Geoff Collins Unplugged

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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?

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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 

Losing Is An Attitude

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Watching Army march down the field a couple of weeks ago, a thought occurred to me even before the Cadets scored the game-tying touchdown. The defensive players were looking around for someone else to make a play instead of taking that bull by the horns themselves.

Losing is an attitude and it appeared as if Temple adopted that mindset early on in the season, but especially during the UConn game.

John Chaney wrote a great book called “Winning is An Attitude” with Steve Wartenberg about Temple basketball but this Temple football book appears headed for a less happy ending unless the Owls truly embrace the principles that gave them consecutive double-digit-win seasons.

Late in both the Uconn and the Army games, you could see the Owls—especially the defensive players—look around and wonder how their hearts would be broken now.

Instead of grabbing the game by the throat and sacking the quarterback, they allowed a 59-yard draw to a slow-footed Huskie quarterback and gave comfort to a triple option team that was very uncomfortable at throwing the ball by playing a prevent defense.

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As Harry S Truman once said, “The buck stops here” and the buck of this losing attitude has to stop at the desk of Temple football CEO.

If Geoff Collins were to write a book about the 2017 Temple football season, its title would be “Losing is An Attitude” and the subtitle might be “How I Turned Temple TUFF Into Temple MUSH in 8 Games.”

Other possible titles might be “Unfulfilled Promises” or “Undelivered Mayhem” because  Mayhem–which really is attacking the quarterback relentlessly—would have probably gave Temple wins, not losses, in the last two games.

Basically, this whole attitude was established from the first weeks of Collins’ tenure when he gave the offensive coordinator job to a spread offense guy, Dave Patenaude, who gave only lip service tribute to the Temple style of play which produced consecutive 10-win seasons. You knew this thing was headed south when, in January, Patenaude said he was going to run the tailback behind the fullback but also incorporate spread principles into the offense.

You can’t do both.

At least not effectively, and Patenaude has strayed from what the Temple personnel if best-suited for—run a great tailback behind a great fullback—to the point where the great fullback seldom even plays. The running game always set up explosive downfield plays in the passing game for Temple, making great use of play-action. The spread lends itself to punting on 4th and goal, which is exactly what the Owls did in the Houston game.

Defensively, the pressure on the quarterback we’ve been promised and subsequent backfield fumbles and interceptions returned the other way (Mayhem) has been MIA for eight games, even in the wins.

There are four more games left. It’s up to the CEO, not the OC and the DC, to order that the Temple offensive brand be restored in full and give the home fans at least a hint of the Mayhem he promised nine months ago.

Thursday: Navy Preview

5 Quick Temple Football Fixes

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The Owls should use this bye week to change the philosophy that led to 3-5.

What are we going to do without a weekend of Temple football?

To duplicate the kind of torture Temple fans experienced the last two weeks, we recommend stopping at the nearest police station and asking to be tased or making a trip across the Delaware and volunteering to be a waterboard subject at Fort Dix.

No thanks. I’ve had enough agony the last two weeks to last two years.

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Losses to Army and UConn have been that painful.

If anything the last two weeks have taught the Temple football staff is to not allow the same thing to happen again. There are reasons the Owls are 3-5 and chief among them is an ill-advised offensive philosophy that caused the program to stray from what has worked here the last two years for something that might have worked at Coastal Carolina last year.

Are the Temple coaches sensible enough to understand that? Probably not, but this is the path from 3-5 to 6-6 and they better at least consider it or they risk not losing only this year but the next  five as well.

These five quick fixes that can be accomplished in the next nine days and implemented going forward:

Ditch the Spread
This team won the AAC championship last year by going fullback and play-action and that’s what this personnel is best suited to do. Put fullback Nick Sharga back there leading the way for a now healthy Ryquell Armstead and establish the run. Once that run is established, have Frankie “Juice” Nutile fake the ball into the belly of Armstead and pull it out. With opposing linebackers and safeties inching up to the line of scrimmage to defend the run, those great wide receivers—Ventell Byrant, Keith Kirkwood and Adonis Jennings—will be so wide open Nutile won’t know which one to pick out. That’s Temple football.

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Put Isaiah Wright at tailback
Wright in space in the open field is, as the announcers said on Saturday, a “touchdown waiting to happen.” To give Wright the kind of space he needs, run him at tailback. Throw him little swing passes out of the backfield or run screens for him. Use Wright–along with David Hood–as the change-of-pace backs when Armstead needs a break.

Goal-line offense
When the Owls get to the one, especially on first down, don’t try anything crazy like run out of the shotgun. Load Rock behind Sharga and pound the ball three times for six points. This team is built to run the ball at the goal. Doing anything else is asking for trouble. Owls lost the game against Army by coming away with nothing when they got to the one. They cannot let that happen again.

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Turn Sharif Finch Loose
Finch is the all-time leader in punts blocked at Temple for a reason. The Owls only have him for four more games and they should turn him loose on every punt the opposition attempts. They have been terrible on punt returns because there has been no blocking for Mike Jones, so they might as well be more aggressive and go after these punts.

No More Prevent Defense
Allowing Army to march down the field with no timeouts and 25 seconds left was a disgrace. The best pass defense, especially against a team uncomfortable with throwing the football, is putting the quarterback on his ass. If you can’t get there with four, send five. If you can’t get there with five send six. Just get there.

Anything less than these quick patches exposes your fans to a torture that makes the rack look like a feather-duster.

Thursday: Five Throwbacks

Saturday: Around The AAC

Monday: Game Week: An Attitude

Wednesday: Navy Preview

Friday: Game Analysis

Monday: The Kelly Solution

Fizzy’s Corner: TU’s Regression

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No truth to the rumor that Temple band alumni were playing taps for the season after that fiasco that some describe as a game on Saturday.

Editor’s Note: Dave “Fizzy” Weinraub has played for Temple and coached subsequently. He’s seen the most well-coached Temple teams offensively (Wayne Hardin) and, now, the worst-coached Temple team, at least offensively, against UConn on Saturday. His recap follows.

By Dave “Fizzy” Weinraub

I would like to begin with a quote from my teammate, Dick Gabel, a former superintendent of schools.  “Worst coaching experience since I played for Pete.”  He’s referring to our coach in 1959, Pete Stevens. (He was a fine gentleman, though.)

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Geoff Collins should whack Dave Patenaude like Tony Soprano whacked Ralph  Cifaretto for burning down the stable where his horse lived. (Figuratively, not literally, though. Patenaude has plenty of horses and has been killing  them with this ill-advised offense.)

After seven games and three woulda, coulda, shouldas, because of the offensive play calling, Dave Patenaude has proven to be an incompetent play caller with absolutely no instinct for the right play at the right time. Again, and this time twice, he’s failed to score from first and goal. That’s mostly because his first two plays are always run up the gut. He doesn’t understand that the only down you can really fool a defense in that situation, is first down, not third down. First down is when you should run the fake into the middle, and then there’s a multitude of options.

Speaking of the goal line, how about the most bizarre play call I’ve ever seen. On fourth and one, he puts in the wildcat against a gap defense.  Not only does that make no sense, he then runs a slow developing fake to the outside, and when the tailback finally turns to run up the middle, he’s overwhelmed by the penetration.

 By the way, I’ve nicknamed his offense the Broad Street Offense.  That’s not because Temple is on Broad Street, but because Broad Street is one of the longest, straightest streets in the country.  Patenaude’s offense is almost always straight ahead.  I have to say almost now, because in our seventh game yesterday, he finally ran a reverse which gained thirty-five yards, and never came back to it.

There were a multitude of other coaching mistakes. There were twelve penalties, and this shows an undisciplined team, and that’s carried over from the beginning of the year. Then there was unbelievably poor clock management at the end of the first half, and at the end of the game. The coach let the clock run down despite having three timeouts available in the first half, and two in the second half.  It’s my guess they were afraid Connecticut would get a first down.  Is that a way to coach a game?  Last but not least, it took the coach until the second half to realize he had to blitz and get pressure on the quarterback.

I’m probably missing many more coaching mistakes, but I forgot to bring my notebook to the game.  I do know one thing, however.  To earn even a six-six record, Dave Patenaude cannot be allowed to call the offense.

Throwback Thursday: When Passing Wasn’t Fancy

 

Missing In Action

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Arguably, there were a lot of valuable players on the 2016 AAC championship team but, if you were to take a super secret vote of the players, it might have come down to two.

P.J. Walker or Nick Sharga.

Frankly, I don’t know who would have won and it would not have surprised me if Sharga did.

That’s why, even with the euphoria on Saturday of watching my beloved Temple Owls finally play like the team I thought they were before the season started, there was a tinge a sadness in that the best fullback in the country was limited to largely a special teams’ role.

If the full potential of the Owls are going to be realized, then the talents of the most valuable player on a Power 6 championship team should be maximized, not minimized, going forward.

Imagine this scenario, for instance.

David Hood’s hands on the back of Sharga as the fullback pancakes one linebacker on the way to a big gain. Over and over again. Then he does the same for Rob Ritrovano, whose “Nitro” nickname might be the best Temple football moniker since Gerald “Sweet Feet” Lucear.

This pile does not begin to move until Sharga takes charge. 

Then, if Ryquell Armstead’s recovery takes a little longer than expected, Sharga leading the way for Isaiah Wright on little swing passes out the backfield as a counter to blitzes on quarterback Logan Marchi.

All of these things open up options for the best group of wide receivers I’ve ever seen at Temple—Ventell Bryant, Keith Kirkwood, Marshall Ellick, Adonis Jennings and Brodrik Yancy.

Sharga’s just another weapon in what would be a nuclear arsenal and plugging him back in there on every down adds megatonage for every other weapon.

When I was introduced to Geoff Collins at the season-ticket holder party, I asked him to do me one favor.

“What is it?” Collins asked.

“Never take Nick Sharga off the field,” I said. “At least on offense. He’s not only the best fullback in the country, he’s the best blocker in the country and that includes offensive linemen. He’s probably also your best linebacker.”

“Don’t worry,” Collins said. “I won’t. We’re going to be using him even more this season.”

That promise was not kept on Saturday.

Keeping it in the final six games could be the difference between greatness and mediocrity.

Thursday: A Throwback

When Sixteen Is Anything But Sweet

Sixteen is usually a pretty sweet number, an indication that growing up is just around the corner, a time to get a driver’s permit or time for a great birthday party.

In football, the number 16 is anything but sweet because that’s the number, despite all of the offensive weapons Temple football has, that Logan Marchi has put up in each of the last two weeks as Temple’s quarterback.

It’s the quarterback’s job to turn the scoreboard into an adding machine and 16 points in each of the last two games does not cut it now and will not cut it going forward.

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Matt Rhule with Anthony Russo.

The audition is over. Logan Marchi is just OK in my opinion with a limited ceiling and we have seen that ceiling. It’s a 16-point ceiling with 48-point talent around him. It’s not getting any higher nor is he getting any taller.

It’s time for Anthony Russo to take over.

Russo, in my mind, is the perfect quarterback for this offense and he’s got a high ceiling.

He’s tall enough to see the field and has a big enough arm to make all of the throws.

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Our post-game ND analysis called for a quick QB change should the Owls struggle to put points on the board against Nova. Freaking Lehigh put 35 points up on Nova. It’s the quarterback’s job to put points on the scoreboard.

One play stood out in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 16-13 win over Villanova with the Owls having a third-and-four. Logan Marchi stepped into the pocket and threw a pass that may or may not have been complete but we will never know because the pass was blocked at the line of scrimmage.

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Les Miles with Anthony Russo.

That’s going to happen when you have a small guy with an average arm.

The Owls have NFL-quality wide receivers in Adonis Jennings, Ventell Bryant, Keith Kirkwood and  Isaiah Wright. They need someone who has a big arm, is tall and can make all of the throws.

Russo is that guy.

On the day Anthony Russo committed to Temple, he received a visit in the cafeteria at Archbishop Wood from then LSU head coach Les Miles. All Russo had to do was make an official visit to LSU and he would have a scholarship. Anthony, being a man of his word, said that he had given it to then head coach Matt Rhule. He previously de-committed from another Power 5 school, Rutgers, to play in his hometown. Coaches like Miles don’t hop on their private jet from Baton Rouge to fly to Warminster without wanting to close the deal. Miles, Matt Rhule and Rutgers all saw big-time in Russo. For some reason, maybe it’s because he’s Matt’s recruit, Collins does not want to give Russo a fair shot. At least that’s my opinion. I saw Russo play many times in big games. He’s fearless and he’s a winner.

Russo is a big-time quarterback, a state champion who tossed 35 touchdown passes in his senior year of high school. The Owls need a guy who can throw touchdown passes, and not just move the offense to get field goals.

They need to go to No. 15 to get over that 16-point ceiling they seem to be stuck on this season.

Or they can score 16 points against UMass and hope the defense delivers again.

To me, that’s a pretty sour option when they have a sweet arm on the bench.

The Owls should be turning these scoreboards into adding machines with that talent and 16 points in each of the first two games is squandering their weapons. The Owls have nothing to lose by giving a proven winner a shot.

Monday: Fizzy’s Corner

Tuesday: What Happened to Mayhem?

Thursday: UMass Preview