Just about everyone who filed out of the stadium last night could be overheard saying the same thing, in one syntax or another: “If they play like this on Thursday, they’ll lose.”
The first “They”, meaning the special teams, which had been solid until recently but now appear to be out of sync. The second “they” meaning the team. The last couple of games, though, the first they have been handling the ball like a hand grenade and that is going to have to be cleaned up.
Actually, with only a couple of exceptions, the Owls played pretty well all night in a 30-16 win over UCF. The exceptions, of course, will kill you—a pick six, a couple of fumbles on returns. Clean those things up, and the Owls have a chance to roll a 6-0 season into a 7-0 season.
Leave No Doubt, though, those things need to be cleaned up and nobody understands that more than head coach Matt Rhule. I now understand “Matt’s” big statement after the first summer scrimmage: “It was a little too sloppy for my taste. At Temple, the most important thing is that we do not beat ourselves.”
That’s true more this year than any other, especially because the Owls have a defense that is not going to be overwhelmed physically by anyone—including Notre Dame. The game that comes up this Thursday, at ECU, is even more important than Notre Dame because it is an a) AAC game; b) AAC East game.
It’s a short week, and a tall order.
Win on Thursday night and the path is clear to the AAC title game being played in Philadelphia. The Owls already hold the tie-breaker over Cincinnati. Win at ECU and that gives them tie-breakers over really the only two teams in the AAC East who can challenge the Owls.
Fixing it is the vexing problem. I’ve never liked the idea of having a team’s best offensive player taking back punts or kickoffs and, even though Jahad Thomas is the team’s best offensive player this season, Robby (then Robbie) Anderson was certainly the team’s best offensive player in the 2013 season. I don’t like giving up that down, either, with a possession receiver because Sean Chandler showed what a dynamic player can do with the ball.
I’d like to see someone who has a history of returning punts and being reliable with the ball and, in Nate L. Smith, the Owls have the top punt returner in the history of Pennsylvania. He might be not as dynamic as Chandler, but he’s a little more reliable with the ball and a little more dynamic than having a possession receiver back there.
Either way, if the Owls clean that little messy part of their game up, they stand a good chance of turning a short week into a nice and tidy front porch. Got to get that cleaned up in order to be able to invite Gameday for a visit in two weeks.
Postscript: Somewhat surprised to hear an interview with Rhule talking about his on-field halftime speech to the team and referencing that they were “booed and deserved to be booed.” Sitting in the middle of the stands, I respectively disagree. The booing in the first half was without a doubt and unequivocally directed at the refs. At no time were any people in my relatively large section near the 50 booing the kids or the coaches.