5 Things to Be Thankful For …

thanksgiving

Even in a 5-6 season (so far), there are things to be thankful for and, for today, we will run down this small list.

experience

Attendance

For all the self-flagellations of Temple fans over poor attendance, Boston College—a Power 5 team playing in Boston against a New England rival—drew slightly over 20,000 fans in 37,000-seat Fenway Park in a 38-13 win over UConn on Saturday night. Temple, having a worse season than BC, drew an average of over 26,000 fans for a 5-6 team. Last year, for a 10-win team, the Owls averaged  27,229.

sharga

Nick Sharga

The fullback returned to the modern offense for the first time since the Wyatt Benson days of Al Golden and Sharga proved the position could be the key that starts an effective offense. Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstead followed Sharga through the hole a year ago. That accomplished two things: Shorten the game and keep the defense fresh while chewing up clock and make the play-action passing game much more effective by bringing the linebackers and the safeties up to the line of scrimmage to defend the run and then passing over their heads. Sharga was largely a forgotten man by this staff who only gave him lip service and not the minutes he earned. Hopefully, this style of Temple TUFF football doesn’t die with the departure of Sharga because Rob Ritrovato has shown he can be an effective replacement. If OC Dave Patenaude pushes back on truly embracing a style of offensive football that epitomizes TEMPLE TUFF, head coach Geoff Collins should push him out the door no later than January.

alumnus

Atmosphere

With the satellite tailgates and the main alumni tailgate, the pre-game party atmosphere at Temple was second to none. The two strongest satellite groups were Wayne Hardin’s guys, led by Steve Conjar, and the Bruce Arians’ group, led by Sheldon Morris. The alumni association did a bang-up job with the main tailgate and, for $25 bucks, could not beat the spread or the accompanying giveaways.

graphic

Frankie Juice

Frank Nutile, the backup who became the starter, provided some juice when he was forced into action as a starter against Army, a game that was lost due to no fault of his own. (Some incredibly poor coaching defensive adjustments in Army’s last series lost that one.) Juice was the reason for a 36-13 lead over a very good Navy team, not responsible for the Middies getting back into that one. Despite the four interceptions against UCF—when the Owls should have been running the ball deep in their own territory—Nutile is determined to have the seniors go out on a good note at Tulsa and we have no reason to doubt him. (Norm Van Brocklin had four interceptions in a 1960 game against the Cowboys but the Eagles won the NFL championship that year. It’s a bad day, not a career-killer.)

falsies

The Theory of False Equivalency

Albert Einstein did not come up with it, but it was on display for the last three months on the Temple Fan Facebook page. Most fans understood that there were many starting AAC championship-level players back (Sharga, Ryquell Armstead, Ventell Byrant, Keith Kirkwood, Isaiah Wright, Adonis Jennings, Jacob Martin, Freddy Booth-Lloyd, Michael Dogbe, Greg Webb, Karamo Dioubate, Julian Taylor, Artrel Foster, Champ Chandler and Delvon Randall, three of five starters on the offensive line, just to name a few) and this coaching staff underachieved with that level talent. Yet, there were a few—they know who their names are—who insisted “this was a whole new team with new coaches” and that Matt Rhule was 2-10 and Al Golden 1-11 in their first year so Collins should get a Mulligan for this year. False equivalency. Rhule had 4-7 MAC talent; Golden had 0-11 independent talent. Hell, even Steve Addazio had a 9-4 first year inheriting a whole new group of players but he was smart enough to stick with Golden’s winning formula.

Thursday: A Throwback Story I’ll Always Be Thankful for

Saturday: Tulsa Preview

Sunday: Game Analysis

Tuesday: Season Analysis

Thursday: Looking Ahead

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The Exception To the Rhule

snipone

If the Owls go from 10 wins to five in one year, staff changes need to be made

Whatever happens in Tulsa a week from now, 11 games have provided more than enough evidence to come to one conclusion.
If Matt Rhule was the perfect guy to lead Temple football into the next decade, and he probably was, Geoff Collins is The Exception to the, err, Rhule.
In other words, The Anti-Rhule.
matt rhule, temple football,

What made Rhule great here doesn’t necessarily transfer to Waco and what made Geoff Collins a good coordinator in Gainesville doesn’t necessarily transfer to the top spot here


It took Rhule three years to understand the key to winning at Temple is running the football behind the fullback, playing sound, fundamental defense (no Mayhem), shortening the game with long drives predicated on a running game that forced opposing defenses to bring their linebackers and safeties up to the line of scrimmage and then hitting on explosive plays in the passing game by using play-action.

You’ve got to wonder
if the Temple
administration is
kicking itself now
knowing that there
was a guy out there
who knows how to win
here, Al Golden,
and they passed on
him to roll the dice
on an unproven coordinator
It’s a simple formula but it’s a proven effective one for the last two double-digit win seasons. This is football, not Rocket Science.
Why Collins saw the need to tinker with that formula with talent tailor-made to run it is beyond the comprehension of most Temple fans.
Certainly this one.
The shame of it all is that Temple went from a guy in Rhule who understood what it takes to win here to someone who might never grasp the concept. What made Rhule great here doesn’t necessarily transfer to Waco and what made Geoff Collins a good coordinator in Gainesville doesn’t necessarily transfer to the top spot here. Rhule’s gone and probably won’t be back but you’ve got to wonder if the Temple administration is kicking itself now knowing that there was a guy out there who knows how to win here, Al Golden, and they passed on him to roll the dice on an unproven coordinator.
Now we have at least a 50/50 chance–I assume Tulsa will be either a two-point favorite or a two-point underdog when the lines come out–of going from two 10-win seasons to one five-win one.
I made it a point to approach Dr. Pat Kraft at the pre-game tailgate and congratulate him on one thing.
“What’s that?” the Temple AD said.
“Firing the soccer coach,” I said.
“Why?”
“Because you said in the statement that Temple will not accept mediocrity,” I said. “That’s something new at Temple because Temple never fires any coaches. That statement shows Temple’s not playing when it comes to holding coaches to a standard.”
“I meant it,” Pat said.
If this season finishes in a five-win disaster, big changes need to be made at least at the coordinator level if not above.
In a week, the Owls have a chance to be either mediocre or bad.
If it’s the latter, I hope Kraft holds American football to the same standard he demands from the international kind.
Tuesday: 5 Reasons To Give Thanks
Thursday: A Throwback Thanksgiving Day Story

Final Tribute To the Seniors

 

 

 

How do you frame a portrait of goodbye to the seniors who have now a 50/50 shot to be the undisputed winning-est class in the history of Temple University?

You might include at least a little rain, symbolic teardrops from Heaven that come with the territory to bid a fond adieu to what has been the best four-year period for the school’s football fans.

triangle

That white triangle is where we will be on Saturday at 1

 

Include a mostly gray day against a worthy unbeaten foe, and finish it with a win. Celebrate with a lot of high fives and smiles in the parking lot afterward.

That would be the most fitting celebration of these wonderful young men who have given their all to Temple University.

They say to be the champs you’ve got to beat the champs and UCF hasn’t beaten these champs yet, and hopefully won’t.

When you break football down to its essence, it’s all about making plays and that’s what this group of seniors has done for the last four years and five in the peculiar case of defensive end Sharif Finch.

Temple at Central Florida

Keith Kirkwood: 1 second left

That might be as a place to start this tribute as any because Finch was here—believe it or not—as a starting linebacker in Matt Rhule’s FIRST season. He sacked the Rutgers’ quarterback and that appeared to end the game with a Temple win but called for what film later showed was a bogus personal foul and kept that game-winning drive alive. (Hell, Finch should have never been placed in that spot because Rhule eschewed the quarterback sneak behind two future NFL players—quarterback P.J. Walker following center Kyle Friend—on a fourth-and-three-inch call. Instead, Rhule inexplicably called a five-yard deep handoff to fullback Kenny Harper which was stopped for a five-yard loss. With RU having no timeouts left and Temple the ball on the RU 20 with 1:02 left, four inches would have ended that game with a kneel down or two.)

labolito

Nick Sharga watched by Bernard Pierce

Finch, now at DE, has been making plays for five years at Temple and four full ones and only two weeks ago was named the AAC Defensive Player of The Week for his effort in a 34-26 win over Navy.

In the play-making arena, fullback and linebacker Nick Sharga is right up there with the greatest playmakers in Temple football history.

Sharga was so much a part of the consecutive 10-win seasons that Rhule mentioned him (although not by name) in his introductory Baylor press conference. “We went to a pro-set at Temple because we had an NFL fullback,” Rhule said.

finch

Sharif Finch picks off Sackenberg.

Baylor might not, but Temple still has for at least the next two games. Sharga will go down as the most versatile player in Temple history because he was the best linebacker on the field in a 34-12 win over nationally-ranked Memphis in 2015 even though the national defensive player of the year, Tyler Matakevich, was lined up next to him that day.

Temple hasn’t nearly used Sharga as much as it should this year and its success going forward could depend on how much it uses this most valuable asset in the next two games.

Still, there is more to this class than Sharif and Nick, so shout outs must go to players like defensive back Cequan Jefferson, who chased after and recovered a loose ball on the kickoff against Cincinnati last season; wide receiver Adonis Jennings, who became a star he after transferring from Pitt; kicker Austin Jones, who had a Temple school-record 19-straight field goals broken (also, at the time, the best of any FBS kicker) against Memphis last year. That was the game what he was the victim of a cheap shot. Also gone will be punter Alex Starzyk, who has been solid since debuting in a 37-7 win at Vanderbilt in 2014.

Other goodbyes go to long-snapper Corey Lerch, who played for LaSalle High in the best high school league in America, the Philadelphia Catholic League. Long-snappers are like officials. If you don’t notice them, they are doing a great job and, since I did not notice Corey, the only thing I can say is: Great job, Corey.

americansked

Last year’s juniors were just as responsible for this as last year’s seniors were.

Keith Kirkwood, who made the most clutch catch in Temple history (against UCF) will be exiting stage left soon and that’s a pretty good memory to take to tailgates the next 50 years. Keith will never have to buy a brewski, that’s for sure.

Corners Artrel Foster and Mike Jones will also be missed. Foster was been steady and dependable while Jones was never the same player after being called for a bogus pass interference on a 50/50 interception that might have turned the Houston game around this year. It looks like that play took a lot of the natural aggressiveness out of Jones. They don’t call interference on 50/50 balls in the MEAC where Jones shined the last two seasons. Hopefully, he can leave Temple with a Pick 6 and a punt return to the house in the next few games.

Other seniors departing include linebacker Chris Smith, who is above the line for the first time this week, and offensive linemen Brian Carter, Leon Johnson and Cole Boozer. Carter was a defensive line starter in the 2014 game and gave up a solid career on that side of the ball to move to OL for the good of the team.

Defensive linemen Greg Webb and Julian Taylor will also be departing, homeboys and starters from each side of the river: Webb from Timber Creek (N.J.) and Taylor from Abington in Montgomery County.

There’s no crying in both baseball and Temple football, but if the skies open up and drop a symbolic tear or two on this senior day, that should be forgiven because it will be a sad day for all of us.

Sunday: Game Analysis

Geoff Collins Unplugged

tuff

A couple of weeks ago, at hopefully what will later be determined to be the low point of a long and fruitful (well, maybe just fruitful) career as Temple football head coach, Geoff Collins sat down with The Inquirer’s Marc Narducci and gave mostly guarded answers about his first season.

We’ll call those the “plugged” answers—as in those stock answers you’d expect most head coaches to say.

Today, with the benefit of hindsight, we’ll add some answers Collins MIGHT say if he was being unguarded or, in another word, unplugged. Our words mind you, but the words we guess Collins might be thinking now.

What has been the most pleasant surprise and biggest disappointment to this point?

REAL ANSWER: “The pleasant surprise has been the players. How they work every day, how they have a great attitude every day, how they are physical and tough every day in practice. They are very coachable and want to be great. That has been the biggest pleasant surprise. After coaching in the SEC the last six years, you don’t always get that, but these kids want to be great, they want to be coached and they are fun to be around. The biggest disappointment is just some of the young mistakes we have made. Three of the games in particular (against Houston, UConn and Army) were one-score games and a lot of those were things that were one or two plays away and that happened because of young mistakes. That has been one of the things that has been tough to deal with. The nice thing is that once they get the experience and they get it corrected, you don’t see it repeated. So you haven’t seen a rash of the same mistakes. A lot of times it is a new experience and a new thing that goes wrong with young players and that happens. But just the resiliency and coachability has been fun to be around.”

shargamilk

COLLINS UNPLUGGED:  The pleasant surprise remains the same, but the biggest disappointment has been the fact that we tried to reinvent the wheel when they did just fine under their system the last two years. I told Mack Brown in the ESPN game prep for Cincinnati that we were going to go back to TEMPLE TUFF football—run the ball at the goal line behind the best fullback in the country—and you can see what happened. We got away from that in losses to UConn and Army. That’s Temple football and it’s got to be Temple football going forward: Run Rock and Hood behind Sharga (and Nitro next year), then have Frankie Juice make explosive downfield plays in the passing game by faking to those guys when the linebackers and the safeties cheat up to stop the run. It’s not the kind of ball Dave likes, but he’s going to have to get used to it. If I have to put my foot down, I will.

Depth has been an issue due to so many injuries, especially recently. Has that been eye-opening for you?

RA: “It has been tough and the thing I talked about to the team this morning (on Monday), one of the positions of strength both in leadership and depth and the ability to rotate guys through in our above- the-line system has been in our defensive line. We have played eight, nine and 10 and sometimes 11 defensive linemen. And there really hasn’t been a drop-off. The leadership from Jacob Martin, Jullian Taylor, Sharif Finch, has been outstanding and I would even include Greg Webb in that leadership piece. We are using that as a model for all the other positions moving forward. To build that kind of depth and that kind of leadership throughout the organization at every single position.”

performance

CU: Not playing Greg Webb—who started in the Navy championship game last year—against Notre Dame and Villanova was a big mistake. We probably would not have been gouged on those 17 running plays that gained like 8,000 yards had we had vets like Webb and FBL in there instead of the new guys. We’ve also got to get Karamo Dioubate started in the right direction and I’ve made a mental note to play him some more going forward. KD’s natural position is DE and shifting him over there will make him a Mayhem star next year.

The quarterback situation is probably something you didn’t envision and I would think you would have wanted to have had it settled well before the opening game instead of deciding the week of the opener at Notre Dame. How tough was that?

RA: “When you lose a kid who started so many games and thrown so many passes and had first-team reps for four years (the way Phillip Walker did), the transition trying to find that next guy, a first time as a head coach, has been challenging. The thing that makes it challenging is they have been good. It would be one story if they weren’t good, then it would be a different scenario. We have had some quarterbacks that have played really well and good enough that the separation has been tough throughout. Logan (Marchi) has played really well in some really good stretches. And I was proud of Frank (Nutile) who came in and played as well as he did last week in his first college start (with Marchi injured). It’s been a good issue to have that they are both good and competitive.”

CU: I’m kicking myself now but not going to Frankie Juice after Logan had that pass batted down against Villanova. That should have been an Epiphany moment for me but I kind of let Dave (Patenaude) talk me out of it because he had such a good relationship with Logan due to recruiting him for Coastal (Carolina). No doubt in my mind had Frankie played after Nova, his feet would have been wet enough to maybe beat Houston and definitely beat UConn and Army. From now on, we’re throwing out this metrics stuff at practice and playing the guy who plays best in real games and that’s Frankie Juice currently.

juice

You talked earlier that in your previous coaching experiences for the most part, you only had to watch the defensive side of the ball. Now you have had to be in charge of the entire team. As a first-year coach has this been overwhelming task for you, and how has it been adjusting to being a head coach for the first time?

RA: “It has been exciting. I think I have improved every single week. I have been self-critical at every stage. I think at first you have to be critical of yourself before you can be critical of others. At Notre Dame (a 49-16 loss), I was still in that fighter-pilot mindset that I have been in for the last six years as a coordinator in the SEC and learned very quickly, I couldn’t do that. You see me at practice and I am a wild man out there and provide the energy and drive and I have been doing that more and more each week, so those kinds of things have been good. I found myself earlier in the season staying on the defensive headsets most of the game. The defensive staff has done a great job with in-game adjustments, and I now when the defense is on the bench, I have been able to be on the offensive headset the whole time, put my two cents in, tell them when we are going to go for it, when we need to run it, and when we need to take a shot, so that has been exciting for me. So more and more throughout the season since the South Florida game (a 43-7 loss on Sept. 21) we have done an elite eight, which are eight plays I give to the offensive staff. The crazy formations we started doing, I know as a defensive guy those are difficult to prepare for, so I give them a formation and two to three plays.”

photo

CU: As a head coach, you’ve got to be aware of everything and, for the first few games, I wasn’t that tuned into things. Pat Kraft strongly suggested that Dave go to the booth after his sideline demeanor against USF and that’s turned into a positive for us, not just in PR, but in productivity.

These last four games whether you become bowl eligible or not become critical when you are talking about next year. How critical is it?

RA: “We are probably four plays away from having a completely different record. We are playing a lot of young players at a lot of key positions. We have a lot of guys who will be coming back after this season so I think the future is really, really bright, but out of respect for our old guys, we are going to do it the right way for these old guys to finish out strong the final four games.”

CU:  We’re not playing as many young players as I’ve been saying all year. We’re going to be losing a lot more guys from this year’s team for next year than we did last year’s championship team for this year. So I’ve got my work cut out for me next year in terms of getting JUCO offensive linemen, wide receivers and defensive backs–not mention  replacing impact ends like Martin and Finch. A lot of our fans feel like we’re playing a completely new team but we’re not. Matt (Rhule) left me with a lot of great championship-level players and we’re going to lose a lot of those guys after, hopefully, the bowl game.

Friday: Our Annual Tribute To The Seniors

Fizzy’s Corner: Then Broad And (Now) Ridge

Editor’s Note: Now that Mack Brown says Temple has ditched the spread and gone back to the “Temple TUFF” offense it was known for the last two years, Dave “Fizzy” Weinraub has some nice things to say about Dave Patenaude. No nicknames for Patenaude quite yet, though.

By Dave (Fizzy) Weinraub

 Can you believe it?  For the first time, a bootleg at the goal line for a TD, and Frankie could have stopped off for a hot dog.  Then, some razzle – dazzle, where Frankie pitched to Wright, who then threw (finally) back to Frankie for a two point conversion.  There were even play-action passes on first down, (instead of drop-backs) and after turnovers, and even the second jet sweep of the year.

 

Don’t get me wrong, there were still up-the-guts at the wrong time, especially at first and goal, where we were still not efficient. It’s on first down, at first and goal when you have to show imagination.  But all-in-all, a remarkable turn around from the junior high offense we’ve been running all year.  There was so much improvement, I’m forced to upgrade the name of the offense from “Broad Street,” to the Ridge Avenue Offense.  Where Broad Street runs straight, Ridge Avenue twists and turns and curls.  Has Dave Patenaude seen the light?

footballs

However, I’m still pissed.  If we’d been running this type of offense all year, we certainly would have at least two more wins.  Also, Frank Nutile has been simply terrific.  His only two interceptions were passes that bounced off the receivers hands.  When given time, his passing has been phenomenal.  So my question is, why wasn’t he the starter from the beginning of the season?

The defense which had been mostly exceptional against the run, was only okay.  It allowed some sustained running plays for a time, but then righted itself.  It’s still the pass defense, especially against the two-minute offense that’s been terrible all year.  I just don’t understand why we can’t do the same thing the Eagles do in that situation. They rush four  and play a five across zone at about 12 yards, with a deep safety on each side. Then the defenders can see the QB and the ball, instead of running with their backs turned.  Even the announcer Friday night said, “no one knows where the ball is.”  We’ve given up an awful lot of TD’s in the right corner of the end-zone all year, and that’s because number ten (Jones), can’t see the ball.  To stop Central Florida, we have to defend the pass.

Wednesday: Geoff Collins Unplugged

Friday: Our Annual Tribute to the Seniors

Sunday: UCF Game Analysis 

Can We Now Finally Say The “S” Word?

Can we now finally say the “S” word when it comes to Temple football?

(No, we don’t mean the first letter in the last name of the hero of the Pravda crowd who was finally and justifiably kicked off the Temple Fan Facebook page today. Expect more to follow in future weeks if they follow that guy’s smug and sarcastic lead.)

For weeks we’ve been avoiding it because this coaching staff could not be trusted and was not following the simple but tried and true principles of winning at Temple that have been outlined in this space for the last five years: Run the ball, control the clock, play defense, great plays on special teams, explosive plays in the play-action passing game.

The “S” word we’re talking about here is Sweep.

juicemeister

Not having this kid starting from the jump a huge coaching error.

Yes, it’s just two games in the regular season and a game in the post-season but a sweep would turn this disaster of a Temple football season into another S word: Success.

Embracing the principles outlined here after year two made Matt Rhule a multi-millionaire and it seems, off a 35-24 win at Cincinnati on Friday night, Geoff Collins has moved a step closer to cashing in on his fortune.

There was more running the ball, more play-action, and more good plays on special teams in this one game than we have seen all season.

Let’s face it: Central Florida is going to win the AAC title whether it beats Temple or not next Saturday at noon. However, it will be another “S” word if the Owls become the lone team to hand the Knights a loss:

Sweet.

doggies

Went 3-0-1 as all these underdogs won comfortably and the BC game was a push. Now 10-1-1 on the season against the spread. Key is waiting until late in the season.

It could happen.

Florida teams do about as well in the cold as Temple teams have done in Florida in September and October historically.

The Cincinnati team that Temple dominated on Friday night lost in overtime to an SMU team that gave UCF a great game in the warm-weather state of Texas last week.

Forget the fact that the coaching staff failed Frank Nutile (and their own kids and fans) by not starting him from the jump, all that can be done now is think about the future.

The future with Frank and the staff embracing these tried and true Temple football winning principles can be describe with another “S” word:

Satisfying.

One week at a time and an 8-5 season is now not the longshot it appeared to be two weeks ago.

Monday: Fizzy’s Corner

Wednesday: Geoff Collins Unplugged

Friday: Our Annual Tribute To The Seniors

Sunday: UCF Game Analysis

 

Cincy Preview: A Large Fan Presence

photoshopped

If this is photoshopped, hats off to the guy who did this (hats on, I mean).

One thing is for sure tonight (7 p.m., ESPN2) is that Temple will lack a large road fan presence in Cincinnati for a very important game with bowl implications.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be large Temple football fans on display tonight.

Whatever the Owls fan base might lack in quantity, they should more than make up in quality because, in Freddy Booth-Lloyd, they not only have a future professional football player but future professional Temple football fan.

No. 1 in your game program and No. 1 in your heart should be Booth-Lloyd, who has gone on record as saying that after his pro football career is over, he wants to be a Temple Temperor.

Cincinnati backs trying to get by FBL tonight (will) be like this ….

To the Rip Van Winkles (or just the Winkels) out there, the Temple Temperors are three guys who put their Temple fandom out there on display unlike really any other three fans in the stadium on a weekly basis. It takes a lot of guts to do that. They put their Temple fandom on the line with those large crowns they wear and the accompanying capes. They are to be admired for being, well, out there. On road games, they are often highlighted by the TV guys. Now down to “beer money” those Temporors cannot make the trip to Cincy tonight but will have a very large fill-in for at least one of the nights.

It’s nice to know at least one of the real Owls have noticed.

If Refrigerator Perry could have a long and storied career in the NFL, there is no reason the 6-foot-1, 365-pound Booth-Lloyd can’t, either. He’s large, very athletic, and a prodigious run-stopper.

He’s big, tough and athletic enough to win a track race against similarly sized big guys in a Florida high school track and field relays. The video went viral a few years ago and the world knew that Temple football had a big guy who could run.

Booth-Lloyd had the best game of his college career against a Navy team that uses the fullback to set up success in the triple option. Playing over the center and often with eight-man fronts, Freddy was a big (biggest?) part of the reason why the Owls were able remove the key that starts the triple option.

Tonight against Cincy is a whole different story in that FBL will have to play a key part to stop a Bearcat running attack that makes quarterback Hayden Moore effective. Stop the run and the Owls can get after Hayden Moore, sack him, and maybe force him into interceptions that go the other way.

At least that’s the plan.

If the Owls win, a nice cap to the night would be for FBL to lead the “T For Temple U” cheers, not wearing the players’ helmet, but his future Temperor crown. If that visual can be made to happen, you can book it will go viral as well.

Tomorrow: Game Analysis