The Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is a very nice place, one that Temple football fans called home for the last two games of the 2016 season.
One of them, a father of a recent player, mentioned to me that he would not mind if the thing could be placed on a forklift and plopped right onto the site that for years was Geasey Field. Not a bad idea, I said, if it could find into that spot.
As I walked out of that stadium in late December, I remember thinking another thing.
I liked that stadium a whole lot better the first week of the month than the last. It looked like the Taj Mahal on the first Saturday of the month and, after a 34-26 loss to Wake Forest, like Northeast High.
Playing and winning a meaningful game made it a whole lot better-looking.
Temple has been in the AAC championship game the last two years, losing the first, winning the second.
Few expect the Owls to return for a third-straight time, maybe even host it, but I don’t think it’s impossible.
Here’s 5 reasons why the Owls could repeat:
Don’t Mess With a Good Thing
Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude mentioned that the Owls would keep their identity as a run-first, pass second team, then talked the out the other side of his mouth in the same sentence, saying the Owls could go to multiple receiver formations as well. The Owls have the best blocking fullback in the country, Nick Sharga, for one more year. If they are going to go to multiple wide receivers, do it in 2018, not 2017. At his Baylor press conference, Matt Rhule said the Owls ran the ball simply because “we had a NFL fullback.” They still do.
Mayhem Takes Over
The T-Shirts the university sells isn’t just an empty slogan: Mayhem Is Coming. That’s because everywhere Temple coach Geoff Collins has been he has structured a defense based on pressuring the quarterback into mistakes, like fumbles and interceptions. In players like Sharif Finch and Jacob Martin (defensive ends) and tackles Michael Dogbe and Karamo Dioubate, they have guys who can get to the quarterback and strip the ball from him before he’s able to get a pass out of his hands. At least that’s the plan.
Anthony Russo is the best quarterback prospect out of the three Philadelphia City high school leagues (Public, Catholic, Inter-Ac) since Matt Ryan played for Penn Charter. Russo’s stats playing better competition than Ryan dwarfed the current NFL MVP (Russo had 35 touchdown passes his senior year as opposed to 20 for Ryan). Yet Russo hasn’t been able to establish separation with fellow quarterback contenders Logan Marchi, Frank Nutile and Toddy Centeio. If he does in the next few months, watch out. Really, all any of the quarterbacks needs to do is match P.J. Walker’s first year (20 touchdowns, 8 interceptions) because the running game with Jager Gardner and Ryquell Armstead could carry this offense.
Infusion of Confidence
A win over Notre Dame in the first game would inject an infusion of confidence into the players that could carry over into the rest of the season. Face it: They all seem to like Collins, but nothing would give Collins credibility to his players like beating ND on national TV. They could ride that Tidal Wave through the AAC. How sweet would it be for Temple to beat Notre Dame and then see the Irish go on a six- or -seven-game winning streak after that?
Game Day/Week Coaching
While Rhule, like Al Golden, were great program CEOs and very good recruiters, they had some brain farts on game day that caused Temple fans and ex-players to shake their heads. Such an example occurred against Army in the opener last year when the Owls played their base 4-3 against a triple option, instead of plugging the A Gaps and forcing Army’s quarterback to beat them in in the passing game. Another example was a poor week of preparation prior to Penn State led to 120 yards in Owl penalties in a 34-27 loss. Cracking the whip during practice the week before might have cut those penalties in half and meant the AAC champ winning at the Big 10 champ. Huge opportunity missed not only for Temple but for the G5. If Collins does a better job at studying opponent’s game film than Rhule did, he could steal one or two more wins than the so-called experts expect.
Those one or two extra wins could make all the difference in the world.
Wednesday: P5 Misconceptions