Matt Rhule has some good ideas on getting his team to relax.
The odds makers who reside in Las Vegas have made East Carolina University a favorite over the visiting Temple Owls (tomorrow night, 7 p.m., ESPN2) and the reasons are mostly because Temple (6-0) is coming off a short week with a big game coming up in Notre Dame and the Pirates are a very good home team. There are a couple of things wrong with that thinking, though. ECU (4-3) is also coming off a short week and, while it is a good home team, Temple showed enough grit to survive a similar road test at Cincinnati earlier this season. Also, the Owls are wise enough to know that Notre Dame, while big, is nowhere near as important as the ECU game is to them. The matchups also seem to be in Temple’s favor as ECU is weak against the run and Temple has proven to be a formidable rushing team. The game is played on the field, though, not in Las Vegas, and if the Owls do these five things, they should be just fine.
- Commit to the Run
ECU gives up 188 yards per game on the ground. The Owls have not seen that kind of porous run-stopping since UMass. Mark Whipple had a good game plan against the Owls, stacking the box with eight. Instead of check-mating that with two tight ends and a fullback, the Owls played into Whipple’s hands by throwing the ball 48 times. They got away from their identity and threw a couple of costly picks that allowed an inferior team to hang around for three hours. They must stay within themselves, throwing the ball 20-30 times. If they have to, they must put more helmets on ECU helmets and knock them back off the ball.
- Rush the Passer
The Pirates employ two quarterbacks, one a passer and one a runner. The Owls need to blitz the passer and contain their lanes on the runner. James Summers (No. 11) is the runner. Fellow junior Blake Kemp is the passer. Kemp has a problem with turnovers and, if the Owls treat him with the same respect they treated Christian Hackenberg with (none), they should be able to force a couple of turnovers. The old saying in football is that when you have two quarterbacks you have none and the Owls need to show why that saying is true.
- Block a Punt
This was Sam Benjamin’s specialty last season. No. 10 blocked two punts in the UCF game a year ago and one in the Charlotte game this season. Now, Adonis Jennings has joined the punt-blocking party, using his length and athleticism to block a punt against UCF last week. With Benjamin coming from the side and Jennings from the middle, blocking a punt would take pressure off a return game which has been shaky the last couple of weeks.
- Play-Action Passing
When P.J. Walker throws 20-30 passes (and not the 48 he threw against UMass), the Owls can have an explosive downfield passing game. They must rip the “out” pattern—the one that went for a Pick 6 against UCF—out of the playbook, though. Once they get Jahad Thomas going in the run game, faking it to Thomas should find receivers like Jennings, Robby Anderson, Ventell Bryant and John Christopher finding open seams over the middle.
- Protect the Ball
Easy to say, hard to do, but head coach Matt Rhule hit on it in his Tuesday press conference when he said the ball is going to come free on things like a bad snap or bad bounce but just fall on it and do not try to pick it up. Falling on it allows the offense—with its impressive arsenal of offensive weapons—to live another day. If the Owls protect the ball, they will likely live a day at 7-0—which would be their first-ever day with that record.
As Rhule says, just go play.