Something Temple offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said in the offseason a year ago gave a rare insight into the way the brain trust approaches problem-solving at the Edberg-Olson Practice facility. He said the staff realized midway through the 2014 season that the four- and five-wide sets that had been at the core of the Owls’ offensive philosophy needed be scraped but it was “too late in the season” to fundamentally change the offensive approach. So do not expect any major changes for the bowl game, but these five things need to be addressed in the spring.
- Another Nick Sharga
There will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth when fullback Nick Sharga moves to the other side of the ball as ostensibly Tyler Matakevich’s replacement at the “Mike” linebacker position next year. Most of those molars and tears will belong to Jahad Thomas, who was sprung for many of his 1,000-plus yards and 17 touchdowns off lead blocks by Sharga. The Owls will need another fullback to replace Sharga because Nick’s backup, Mike Felton, will be graduating. My recommendation is to give all the Sharga film to Daiqwon Buckley, a 5-9, 225-pound freshman from Dunmore, and tell him to do exactly what he sees Sharga doing. Then work on those lead blocks in the spring. Also, reward Buckley with a few carries a game to keep the defense honest. He rushed for 2,322 and 35 TDs as a senior and led Dunmore to the Class A state final. Since he’s ambidextrous—able to throw with either hand—he might also be a candidate for a few trick plays.
Elite Edge Speed
The Owls haven’t had a James Nixon or Travis Sheldon type since, well, Nixon and Sheldon. Ventell Bryant, Sam Benjamin and Romond Deloatch and all the returners are pretty much the same type receivers, tall targets that will not necessarily stretch the field. Cortrelle Simpson, a 5-10, 175 pound freshman who ran a 4.3 as a high school senior, is that guy. He was the scout team player of the week prior to both the Penn State and the East Carolina games.
- Return Punts
Simpson, who had 795 kick return yards in high school, also might be the guy to wake the Owls from their two-year punt return slumber. The Owls haven’t had that flip-the-field guy since Delano “Positive Man” Green. They need to turn the punt return into an offensive play again, the way it was when Green played, and when past greats like Anthony Young and the late great Paul Loughran played. Kareem Ali has the speed to handle that role, too.
- Build Depth
One of the fallacies floating around out there is that the Owls’ defense will not be elite because of the losses of people like Matakevich, Matt Ioannidis and Tavon Young. Head coach Matt Rhule appears to have a done a good job building a line of succession because Sharga will plug in for Matakevich, Freddy Booth-Lloyd for Ioannidis and Kareem Ali for Young. I don’t expect Sharga to become a first-team All-America like Matakevich was, but he’s certainly capable of making all-league. Ali will be a star and FBL has certainly showed he’s ready for prime time. The challenge is to build the backups for those guys and the next line of succession.
- Two-Minute Drill
Let’s be honest, the Owls looked lost when they had to preserve precious time for a fourth-quarter comeback at Houston but we know they are more than capable of running an effective two-minute drill because they executed one flawlessly to beat UMass. The challenge is to make sure what happened at Houston never happens again and to learn from what was done well at UMass and make that a permanent two-minute package—even for long stretches like seven minutes. That probably should not wait until spring because it might be needed against Toledo.