr)
LS 59 Corey Lerch …………………………(5-10, 200, So)
57 Josh Lang…………………………….(6-2, 210, r-So)
PR 19 Robby Anderson…………………..(6-3, 190, r-Sr)
1 Tavon Young ………………………..(5-10, 180, Sr)
KOR 5 Jahad Thomas …………………….(5-10, 180, Jr)
88 Adonis Jennings ……………………6-3, 190, So)

Five One Keys to the Game

The key on Saturday will be the Owls sending MORE guys than the Nits can block, not like last year when PSU could use two lineman to block every rusher

The key on Saturday will be the Owls sending MORE guys than the Nits can block, not like last year when PSU could use roughly two linemen to block every rusher. (Photos by Temple Super Fan Ted DeLapp)

What was reserved for this space originally was at least one person’s opinion of what the five keys to the game would be on Saturday against Penn State.

There were five darn good ideas, cooked up all summer, but I thought, “Geez, who am I kidding?” There really is only one key to the game and that key opens up the other four doors: Put Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg on his backside early and often. Make him uncomfortable, take him down a lot, hit him more, and come at him from all sides. Make him think he’s going to get hit early on every play and he will give the ball up.

The guy is relatively immobile and has a documented history of happy feet and Temple should take advantage of that little bit of intelligence.

IF Owls go to play action, as promised, those 2 safeties in the middle of the field will be much closer to the line of scrimmage, allowing Owl receivers to get the separation they didn't get last year.

IF Owls go to play action, as promised, those 2 safeties in the middle of the field will be much closer to the line of scrimmage, allowing Owl receivers to get the separation they didn’t get last year.

In the six games Penn State lost a year ago, Hackenberg was sacked at least four times in each one. In five of those games, Hackenberg had 14 of his 15 interceptions and seven of his nine lost fumbles. Northwestern, coached superbly by Pat Fitzgerald, figured that out in a 29-6 win at State College, sacking Hackenberg only four times, but hitting him an additional 19. Temple fans would like to have 19 sacks and four hits, but they will gladly have what Northwestern had a year ago. This was the same Northwestern team that lost to Northern Illinois earlier the same season.

The Owls took the opposite approach a  year ago, more times than not dropping eight and rushing three. The Owls cannot afford to play that passively on Saturday.

Fitzpatrick is fighting an uphill battle at the Chicago-area school because the Wildcats have Ivy League type academic restrictions and those have limited his talent pool. What Stanford is to the Pac-12 and Vandy to the SEC, that’s what Northwestern is to the Big 10.  In addition, Northwestern has by far the smallest fan base in the conference. He can coach my team any day of the week, though. Northwestern might have had a losing season, but not because the team is ill-prepared or doesn’t game plan well.

Temple’s coaches could learn a lot from examining the Northwestern film. Let’s hope they dissected it like a frog in biology class.

OwlsTV’s Greatest Month

The return of OVO.

Some of you have watched the practice videos posted here over the last month. If the Owls have as good a month on the field in September as Owls’ TV had in August, they should be 4-0 right out of the gate.

Not only has newcomer Kevin Copp done an outstanding job presenting a number of storylines breaking every day at the Edberg-Olson Complex, he’s mixed in a crew of familiar Temple faces like “Our Very Own” Scott Hartkorn and Chris Williams who bring their own unique perspective.

OVO, Arob and Fran Duffy back in the day.

OVO, Arob and Fran Duffy back in the day.

Copp has done so well we wish that he will one day become the radio voice of the football Owls, replacing Harry Donahue. There’s no nicer guy than Harry, but listening to Temple football over the past decade or so has become complete and utter torture. We’re just as likely to hear “it’s thrown over the middle and the Owls intercept … no, it’s dropped” as we are “P.J. Walker throws it into the end zone and it’s a Temple touchdown … check that, they are saying he’s out of bounds” than a clean call of any play. Paul Palmer deserves a better partner.

Hardened ISIS detainees in Guantanamo Bay immune to water boarding, Chinese water torture and the spiked whip have been known to spill some useful intelligence when forced to listen to a Harry Donahue Temple football broadcast.

When Al Golden came to Temple in 2005, he brought with him a detailed binder of how to build a football program from the ground floor up.

Hardened ISIS detainees in Guantanamo Bay immune to water boarding, Chinese water torture and the spiked whip have been known to spill some useful intelligence when forced to listen to a Harry Donahue Temple football broadcast

It was neatly typed, separated into chapters, and something he brought to an interview with then Temple AD Bill Bradshaw. It also got him a job at a place former coach Ron Dickerson once called “a sleeping giant.”

Golden did a better job waking up the Rip Van Winkle of college football because his binder served as a loud alarm, complete with clucking roosters, clanging trash cans and early morning lawn mowers. One of the chapters in the back of the book had to do with media, both internal and external.

Golden hired a 22-year-old kid, Fran Duffy, who was good enough to parlay his Temple experience into the head video job for the Philadelphia Eagles. His sidekick was Hartkorn, who’d he throw the report to with the familiar words, “now over to our very own Scotty Hartkorn.” Hartkorn became known as simply, OVO. At the annual football banquets, Golden called them, “the best in the business.”

Now with Copp and company, Temple football is back to being the best in that part of the business. Can’t wait to see the Arob Tribute on the video boards in a week. If the team follows suit, it’s going to be a great September.

Best interview of the summer (IMHO):

Room for Improvement

When Temple head coach Matt Rhule talks about “room for improvement” and includes the coaching aspect of it, that has got to be a heartening sign.

In the 2-10 first season, there was not a whole lot of coaching responsibility being taken other than, after the loss to Fordham, Rhule saying that the loss was embarrassing and “it will get fixed.” Two weeks to get ready for a worse foe, Idaho, and it did not get fixed.

The lack of experience of the Temple coaching staff, especially offensively, reared its ugly head that first year and the numbers after halftime were so stark they could not have been ignored.

Halftime Adjustments?

Game First Half Points Second Half Points
Notre Dame 6 0
Houston 13 0
Cincinnati 20 0
UConn 21 0

All we can say is wow.

Things got only a little better last year, but not much in losses to teams the Owls should have been more competitive with, like Houston and UCF.

Those things have got to improve.

We’ll find out against Penn State. I have the feeling that the Owls match up physically well, but a 6-3 game got out of control a year ago after halftime and you have to wonder what went on in both locker rooms during the intermission. Penn State made the adjustments and Temple did not.

Another thing that cannot be denied is the Owls’ lack of previous winning experience among the current  Owls’ staff.

Coach Team Before TU Last Record

Before TU

Position

With

Team

Matt

Rhule, HC

NY Giants 9-7 Asst. OL
Phil

Snow, DC

Eastern Mich. 2-10 DC
Marcus

Satterfield, OC

Tenn.-Chatt. 6-5 OC
Glenn

Thomas

QBs

Atlanta

Falcons

6-10 QBs
Ed

Foley, STs

Fordham 7-15

(2 yrs.)

HC

Penn State has a head coach, James Franklin, who won nine games against a largely SEC schedule before he came to State College. He’s not getting paid $5 million a year because he’s a chump.

So far, Rhule has said all the right things about establishing a running game behind a two-back, two tight end system but, in recent days, he backed off the two backs and said the Owls might not use a fullback. Hopefully, that’s a ruse because we’d like to see, say, Jager Gardner following a lead block by, say, Nick Sharga behind Kyle Friend or Dion Dawkins.

Just once.

On the first play of the modern series with Penn State, coach Wayne Hardin tried a similar off-tackle play with world class sprinter Bob Harris following a crushing lead block by fullback Tom Duff through the hole. Seventy-six yards and 3.2 seconds later, Temple led, 7-0. That’s Temple TUFF. That’s Temple football right there. Harris behind Duff; Paul Palmer behind Shelley Poole; Kevin Duckett behind Mark Bright; Bernard Pierce behind Wyatt Benson and Montel Harris behind Kenny Harper.

Trivia question: Who led Temple in average punt return last year (21.0) but only got one chance?

Trivia question: Who averaged 21 yards per punt return but only got one chance?

Rhule also said he was at a loss to find out why the team had such a poor return game post-Delaware State but it was his  decision to use a slow possession receiver as the principle punt returner all season after Delaware State.

Duh?

Nate L. Smith, who is not a slow possession receiver, got one chance for a punt return last year and he returned it for 21 yards against Memphis. Smith is only the leading punt returner in Pennsylvania schoolboy history.

The leading punt returner in Pa. schoolboy history.

The leading punt returner in Pa. schoolboy history.

Sometimes, you wonder if these guys are looking at the same things we are but, again, there is room for improvement and personnel awareness is apparently one of those areas.

The running game to set up the play-action passing game and the punt return game are the two primary areas where the Owls have a lot of room for improvement.

The Penn State game will tell a lot about both. The Owls are physically there with Penn State. Mentally, it was another story a year ago. Losing a close game to Penn State will not cut it anymore. Establish the run with a tailback behind a lead fullback block, bring the safeties and the linebackers up to the line of scrimmage to respect the run game, then fake the ball into the belly of the tailback and go play-action. Under that scenario, P.J. Walker will have so many Temple receivers running free through the secondary he will not know which one to pick out. If he doesn’t get hurt taking back a punt first, Robby Anderson will be one of them.

Get ‘er done. It’s not rocket science.

One week and one day.

Running Game: Toughness Over Flash

When the Temple football coaches got together in the War Room at the E-O at the end of the season, the No. 1 topic had to have been to fix what was broken.

There can be no doubt it was the running game, the worst in the AAC and the chief reason the Owls had the worst third-down efficiency in the FBS. (The punt return game was also a disaster, but that was because the Owls decided early to use a possession receiver instead of an explosive return guy like Nate L. Smith to take back punts.)

Now, with 10 days left before Penn State, the solution appears to have been toughness over flash. Jahad Thomas, last year’s leading rusher, appears to have won the job despite strong challenges from Jager Gardner, David Hood and Ryquell Armstead. Four-star recruit T.J. Simmons also is in the mix, but someone will have to redshirt and he appears to be the odd man out.

One of the best ways to measure a player’s potential impact is comparing what that player did against similar competition.

While Simmons played perhaps against the best talent (Florida) and Gardner against the worst (Western North Carolina), Gardner’s numbers and size cannot be ignored. He might have lost the job by fumbling in a scrimmage, but if the Owls need explosiveness and flash at the position they do know where to go.

Thomas was nowhere near as dominating against some pretty good high school competition, but he’s obviously earned the coaching staff’s trust by his toughness. Would love to see the Owls attempt a more traditional running game by using Nick Sharga as a fullback to lead interference for Thomas and some of the other tailbacks and, since Sharga has gotten time as a fullback (in addition to linebacker and defensive end), that is possible—probably likely in goal-line situations.

Some red flags are involved in every player, with the possible exception of Armstead and Gardner.

Thomas does not seem to have the elite breakaway speed needed for the position. He was caught from behind in the Houston game.

Simmons had his best season as a freshman but has not played significantly since his junior year (nine games).

Of these players, Gardner’s size and speed and high school stats remind me most of Bernard Pierce and that’s the kind of player the Owls need at the position.

Player Ht./Wt. H.S. Best Year Games Yards Touchdowns
Jahad Thomas 5-10, 170 Sr. 13 889 15
Ryquell Armstead 5-10, 205 Sr. 11 1,488 18
T.J. Simmons 6-1, 195 Fr. 11 1,487 20
Jager Gardner 6-2, 205 Sr. 13 2,776 36
David Hood 5-9, 185 Sr. 12 1,651 21