Temple Tea Leaves

owlfans

Love this photo because it shows the level of fan support in background.

When practices are closed to the media, as they are for all but the last 10 minutes this spring, reading from the snippets is probably the best way to glean information.

What we did learn from the first practice was at least two fascinating things: One, the first play from scrimmage was a handoff to Nick Sharga, and, two, that the guy new head coach Geoff Collins was playing catch with at the end of practice was Anthony Russo.

It probably takes a huge leap of faith forward to interpret those two facts into an increased role for Sharga in the offense to a favorite at the quarterback position, but that’s all we have right now.

It makes sense, though, for at least two reasons.

One, Collins got close to Sharga in the legal activities part of the offseason as his position coach. Collins named himself the fullbacks coach, much like Al Golden named himself the special teams coach in his first year.

Collins probably knows what he has in Sharga is exactly what former coach Matt Rhule said he had: An NFL fullback. An increased role for Sharga only makes more sense in that light. In addition to being a terrific blocker, Sharga also carried the ball effectively a year ago, gaining 97 yards on 18 carries, a 6.9 average.  Giving the ball to Sharga a few times a game, even two or three, keeps the defense from keying in on guys like Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner.

The Russo thing is particularly interesting because Collins could have had a catch with any of his five starting quarterback candidates but chose that one.

Reading too much into it?

Maybe, but until the Cherry and White game, that looks like all that we will have.

Wednesday: Rookie of The Year?

Case For the Defense

The best two-minute description of the 5-2 defense on the internet.

If Geoff Collins follows up on some of the terrific things he says, he will hit the ground running as a great head coach at Temple University.

That’s a concern only because Matt Rhule’s first couple of years were an attempt to hit the ground running, but the footing was somewhat muddy. In many cases, Rhule made the job harder by soiling those waters.

usc

What a USC 5-2 would look like at Temple, with Sharif Finch at left end, Karamo Diuobate at left tackle, Freddy Booth-Lloyd at nose guard, Michael Dogbe (or Greg Webb) at right tackle and single-digit Jacob Martin at right end.

The one comment that stood out positively during Collins’ first press conference—and one he has repeated several times since—was that Collins’ system would be tailored around the specific talents of the players he had in the room and not try to force feed a system on an ill-fitting set of players.

Two years into Rhule’s tenure, he had an Epiphany that led him to a program-changing decision—ditching the multiple wide-receiver sets and going to a fullback and play-action offense—and that became as much of the unique Temple identity as the triple option is to Navy.  The reason he gave was that he had a “NFL fullback” and wanted to utilize that asset.

Now Collins has reached the crossroads between words and action.

Collins has an overabundance of high-end talent on the defensive line and a dearth of similar-type talent across a line-backing corps. If Collins is serious about building a system around the talent at hand, the Owls will go to a 5-2-4 defensive alignment—two ends, two tackles and a nose guard, two linebackers and four defensive backs.

The 5-2 is not used much in college football anymore, but where it has it has been successful. Last year, USC ran the 5-2 and had the most sacks in the PAC-12 conference.

If you believe, as I do, the key to stopping these good pass offenses today is to put the quarterback on his backside, the 5-2 defense is probably the best way to do that without exposing the back line of your defense with a steady diet of blitzes.

Anything that creates Mayhem is a good thing and with the talent of the Temple pass rushers and interior defensive linemen in the system now, that’s probably the best way for this team to go.

If Collins works to put that kind of defense in place this spring, he will hit the ground running. Unlike Rhule, he will not have to run in a quagmire.

Monday: Tea Leaves

Wednesday: Rookie Of The Year

Shamrock Shakeup Month

finch

Sharif Finch is back to make Mayhem plays like this in 2017.

In a couple of days, a Month of Mayhem will start at the Edberg-Olson Football Complex with the beginning of Spring Practice culminating on Cherry and White Day, April 22.

If successful, fans crammed into that tiny space on that day—when there is a much bigger one available four blocks south—will not notice the difference.

That’s because Mayhem was already pretty much a part of the Temple Defense DNA over the last few years.

footprint

Simply put, the “Mayhem” stat new head coach Geoff Collins admires and bases his defensive concept on counts the percentage of plays on defense that end in a sack, fumble, tackle for loss or interception and those are the kind of stats Collins gears his defensive scheme to achieve. His players then started calling him the “Minister of Mayhem” and the nickname stuck.

If Collins is the “Minister of Mayhem” then he probably already met the “Kings of Mayhem” and they are our own Temple Owls. Going into the Wake Forest debacle, Temple’s DL was No. 1 in the nation in “Havoc Rate” which is a team’s total tackles for loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles.

In this month of drinking Shamrock Shakes, Collins’ own shakeup should look more like a tweak.

havoc

So while Temple was nation’s No. 1 disrupting defense, at least in the 2016 regular season, can it be better? Sure, if Collins and new coordinator Taver Johnson tweak things a little to accentuate the strengths of the Owls—a defensive line that includes proven players like Sharif Finch, Jacob Martin, Michael Dogbe, Greg Ward, Freddy Booth-Lloyd , Karamo Dioubate,  among others—and masks areas that could be weaker, like the linebackers. Essentially, Temple has a solid group of linemen and defensive backs and will have to replace three starters at linebacker, Jared Alwan, Avery Williams and Stephaun Marshall.

To do this, if Collins plays a 5-2 he will have to replace only two linebacker starters and have a proven player up front to create this havoc we all seek.

Just a little tweak, but an important one to keep a good thing going because the Owls have been all about Mayhem for at least the last couple of years.

Monday: Opening Day

 

Fizzy Finally Gets To Meet The Big Guy

donuts

Dollars to Donuts Geoff Collins has passed the first Fizzy eye test.

Another in the occasional series of stories posted here by former Temple player Dave Weinraub, who was once involved in a benches-clearing brawl at the end of a game at Temple Stadium. Hopefully, he will write about that soon.

By: Dave (Fizzy) Weinraub

 

Well gang, it’s not often I have something to comment on before the football season begins.   If I do, it’s usually to bring up something that left a bad taste in my mouth from the prior season.  But I’m not going to even mention anything from last year, as a new era has begun.

collins

Geoff Collins: Diamond Club Gem

This past Wednesday, we had a nice crowd at an “Old-Timers” lunch in the Diamond Club, and had the opportunity to break bread with our new head coach, Geoff Collins.   I’m pleased to tell you I came away with a fine first impression.  Of course, you should trust my instincts.  Everyone knows I’ve been a 92% successful play-caller from the stands.

 

Yeah, I know it’s almost impossible to make a prediction about a coach before he even has his first spring practice.  However, let me tell you why I walked away feeling good about Geoff Collins.

 

  1. He told us about the breadth of his experience, and the coaches he worked with and learned from.  He gave us specific examples of what he learned from some very successful guys.

 

  1. He admitted he thought he was ready to be a head coach a long time ago, but really wasn’t.  (I, on the other hand, I thought I was ready when I came out of the womb.)

 

  1. Even though he hasn’t even had spring practice yet, the legal activities he’s already had with the team seem to indicate he’s already captured their enthusiasm.

 

  1. He’s anchored in reality, and gave an honest appraisal of the fact that we’re only getting, right now, two star recruits at best, and often no star recruits.  He also let it slip in he’s won a national recruiting award.

 

  1. He’s already assimilated to our city.  For example; Although the house he bought is in Chestnut Hill, he tells everyone it’s in North-West Philly because it sounds tougher.

 

If you’ve previously read a few of my critiques regarding our games, you know I’m certainly no “homer.”  With Collins’ background, I’m confident he’ll eventually develop a very strong defense.  That leaves me worried about the offense, with a slew of coaches new to this level.  Of course, there’s always a slew  of “old-timers” ready to give advice.

 

PS:  Good News – The $1.5 million study for the new stadium has been “tabled.”  Has common sense prevailed?

Wednesday: Crunching The Numbers

Friday: Month of Mayhem

Never Forget

endlosing

This is what ending a 20-game losing streak looks like.

The phrase “Bowling Green Massacre” jolted me out of my seat a couple of weeks ago, probably not for the same reason it jolted the nation.

How could Kellyanne Conway, the President’s Media Director, know about a football massacre involving Bowling Green and Temple in the mid-2000s?

That’s the only Bowling Green massacre I knew about but it turned out that she was talking about something entirely different.

In a little over a decade, though, that’s how far Temple football has come. From not just one, but two, Bowling Green Massacres (70-7 and 70-16) in consecutive seasons to flirting with the Top 25 in the last two seasons.

For those of us who were there then and are here now, it would be wise to Never Forget.

patience

I  thought about that when I heard that Geoff Collins was heavy on the Daz-like slogans while giving a halftime pep talk to the assembled—it would be a stretch to call them a crowd—group at the UCF vs. Temple basketball game on Wednesday night.

So far, Collins has been light on the recruiting and heavy on the slogans in his two months on the job.

We won’t really know about him until after the first two games, but so far he comes up a little short in comparing him to the guy who avenged the Bowling Green Massacres.

Al Golden in a little over a month to work in his first year (December, 2005 was his hiring date), Golden signed 29 players including future NFL players like Junior Galette, Andre Neblett, Alex Joseph and Steve Manieri.  That was without the benefit of signing a single target of the former coach, Bobby Wallace, WHILE hiring a staff. There was a method to Golden’s madness, too, as he said it was his intent to recruit captains of winning high school teams so they could bring that same mindset to a poisoned well at 10th and Diamond. In that first class of 29, he signed 18 team captains and all had winning seasons in their final years. Ten of the captains won league championships.

Collins has catching up to do to get to that standard, but Golden did all this on the tail end of a 20-game losing streak and helped turn this thing around.

After two months, we really don’t know if Collins will be as good as Golden, Matt Rhule, Steve Addazio or better than all three or somewhere in between.

Right now, the start is not as good as the Golden one but maybe because the culture is in place  it does not need to be. All that matters is the finish.

We should know a lot more after the Notre Dame and Villanova games.

Sunday: Fake News

Temple’s Hairy Relationship

fullbacksnow

Nick Sharga is the only one not pointing fingers in this photo.

Every time someone posts a head shot of Temple football fullback Nick Sharga on social media, a comment or two will run below it like this:

“Sharga has got to do something about that hair.”

“Sharga needs a haircut.”

My response usually is two words:

“Who cares?”


Any defense that gets
pounded by Sharga inches
up the linebackers and
safeties closer to the
line of scrimmage and
becomes susceptible to
the play-action
passing game

As long as Temple has the best blocking fullback in the country—and a guy who proved more than capable the few times he had the ball in his hands—I don’t care if people think he has too much hair or is completely bald. To me, it’s always how you perform between the white lines. Everything else is superfluous.

That’s where head coach Geoff Collins comes into the story.

Collins’ added the responsibility of “coaching the fullbacks” to his duty as the CEO of the Temple football operation and this match between the follically challenged and the follically gifted should help turn the Lincoln Financial Field scoreboard into an adding machine this fall.

That’s because one of the chief concerns any Temple fans felt after the transfer of power between Matt Rhule and Collins would be that the new coach would mess around with a good thing and Sharga’s impact on the team the last two seasons has been a good thing. By coaching the fullbacks, Collins has to study film of what worked well in the past and he must have been as blown away by Sharga as was this South Florida cornerback.

 

In a recent interview with Chris Franklin, new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude mentioned a lot of his ideas but did not mention Sharga by name. That might have been disconcerting if it were not for the fact that his boss coaches the fullbacks and will want the fullbacks to be featured in any offensive game plan.

“We ran an I-Formation at Temple because we had an NFL fullback,” was the way Matt Rhule answered a question at his first Baylor press conference.

Nothing opens up passing lanes for Temple’s wide receivers—among the top group of six in the country, according to Patenaude—than establishing the run first. Nothing establishes the run better than the tailback following Nick Sharga through the hole. Any defense that gets pounded by Sharga inches up the linebackers and safeties closer to the line of scrimmage and susceptible to the play-action passing game. Fake it into the belly of, say, Ryquell Armstead or  Jager Gardner, after a few 20-yard runs and Temple receivers will be running so free through the secondary that quarterback Anthony Russo will not know which one to choose.

At least that’s the plan.

Or should be.

Collins coaching the fullbacks takes that plan one step closer to fruition and that’s the kind of hairy proposition Temple fans can get excited about.

Friday: Never Forget

Sunday: Fake News

Mulligans and Aliens

americansked

Temple should have capitalized on having this to recruit a decent class this season.

A friend who is an amateur astronomer posted a photo of some far-off galaxy on Facebook and apologized for the quality of the photo due to atmospheric conditions.


A Virginia Tech model,
where you make a bowl
every year and reach
up and win a title
here and there, should
be a realistic
expectation for Temple
at the G5 level

My response was that someone from that galaxy probably posted a photo of the Milky Way with the same apology on, say, Cleon Facebook.

In other words, we’re not alone.

It’s a lesson Temple football fans would be wise to understand today, a couple of weeks after Signing Day. The prevalent feeling on the major Owl message board (Shawn Pastor’s OwlsDaily) is that we’re giving new head coach Geoff Collins a Mulligan on this class, but the next class better be good.

The lesson should have been don’t look back because the other beings in this football universe might be gaining on you.

That’s where the other guy comes in because new coach Charlie Strong did not need a Mulligan to haul in a significantly better class for USF and former Temple head coaches Al Golden, Steve Addazio and Matt Rhule did not need a Mulligan in their first transition classes. Despite working about a month, the classes that Golden, Addazio and Rhule brought in their first time were ranked significantly higher than Collins’ first class.

In between preparing for a medical procedure I should have done 10 years ago but had been putting off, I found a little bit of time to look at those classes.

The Charlie Strong class was easy to find. The other classes were much harder to quantify against this one. (You really only know four years from now but you can compare them against how they were ranked at the time.)  According to Scout.com, Strong’s USF transition class this season was ranked No. 95th with seven three stars. In roughly the same time frame to recruit, Collins had Temple was 127th with only three three-stars. In the same conference, both teams with a new head coach, a significant gap in results.

Strong did not have a championship trophy to carry around on a helicopter, either. It’s fair to compare the two classes. Because we have evidence to work with given roughly the same circumstances, Collins should have done better. You can talk all you want about how it is the “Temple Way” to recruit two stars and coach them up to four stars but if you get three stars, your mathematical chances of coaching them up to four- and five-stars improve. Temple should be OK next year, but the impact of this class won’t be felt until three or four years down the road and that is how a foundation is laid for sustainable success, not just one “up” season followed by a “down” season. At Temple, the goal should not be “up and down” seasons like so many other schools seem to have. A Virginia Tech model, where you make a bowl every year and reach up and win a title here and there, should be a realistic expectation for Temple at the G5 level.

An AAC trophy should have meant a better haul than the 2017 class Collins was able to bring to 10th and Diamond and long-term is where the impact will be felt. Without helicopters or AAC trophies, Temple coaches have done better with roughly a month to recruit.

transition

 

While it might have been tough to expect Collins to do a whole lot with this class, the evidence is there in black and white that he should have done better. In college football, getting to the top is tough but staying there is tougher so capitalizing on a championship season when you can with recruiting should have been prioritized.

There are a lot of football teams in this universe and, if you slip up one year, they could be passing you in two or three. There are no Mulligans when you are not alone.

Saturday: Fun With Graphics