That old saying that “Denial is More than a River in Egypt” apparently extends all the way to 10th and Diamond and that’s at least 10 long blocks from nearly any body of water, unless you are counting broken water mains.
At least that’s my most disappointing takeaway from Matt Rhule’s post-game comments after the Penn State loss above in the latest edition of Matt Rhule Weekly, especially the remarks about P.J. Walker’s play.
Rhule said P.J. is going to have to stop throwing interceptions and that’s reasonable but I really have to ask if Rhule is seeing the same things on the interceptions I am and a lot of Temple fans are—a guy who has to duck out of a rush like Houdini out of a straitjacket just in time see every receiver covered. The poor kid is just trying to make a play on most of those interceptions because he’s getting no separation and plenty of pressure.
Putting this on P.J. is really a heavy dose of denial by Rhule, even though he also adds in the qualifier “it’s on us as coaches, too.” Yet the coaches have done nothing to make things easier for the most talented quarterback who has come to North Philadelphia since Adam DiMichele.
If he thinks things are going to get better if P.J. “just stops throwing interceptions” then he’s only kidding himself. There is a much larger issue here.
This whole offense is a cluster-bleep disaster delivered to Philadelphia by FedEx direct from Chattanooga, the last stop of his current OC. A trifecta of no running game, no wide receiver separation and no quarterback protection.
These problems are not insurmountable and that’s where Rhule should step in and assert his authority. Establish the run with the left side of the offensive line, behind future NFL tackle Dion Dawkins and future NFL center Kyle Friend. Give P.J. a blocking fullback, both to help in the run and pass protection. (Yes, I know Kenny Harper is on crutches, but if he can’t go, Marc Tyson can do the job.) Make P.J. a little more comfortable by featuring old state championship high school teammate Jahad Thomas—in federal witness protection since 157 rushing yards against Tulsa–as the tailback behind those blocks and someone to dump a screen pass off to in times of trouble.
Stop with the empty backfields and the three wides, four if you split out the tight end like Marcus Satterfield has been doing since ECU. Bring Colin Thompson, who blocks like a really good offensive lineman, in for max protect and to flare out for easy peezy outlet passes. (If you don’t know what those are, see Chester Stewart to Evan Rodriguez, Maryland game, 2011.) Use plenty of play-action, sticking the ball into Jahad’s belly and pulling it out, to bring the linebackers and safeties up in run support and give the receivers a better chance to get open. ROLL P.J. OUT AWAY FROM THE RUSH, where he’s made some of his best throws this season.
Tommy Tuberville is a damn good coach. Here’s an easy prediction to make: Every time Temple goes into an empty backfield, Tuberville will send more rushers than Temple can block and the end result will not be pretty. So maybe the Owls should never show the empty backfield look. Tuberville has Temple film. He’s salivating at the prospect of sending his best linebacker, ironically named Nick Temple, through the A gap, for sacks and tipped balls. Every time Temple goes “dog stare” into an empty backfield, Tuberville knows what defense to call.
Yes, P.J. Walker has to stop throwing interceptions but Rhule—not Satterfield, since he’s the CEO—has to at least give him more help. There’s no Robbie Anderson anymore and Temple cannot be running the same Robbie Anderson offense, especially in these last two most important games of the season.
It hasn’t worked for 10 games and that should be more than enough of a sample to dictate real change.