Immediate Needs: RB, CB, FB

nitro

Geoff Collins checks the footwear to see if Nitro can fill Nick Sharga’s shoes.

There were at least a couple of times a first-year coaching staff was caught with its pants down a year ago at Temple University.

It wasn’t a pretty sight.

One of them came at East Carolina, running backs went down so fast that the Owls were down to moving their backup fullback—Nick Ritrovato—to tailback and he responded in a big way with 14 carries for 48 yards to close out a 34-10 win at ECU. Had the then walk-on not responded like a scholarship player, that game might have turned out differently. Nitro received his scholarship on Oct. 27th. The other time the Owls coaches got caught with their pants down was failing to identify that the gamer at quarterback was the backup, not the starter, for the first seven games.

In that instance, the season might have turned out differently.

For Temple to be successful this season, Nitro needs to move back to fullback and create holes for the tailbacks as a lead blocker to set up the play-action passing game for Frank Nutile. That’s Temple TUFF in a nutshell. Let’s hope Dave Patenaude can grasp that simple concept.

This year, the suspenders are tightened and the pants are mostly secure, but that does not mean the Owls have no immediate needs.

They can start with the areas they lost two players, a 6-foot-6 corner with speed in Derrick Thomas, who took his graduate transfer year and reunited with Matt Rhule at Baylor. The other was the unfortunate loss of David Hood at running back, who was told by the doctors that his last concussion was one too many. For what it’s worth, it would be useful as well to develop a backup plan at fullback should Nitro go down.


For Temple to be
successful this season,
Nitro needs to move back
to fullback and create holes
for the tailbacks as a lead
blocker to set up the
play-action passing game
for Frank Nutile.
That’s Temple TUFF in a nutshell

Thomas probably wasn’t going to beat out Linwood Crump Jr. at one corner position—he was behind him in the “above the line” area last year—and certainly wasn’t going to beat out FCS first-team All Big South corner Rock Ya-Sin at the other. Still, he would have provided a valuable insurance policy for the Owls at that position if attrition came into play.

At running back, Rock Armstead is primed for a Bernard Pierce-type season if he can stay healthy and Jager Gardner is back from his injury but the ranks are pretty thin behind that. Tyliek Raynor was a big-time recruit, and should be healthy but he is an unknown at this point. This looks like an area were one of the incoming true freshman, like Kyle Dobbins, will have an opportunity to make an impact.

The other areas—offensive and defensive lines—look like they are in good shape. Chris Wisehan, the offensive line coach, said the Owls interior three—two guards and center Matt Hennessey—were the best the team has had since he’s been here and he’s one of the few holdovers of the Rhule staff.

As loaded as the Owls are, cornerback and running back looks like the fastest way for the incoming freshmen to get on the field and it is vital for a couple of those to come through when their number is called.

Just like Nitro did.

 

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Spring Phenoms Old and New

zamani

Great Zamani Feelings shot of Bruce Arians, Geoff Collins and Todd Bowles on Saturday.

Having seen names like Myron Myles and Lou Angelo light it up on Cherry and White Day and disappear a few months later, I’ve come to take a skeptical view of one-day spring wonders.

That said, spring practice is more than a month of hard-hitting and difficult throws and catches so the cream seems to rise to the top over 30 days and this year offers several intriguing candidates. Forget some of what you will see on Saturday in the spring game and remember a lot of what you see below.

From what I’ve been told from people who have been able to see at least one practice every week, these are the guys who are getting the reps that might surprise you (hometowns in parathesis):

Sean Ryan, WR, New York City

After Ventell Bryant and Isaiah Wright—probably one of the best receiving tandems in the nation—there was a huge dropoff in talent from the first to second unit. Ryan, one of NYC’s top receivers a year ago, seems to be filling the talent void and has made a number of difficult catches with the kind of deep speed that Wright seems to have. Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude likes to use three-receiver packages and do not be surprised if Ryan is able to make an impact right away.

connection

Anthony Russo, QB.  Doylestown

Patenaude said at the end of last year that Russo was “light year’s different” in practice in December than he was in September. Add that to the fact that Patenaude also said early last March that Russo corrected a “looping motion” in his release plus increased playing time with the ones means that Russo could slot into the role Nutile had at the beginning of last year—a guy in the No. 2 slot who is ready to get his chance in a real game. Mix in the fact that the staff is trying to find new positions for Todd Centeio and there is a clear indication that the first and second jobs are Frank Nutile’s and Russo’s. A lot of the Philadelphia area has been waiting to see what Russo can do in a real game and not a practice or a scrimmage and this year could very well be that chance. It took the staff eight games before it finally decided to insert Nutile in there to give him a chance to run the squad and hopefully they will give Russo the same chance this season that Juice got last one.

gardner

Jager Gardner, Black Mountain (N.C.)

One thing that has been a relatively accurate predictor of future success at Temple for any player has been eye-popping numbers in high school. Folks here kind of knew Adam DiMichele would have projected as a pretty good quarterback here when he tossed 35 touchdown passes as a senior for Sto-Rox in the WPIAL. As a running back, Gardner had far better numbers than the other guy, Ryquell Armstead, who came in his class. Gardner’s senior year numbers: 2,776 yards and 36 touchdowns on 282 carries. Armstead’s senior year numbers at Vineland (N.J.): 1,488 and 18 touchdowns. Gardner got injured and fell behind and now seems to have caught up. Head Coach Collins said this has been a “break out” spring for him. Since Gardner already owns the Temple all-time record for longest run from scrimmage, that bodes well for this year.

Rock Ya-Sin, DB, Decatur (Ga.)

Already one of the greatest “names” in Temple roster history, Rock looks primed to become one of the great producers on the field in this his first season for the Owls after transferring from FCS school Presbyterian. Last season, playing for a Villanova-level school, Ya-Sin led his team with 49 tackles and five interceptions. More importantly, he has stood out during spring practices in an area of need—defensive back—as the Owls scrape hard to find replacements for three departed starters.

theprep

Benny Walls, Safety, Cherry Hill, N.J. and Keyvone Bruton, Norfolk, Va.

Walls was a standout for a great state championship team in St. Joseph’s Prep and clearly the star of Wednesday’s practice when Collins tweeted that Walls had a dominant day. Walls was a two-time first-team All-Catholic playing in one of the best high school football leagues in the nation. Benny has great athletic genes. His dad, also Benny, played basketball at Camden High and his uncle, Kevin Walls, was even more famous–scoring 81 points in a single game for Camden High before going off to Louisville to play his college basketball. Bruton—not to be confused with defensive backs coach Nate BURTON (different spelling) had 18 interceptions for Lake Taylor (Va.) High and is just as likely to be a starter with Delvon Randall as Walls is and this should be a position battle that lasts through the summer.

Wednesday: The Scrimmage

Friday: 5 Things to Watch for at Cherry and White

 

Patenaude: Watch What He Does, Not Says

performance

Spring practice is fully underway and Dave Patenaude handled the first questions thrown his way like Freddy Galvis used to handle hard hit balls to his right.

Flawlessly.

Galvis isn’t around town anymore, but Patenaude is and he said all of the right things about the quarterback position in a recent Temple News story—that Frank Nutile, despite being a bowl-winning quarterback, has to win his job and that Anthony Russo and Todd Centeio are both significantly better than they were at this time last year.

To get a better perspective, though, of what was said this year by the Temple football offensive coordinator, it helps to dig deep to find out what he said a year ago at this time. Patenaude was enthralled with the running ability of Logan Marchi—a player he tried to recruit for Coastal Carolina—and seemingly gave Marchi the benefit of the doubt despite a subpar performance in the Cherry and White game. To the fans watching under umbrellas on that rainy day, Marchi was easily the fourth-best quarterback behind, in no particular order, Nutile, Russo and Centeio.

russo

 

Will Russo get the chance that Nutile did a year ago in a “real” game—not a practice—and prove to be even a juicier upgrade?

 

That benefit turned out to be a detriment for the Owls as Marchi went way too deep into the season, starting seven games, and the Owls almost did not recover.

Pardon me if I don’t trust Patenaude as far as I can throw him. I’m from Missouri this year. He’s going to have to show me he’s playing no favorites and gives everyone a chance to move the team in a game. I didn’t see that last year until the eighth game.

When Nutile finally got his chance in a real game—not a practice, but a game, as Allen Iverson would say—fans saw the kind of difference they saw on Cherry and White Day.

It was obvious to anyone who watched the Army game last year that Nutile was the far better leader and winner than Marchi ever was.

That was probably just as obvious to Marchi, too, who saw the handwriting on the wall and got out of here.

Will Nutile be last year’s Nutile or this year’s Marchi? Certainly, Nutile deserves first dibs on defending his job. He does not deserve to play seven unimpressive games before another guy gets a shot.

Will Russo get the chance that Nutile did a year ago in a “real” game—not a practice—and prove to be even a juicier upgrade? Will Centeio’s “packages” result in real gains in terms of yardage or will they be blown up by defenses like they were last year? Will Trad Beatty get the benefit of a redshirt year that Nutile, Russo and Centeio enjoyed? They all benefited from the extra year of film study and in the weight room and if Beatty is headed to the pros, he deserves the same advantage, too.

Those are the questions that can only answered by deeds, not words but trusting what everyone sees in the upcoming  Cherry and White game might be a good place to start.

 

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 

Fizzy’s Corner: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

fizz

Editor’s Note: I was asked some new tailgate friends on Thursday night who Fizzy is. He is in the photo  showing what Swag really means. Here are his thoughts on the win over Navy.

By Dave “Fizzy” Weinraub

Wow, Temple was up over Navy by three touchdowns. Frank Nutile’s passing was pinpoint, and everyone was catching the ball. Had Dave Patenaude turned over a new leaf, throwing early and often? Lots of folks left early, and missed the conclusion. It was probably better for them.

graphic

Graphic thanks to Brad Ford

All in all, the coaching was pretty doggone good… for 54 minutes, and then the wheels fell off… again. Up by three touchdowns with a little over six minutes left, Dependable Dave Patenaude did the same thing he did the week before vs. Army. Temple gets the ball at midfield, and Dave runs three times up the gut. Instead of trying a variety of plays and/or throw the ball to get one or two first downs and sew up the game, he starts playing not to lose. In one fell swoop, he gave the momentum back to Navy. (How many times have we all seen coaches in football and basketball slow up their offense too soon, and give the momentum back to the opponent?)

Once more, we barely had a running game. I attribute this to Dave’s, everything’s straight ahead, “Broad Street Offense.” After our ninth game and for the entire season, we’ve run one reverse, one jet sweep, and one bootleg. And where was the “Cheese-Steak” split offense? How about the “wildcat” with Wright at tailback; can’t he throw too?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. We had five, “first and goals.” On four of those, the first play was “up the gut” against a goal line defense. Finally, on the fifth try, he ran a play action pass on first down, which resulted in a touchdown. Hoorah!

The defense played spectacularly for 54 minutes, and almost completely slowed down Navy’s vaunted offense. That’s until Navy’s first string QB, Zach Abey, got hurt. His replacement had quite an arm, and if he wasn’t sacked, he easily picked apart Temple’s pass defense. There were guys open all over the place. When Navy went to a “trips-left” formation, Temple tried to cover it with one and a half defenders. How’s that possible? On some plays, our pass defenders were obviously confused, as they were at the end of the Army game. I truly believe had Navy recovered the last onside kick, they would have tied the game. This is the second week in a row, the pass defense has fallen apart at the end of the game. This time though, time expired before we did.

Tuesday: Be All You Can Be

Blind Squirrel Acorn Night

On a night devoted to honoring the greatest Temple football coach in history, Wayne Hardin, the real find was the acorn the blind squirrel found.

The blind squirrel in this case was offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude and the acorn he found was quarterback Frank Nutile, who completed 22 of 30 passes for four touchdowns in a 34-26 win.

frankster

Frank Nutile on the day he signed with Temple four years ago.

 

After Nutile (pronounced NEW TILE), performed admirably in a loss at Army, Patenaude wasn’t ready to anoint Nutile as a starter even though just about every Temple fan felt Frank was a huge improvement over the guy,  Logan Marchi, who started the first seven games.

Now, no matter what Patenaude says in the coach’s conference room, there’s no way head coach Geoff Collins is going back to Marchi now. Patenaude’s past history with Marchi–he recruited him for Coastal Carolina when Marchi was at St. Paul’s (Conn.) High–might have clouded his thinking and cost Temple at least a couple of wins given Nutile’s performances.

At the very least, a Nutile who would have started the Notre Dame game might have developed the kind of confidence needed to beat UConn and Army later on in the season.

Hindsight is 20/20, but the Owls are already behind the eight ball now having to win two of their final three games against league opponents. Patenaude still does some crazy things, like leaving the best fullback in the country on the sidelines when the Owls could have used him to jump-start the running game with 24-6 and 34-13 leads, but this was his best game as OC and that’s not saying much.

It did not have to be this hard and the acorn they were looking for all season did not have to be found in the ninth game but, better late than never.

Sunday: Fizzy’s Corner

Tuesday: Be All You Can Be

Thursday: Cincy Throwback

Friday: Cincinnati Preview

Saturday: Game Analysis