Thanksgiving With (Just a Few) Words

Editor’s Note: The biggest reason I have to be thankful for (as a Temple fan at least) was to be able to write this story roughly one year ago. On this Thanksgiving Day, we republish it in its entirety.

The morning after arguably the greatest win in Temple football history, there are no words.

Literally no words are coming out of my mouth, at least in the sense of being able to talk this morning.

The throaty and hoarse condition is more than OK because it was the result of cheering for the Owls at beautiful Navy-Marine Corps Stadium as they captured what really is their first-ever major football championship. The 1967 MAC title was admirable, but that was a day when the school played to a level of football that was beneath their status even then as one of America’s great public universities.

So this was it.

ride

Walking out of the stadium and into the concourse, I let out a very loud primal: “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT!!”

Fortunately, I got a few high fives and smiles from my fellow Temple fans and not fitted for a straightjacket. It also put the voice out for 24 hours, maybe more.

When it comes to Temple football today at least, you cannot think in terms of a national championship—the deck is stacked against G5 teams in an unfair system—so what happened yesterday was the pinnacle of Temple football success. Thousands of Temple fans, easily in excess of 10,000 Temple fans, made Navy’s 15-game home winning streak a moot point by turning that stadium into a Temple home field advantage and to get to that mountaintop and look down from it is incredibly satisfying.

Hey, it’s a pretty spectacular pinnacle. The only thing that would have made it better was a G5 slot in a New Year’s Six bowl against Penn State, but that’s not happening for a number of reasons that are not important today. (Objectively, would you take a team for the Cotton Bowl that has won seven straight against this schedule and beat a Navy team, 34-10, over a Western Michigan team that struggled to beat a four-loss Ohio team? I would but I don’t expect the bowl committee to be that objective. I can also grudingly see the WMU argument.)

What is important is that the Owls have gone from being a perennial Bottom 10 team and laughed at nationally to being ranked in the Top 25 for two straight years and going to a title game one year and winning it the next. When you think of the success P.J. Walker and Jahad Thomas have had here, there is a Twilight Zone quality to the parallel between this success and their success at Elizabeth (N.J.). In their freshman year at Elizabeth, they won one game; in their freshman year at Temple they won two games. In their sophomore year at both schools, they won six games. In their junior year at both schools, they reached the title game and lost and, in their senior year at both schools, they lifted the ultimate hardware together.

Truly amazing and I will miss both of those guys.

Back on Cherry and White Day, I wrote that this team will be better than last year’s team while people on other websites—notably, Rutgers and Penn State fan boards—insisted that Temple would take a step back. I was consistent in my belief that this was the STEP FORWARD year, not the step back one, and that belief was rooted in knowledge that both the defense and offense were significantly upgraded despite graduation losses. Only a Temple fan who follows the team closely would know that, not the know-it-alls who make assumptions on subjects they have no idea what they are talking about.

Today at noon, the Owls will know where they will go for a bowl game. They can finish the season in the top 25 and set the record for most wins in Temple football history.

It won’t be the cake because we saw that yesterday, but it will be the Cherry on top of that white cake and it will be delicious even going down past what promises to be a future sore throat.

Friday: Fizzy’s Corner

Saturday: Tulsa Preview

Sunday: Game Analysis

Tuesday: Season Analysis

Thursday: Looking Ahead

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5 Reasons Why Owls Could Repeat

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 03 AAC Championship - Navy v Temple

The AAC title would be a nice keepsake item for the Owls this season.

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:

sharga

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.

maniac

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.

russo

Quarterback Separation

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?

kraft

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

The Schedule: You Never Know

amcosked

Getting Stony Brook on someone else’s schedule is a plus.

Watching some of the recent episodes of Saturday Night Live, I miss some of the old characters like the ones played by the late John Belushi and Gilda Radner. (It’s still pretty good and Melissa McCarthy hit a home run with her skit on Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer, but most of the skits are dribblers to second base, pop ups or strike outs.)

That’s not what it was like in the old days when Radner and Belushi were hitting home runs and guys like Chevy Chase, Dan Akroyd and Billy Murray were routinely hitting doubles off the wall.

I thought about Gilda while thumbing down the recent release of the Temple 2017 schedule.

americansked

I would like another one of these bad boys, but it’s going to be tough.

One of her catch phrases was: “You never know.”

Look at the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2006 season. Before that year even started, fans on every talk radio show penciled in the team as losing three December games, at the Redskins, at the Giants and at the Cowboys in consecutive weeks and the doom and gloom got worse when Donovan McNabb was lost for the season with a broken leg before those three games. His backup, Jeff Garcia, came in and beat the Skins (21-19), Giants (36-22) and Cowboys (24-7) to win the NFC East.

You never know.

This time a year ago, many Temple fans (not me) were saying that the losses of players like Tyler Matakevich, Matt Ioannidis, Robby Anderson and Tavon Young meant Temple would take a step back from a 10-4 season of 2015.

templesked

I looked at a still-loaded roster and argued otherwise, that this was the “step forward” year and not the step back one. Since this year’s 10-4 included a championship, I was right.

You never know if I will be as right about this one but here it goes. I hope not to be as right about this season but I already knew about the teams Temple would play in 2017 and have always said this would be the “step back” year and not the step forward one.

It’s only a step, though. Owl fans can relax because we’re not falling into the mine shaft. Most Owl fans do not know how good Anthony Russo is. Having seen pretty much his entire high school career, I do and this how I will describe his upcoming Temple time: He won’t be as impressive as P.J. Walker was in his first season, but he will make you forget Walker in seasons two through four. (He’s not as elusive as Walker, but let’s not kid ourselves. P.J. was no Fran Tarkenton, Bobby Douglas or even Russell Wilson in the important skill of eluding pass rushers.)

So I stand by that prediction that it will be a slight step back, not a huge one.

I thought before Matt Rhule left that it would be a positive year for him to go 7-5 with a bowl win in 2017 and I think that is the measuring stick for new head coach Geoff Collins. If he goes 7-5, he’s just as good a coach as Rhule but I think there is a good chance he could go 8-4 or better. Listen, no one expects him to go 10-4 again and, if he does, Ed Foley is probably coaching Temple’s third-straight bowl loss.

The expectation here is eight wins and a bowl win and that’s in the “step-back” year because 2018 figures to be even better.

There is plenty of talent left on this team, even if you do not expect them to beat Notre Dame, Tulsa, Navy or South Florida. I’m not buying Houston. Wasn’t Temple the champion in the same league Houston could not win last  year? Didn’t Houston struggle on the road against teams like SMU, UConn and Navy in the last two years? Did not Temple win at all three of those places? I rest my case. Ryquell Armstead running behind the lead blocking of Nick Sharga with the explosive receivers Temple has is a good way to start. The defense should be outstanding once again. Any line that has Jacob Martin and Sharif Finch as the ends, and Karamo Dioubate, Michael Dogbe, Greg Webb and Freddy Booth-Lloyd in the middle with a secondary of Champ Chandler, Mike Jones, Delvon Randall and Artrel Foster will bring Mayhem.

The way Temple seasons have worked recently, though, is that they always have beaten someone you penciled them in for a loss before the season (i.e., Vanderbilt, 2014; Penn State 2015 and South Florida 2016) and always lost to someone you never expected them to lose to in the same season. Can we break that cycle this year?

I think so. Just hold serve.

If Collins holds serve, he will be our guy and probably hang around to coach the bowl win.

However, as Emily Latella would say: “You never know” but, gun to my head, I would pick eight over six or even seven and I will stand by that number.

(No posts Sunday or Tuesday due to minor surgery but God-willing will return Thursday)

A Giant Proposition

highpoint

With all of those Cherry-clad Owl fans behind the team holding that championship symbol, definitely the high point of my 40 years as a Temple fan. The guy in the beige sports coat is …  Avery Williams, who played only in the first half of the Navy game.

The Peggy Lee song “Is That All There is?” reached No. 11 on the Pop hit charts in 1969 and that pretty much describes where the Temple football program is now.

Are there more “good old days to come” or were the best of days a month or so behind us?

Unless the Owls get into a Power 5 conference, and that is something that is not on any radar screen now, they pretty much reached the pinnacle of what they can do by winning the championship of the American Athletic Conference.

Any encore past that would be a Giant Proposition (although not to be confused with the New York Giants’ proposition to Temple that appears elsewhere in this post) and we all know how hard the Owls had to scratch and claw to reach that goal.

possible

Giants picked the best college team they could think of to challenge

The legacy of the 1979 team (top 20 finish) appears to be safe for the foreseeable future and even that team did not have the street cred of the 1934 team, which was so good a NFL team challenged it to a game to, in their words, “determine which version of football was better, college or pro.” The New York Giants could have chosen any school to challenge, but they chose Temple.

So, in these days, what the 2016 team did was truly remarkable.

They had to win seven games in a row with each game being an elimination game and that was a tough task, but they did it. The rules are so stacked against G5 teams that one of them will never win a national championship, so really the only thing that Temple football has not done since joining a FBS league is finish in the top 25 and make a NY6 bowl and win more than 10 games.

Those appear to be more realistic goals for the 2018 team, not the 2017 one. However talented the quarterback will be this season, and he will be, it is too much to expect him to do in his first year what a four-year starter did in his last.

This year, the goal simply has to be getting to a bowl game and winning it but the Owls have already done that (2011) so would that be a unique achievement? No. It looks like the team will take a slight step back next season, winning anywhere from 6-9 games. There have been Temple teams which have surprised before and this may be one of them.

Getting into a NY6 bowl and winning it is really the best the Owls can do at this point and probably should be the goal every year, realistic or not.  There is also something to be said for having a winning program every year and that is something most of the other 126 FBS programs cannot say.

Until then, or such time as the Philadelphia Eagles become the opposing team in the Cherry and White vs. Green Day Game, hoisting that AAC title trophy will always be considered the good old days.

Saturday: Fly On The Wall

Monday: The Next Jerry Rice?

Playing Possum?

Temple TV maps out road to the championship.

A possum plays dead when it wants to defend itself from predators and, in at least a couple of respects, the lead up to the AAC championship football game could be a case of the Temple football brain trust playing possum.

By extension, it also means to lay low to surprise the bad guys.

At least you’ve got to hope so.

Divulging an injury to P.J. Walker—err, walking around on a boot all week—could be a way of the Owls sending a signal to the Navy that their star quarterback will not play. I am not buying it. Walker will play and he will play at a high level. You heard it here first. I don’t think Ken Niumatalolo is preparing to play against Logan Marchi.

warmer

                                                                        49 in Philly, but 54 in Annapolis. C’mon down and join us in the warmer weather.

The more concerning case of “possum playing” are the comments coming about defending Navy’s triple option. They indicate that the Owls have not learned anything, or at least much, from their season-opening experience against Army.

“It’s not the offense, it’s the players,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said in the Daily News today.

Err, Matt, it’s not the offense or even the players as much as it is the defense. Air Force proved that by taking care of the A gaps and putting a nose guard over the center. If Temple lines up in the same 4-3 it lined up on Opening Night, it will get carved up like a turkey. Navy had the same players against Air Force it will have against Temple and it scored 14 points on Air Force. Temple has better athletes on defense than Air Force.  It better not score more than, say, 24 against Temple.

SMU tried to play a 4-3 against Navy and allowed 75 points.  Of course, SMU’s players on defense are nowhere near as good as Temple’s or Air Force’s.

It will not matter if Temple attempts to defend the triple option the same way it did on Opening Night.

Hopefully, Rhule is playing possum here or Temple is in trouble. If so, I can understand where he is coming from. Even if Temple tries to put eight in the box, you do not expect Matt to say: “We screwed up in the opener. We’re going to put eight in the box and dare them to pass and disrupt their ass and hit their quarterback in the backfield.”  All Matt has to do is look at this Temple vs. Navy film from 2009, where the Owls tightened the A gaps and stopped a 10-win Navy team numerous times on third-and-short and fourth-and-short in a 27-24 win in Annapolis. That Temple team, and this year’s Air Force team, provided a blueprint for the Owls to win. Matt still has Al Golden’s phone number. I wonder if he has Mark D’Onofrio’s? The Navy team Temple beat that day was good enough to beat No. 21 Notre Dame (23-21) and lose to No. 6 Ohio State, 31-27.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow also said something equally as concerning in the same article: “Any time you run the quarterback, you outnumber the defense in the running game.” No, Phil, you don’t. All 11 defenders are allowed to tackle. Not all 11 offensive players are allowed to run the ball. Send more than they can block and you can disrupt the running game at the point of attack. Sit back in a 4-3 and you are asking for the offense to dictate the tone and tempo of the game.

Praise Martin-Oguike joined in the possum playing (hopefully) with this comment: “When we played Army, we missed a lot of assignments.” Praise, you didn’t have the right assignments. Clogging up the middle against the fullback and stringing the option sideline to sideline can be done a lot better than in a 5-2 or “44 stack” than it can in the Owls’ base 4-3. Hopefully, the Owls put this in against Navy this week in practice.

Playing possum or history repeating itself?

I sure hope it’s the former.

Actually, praying.

Saturday: Thanksgiving +10

Sunday: Championship Game Analysis

Mixing Things Up

Take the scenic route through Delaware and avoid most of I-95 hassles.

Take the scenic route through Delaware and avoid most of I-95 hassles.

While the notion about tackles in the A gaps and a nose guard over the center as the secret formula to beat Navy has been proven to work by Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, there is a strong conviction that a pretty good coach on the other side of the field has been breaking down Temple game film for the past couple of days.

Ken Niumatalolo has worked wonders at The Naval Academy since another great head coach, Paul Johnson, took his triple option to Georgia Tech.

Comparative scores indicate a close game.

Comparative scores indicate a close game, although the TU-USF score is a typo (real score was 46-30, not 20).

You do not overcome severe academic—getting into the Academy is like getting into an Ivy League school—and athletic (post-academy military commitment) without using your head for something other than a hat rack.

When he breaks down Temple game film, Niumatalolo probably sees a team that will attempt to establish the run and throw off play action. He will probably attempt to counter that by stacking the box himself and forcing the Owls to throw first and try to establish the run later. The way to counter an over-aggressive defense is to take advantage of their aggressiveness. That’s why it is important that the Owls mix things up and they can do that with these five plays they have not shown so far. Some people call them trick plays; I call them innovative ones and, if the Owls hit on just one, none of these plays will be wasted.  While I would not recommend the onsides’ kick (hey, it worked against Cincy last year), these are five plays that come with the TFF Navy Seal of Approval:

The Double Reverse

The Owls have tried the single reverse with Adonis Jennings at Tulane. That’s part of the film Niumatalolo has seen and is ready for; he has not seen the double reverse and Jennings handing it off to Isaiah Wright coming around from the other side should open up the field against an over-pursuing Navy defense.  That will set up the next play, somewhat later in the game.

The Double Reverse Pass

Virtually the same play worked four years ago for the Owls at SMU four years ago, where former Big 33 quarterback Jalen Fitzpatrick threw an 85-yard touchdown to Robby (then Robbie) Anderson off a reverse. We’ve been told Wright can throw an accurate pass between 60 and 85 yards in the air. We know that. Niumatalolo does not. That could catch Navy with their pants down.

The Shovel Pass

The beauty of this play is that it not only creates space for a guy like Jahad Thomas but, if it fails, it’s an incomplete pass and not a fumble. It’s like a delayed handoff except when P.J. Walker goes back to pass, he draws the rush to him and shovels a pass underhand forward to Thomas, who uses the newly created space to work his magic. The last time Temple used a shovel pass, it went for a touchdown from Chris Coyer to Matt Brown at Penn State (September 22, 2012). It is not on any recent Temple film and does not take a whole lot to put it into the playbook.

Throwback To The Tight End

A perfect play in the red zone offense that worked for a touchdown against USF a few weeks ago and Walker sells this play well, rolling out to his right and pumping a fake into one corner of the end zone (and drawing the defense to that side) before looking left to a wide open tight end. That tight end could be Thompson, who holds his block for a second and then releases. In that scenario, usually no one is assigned to cover him and that’s why he is always open.

Screen Pass to Jahad

This is a staple of the current offense, but an antidote to a defense that commits to stopping the run and the Owls should mix in a few of these every quarter.  No one is able to make defenders miss in the open field like Thomas and he is a weapon the Owls should use while they have him for a couple more games.

Thursday:  Temple-Navy Preview

Savor Every Moment

Jahad Thomas once again made a touchdown out of what seemed like a short gain.

When my beloved Temple football Owls are far away, my routine has been pretty much set over the last 20 years.

In the bad old days, I would pace the floor and listen on the radio and, when the Owls got involved with the MAC, sit in front of my computer and watch the game on a flickering internet connection. In those days, there was a lot of pacing and cursing and, after one particular Steve Addazio disastrous game at Bowling Green, staring for a good 15 minutes at a “your program has ended “ message in disgust and not believing what I just saw.

tulane

These, though, are the good old days and I have to head out to my neighborhood watering hole—sometimes even venturing as far as the Main Campus—to enjoy the game with other Temple Owls’ fans. Unless, though, I make the long trip to campus none of these fans have quite the passion for the Owls as I do.

They know that. I know that. It’s accepted as truth on both sides.

So in the last quarter of a 31-0 beat down of Tulane (it was 24-0 at the time) that sets up a potentially delicious end to the season, one of the regulars friendly mentioned: “Mike, you can go home now. This one is over.”

“Hell no,” I said. “I’m enjoying this. To me, when Temple has a lot and the bad guys have a little, that’s my idea of a great game. I’m sticking to the end.”

It’s the reason why I remain glued to my seat when the Owls blow out an opponent at home while a steady stream of my fellow fans make their way up the stairs at Lincoln Financial Field. (I had a conversation with former Temple player Matt Falcone’s family, who usually sit near me, and they also agreed they want to stay until the end and they always do. I’m glad I’m not alone.) It is the reason why I make it over to the students and sing the alma mater and “T for Temple U” with them and the team.

Hell, no. I’m not missing any of this.

When you’ve been through a 20-game losing streak like I have, 31-0 victories on the road to set up a championship game at home are something to savor. I watched as Logan Marchi took over at quarterback, then watched as Frank Nutile took over, hoping to see a couple of passes from those players in a “real” game. Matt Rhule, being the nice guy he is, did not allow it.

I wanted to see if the Temple fans who made it from their end zone and watched them move right behind the bench. Near the end, I do not think it is too much of an exaggeration that the 200 Temple fans there were half of the 400 or so people in the stadium. The Isaiah Wright touchdown was a thing of beauty, as was the Ventell Bryant touchdown (while double-covered) and the typical PAC-Man Jahad Thomas’ touchdown we have all come to view as routine. Thomas should be a chef when he graduates from Temple because he knows how to turn chicken-you-know-what into chicken salad.

Now the Owls can clinch another AAC East title in front of their home fans by playing their brand of football on Saturday. They deserve a big crowd. Maybe even this time most of them will decide to remain seated to watch them hoist that trophy again with an eye on an even bigger one, maybe literally, down the road. It’s up to them to finish this bad boy out and all they have to do is play defense, run the football, hit play-action passes, and be great on special teams. That’s the Temple brand as much as the triple option is the Navy brand.

Savor every moment. I certainly will.

Monday: Fizz Checks In

Tuesday: The Seniors

Thursday: Game Day

Saturday: Weekend Picks