Taver, We Hardly Knew Ye ….

aramark

The Aramark indoor football field is twice as big as the old Student Pavilion and the ceiling is high enough for kicking practice.

Notes, quotes and anecdotes from about as interesting an offseason week for Temple football as we’ve seen in some time ….

Doing his best post-Pro Bowl Nick Foles’ impersonation, Taver Johnson walked sideways across the stage at the Aramark Center exactly a week ago and said this:

“How y’all doin’?”

famer

When a Temple Hall of Famer calls, Geoff Collins should have at least listened

Little did those of us in attendance know, at least at that time, that Johnson might as well kept walking and gone right out the side door for good because that’s where he was headed in a real sense. By then, it had to be obvious to head coach Geoff Collins that Johnson was leaving and Collins probably said, “hey, I need you through signing night.”

Going from defensive coordinator at Temple to a defensive backs’ coach at Ohio State is mostly seen as at least a lateral move, certainly not a step up in the coaching fraternity but if it floats Johnson’s boat, go for it. Heck, Taver had the same job at Purdue before being enticed to leave there for the DC job at Temple one year ago.

Temple was ranked No. 56 in total yardage defense and No. 58 in scoring defense a year ago and that screams two words to me: Mediocre and Replaceable. Giving up 28 (really, 21) points to UConn and 13 points to a Villanova team that Rhode Island … Rhode Island … held to six is not a ringing endorsement of last year’s defense.

With the dissolution of the Bruce Arians’ staff in Arizona, there are a number of “overqualified” guys with Temple connections who Hall of Famer Paul Palmer told me were definitely interested in the job: Former FCS Defensive Coordinator of the Year Nick Rapone and Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall of Famer Kevin Ross.

If one or both are hired, they immediately become the two best defensive coaches on the staff. Both guys are Temple (and Tempe) TUFF, love Temple, and would be a positive influence on the kids and their fellow staffers and the fans. This is about the biggest no-brainer in Temple history. Neither would leave Temple for lesser positions, even at Alabama. Of course, Temple being Temple it hired another less-qualified guy from the one of the same two directional Alabama schools Bobby Wallace last coached, West Alabama. It would have nice for Collins to look around and grab a guy or two from the pre-Al Golden Era at Temple. Sometimes, you think he believes Temple did not have football before 2005. This was one of those times.

“Mr. Mike”

Now that Nick Sharga has left, we all have to find our next favorite player on the Temple team.

(Hell, I’m not the only fan who had No. 4 No. 1.)

Mine has been Isaiah Wright since the end of our season.

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Like the guy said on the TV broadcast at the Army game, “Isaiah Wright is a touchdown waiting to happen.”

As I sat down next to long-time buddy and Temple linebacking great Steve Conjar, a guy across the table noticed me and said, “Mr. Mike!”

That guy was Isaiah Wright and it was the first time I had the pleasure of meeting him in person. He extended his right hand.

“I’m Isaiah Wright.”

“Isaiah Wright, my favorite Temple player. No joke.”

Then Isaiah introduced me to the guy sitting on his right, Linwood Crump (Junior), and I told the defensive back that he was going to be a starter but to not take anything for granted.

He said he would not.

Both can call me Mr. Mike any day of the week and, just maybe, they will give him No. 4 before the start of the season. Whatever number they give him, I just hope they don’t make him disappear like they did with Nick Sharga.

Aramark Center

Moody Nolan is listed as the architect for the new football stadium.

complex

He also did the job at the new Temple football indoor facility called the Aramark Center (the football team shares this spectacular indoor arena with locker rooms and training facilities with the rest of the students). This is a much-larger version of the old Student Pavilion, large enough to get some punting and field goal work in—something that could not be done at what Collins affectingly called the “Mayhem Mansion.”

That said, it takes up such a large portion of the 15th and Montgomery area that it would now be pretty hard to see how a 35,000-seat stadium could fit in a North-South configuration. It would have to be East-West and cross and close 15th Street permanently with the Student Pavilion and tennis courts knocked down. Had the Pavilion been knocked down and replaced by what is now Aramark first, there would have been no need to close down 15th Street.

Now it is really hard to conceive of a stadium fitting into the old Geasey Field square footage alone but that could be the least of Moody Nolan’s problems.

Friday: Thoughts on The AAC Schedule

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The Stat Book According To Isaiah

 

In the bible, Isaiah is considered the prophet of hope.

When the persuasive recruiting powers of Matt Rhule lured Isaiah Wright to Temple over a number of Power 5 schools, that hope referred to his versatility and talent in a number of capacities. Wright was (and is) a special talent.

Wright could have been a NFL-level wide receiver (and he still can) but Rhule was so intrigued last year by the true freshman’s talent he tried him in the Stony Brook game at tailback. The experiment was a qualified success: Seven carries, 46  yards in 97-degree heat in a 38-0 win. Wright showed a great first step and, unlike teammate Ryquell Armstead, was a multiple-cut runner who could make a defense miss at the second level. He is like Matt Brown and Jahad Thomas in that respect. Armstead is like Bernard Pierce, a one-cut runner.  Now, more than ever,  Temple needs to utilize Wright at the tailback position, but does this staff even realize that or know Wright has a short but productive history at that position?

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After last year’s Stony Brook game, Rhule said what he found out was that Wright could be a great tailback option should anything happen to his then top two ball carriers,  Thomas or  Armstead. Since both Armstead and Thomas rushed for over 900 yards last year, that two-headed monster was enough to produce an AAC championship but Rhule still created a role for Wright as the wildcat quarterback and a part-time wide receiver. “We have to find ways to get him the ball in space,” Rhule said.

Rhule, though, always filed Wright in the tailback fallback file. Rhule felt Wright was the tailback of the future. Why Geoff Collins and Dave Patenaude don’t is a mystery to me.

That’s one of the reasons, to me at least, this new staff is so disappointing in so many areas.

Last week, we called out this staff for the underuse of Wright (only two touches in the prior two games) and, shockingly, the emphasis on Wright’s touches changed for the better. Here’s what happened: Wright, only a part-time wide receiver, has led the Owls in receiving in three of five games. His endzone catch for a TD against UMass made ESPN Sports’ Center’s Top 10 plays. Against Houston, he had five catches for 53 yards and six carries out of the Wildcat for eight yards. Those latter numbers were diminished because any good offensive coordinator knows for a Wildcat to work, you’ve got to have the Wildcat quarterback throw up to half the time. Unfortunately, Temple does not have  a good offensive coordinator. When the Owls shifted into the Wildcat, you could hear the Houston players from the first row in Section 122 scream “13, 13!!!!” because they knew he was going to run the ball. Have him throw a quick pass and they back off. That quick pass never came.

Armstead is fighting through injuries like the warrior he is, but he is nowhere near explosive as he was a year ago. David Hood is nothing more than a third-down back, ala David Meggett of Giants’ fame.  Jager Gardner is injured and out for the season. Collins is talking about using a walk-on who did nothing in the Philadelphia Public League at running back. Ugh.

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                                                 This caption might have inspired Patenaude to dust off the Wildcat for the first time last week.

Wright is the perfect answer to put in that spot, and nobody at the E-O seems to have a clue.

The same thing applies for Nick Sharga, who is being criminally underused at fullback, considering that new head coach Geoff Collins called him the “best fullback in the country.” Sharga is also the team’s best linebacker, but this staff doesn’t seem to know or care about Sharga’s past history at the position–which included an outstanding performance two years ago in a 34-12 win over Memphis. The Owls only have Sharga for one more season and they better be able to use his multiple talents to help this team win. If they are only going to play him 15 plays or less on offense, which they have done in all five games, use him for 15 or more on defense at linebacker. Instead, in the summer, his “position of flexibility” was defensive end, not linebacker. Ugh (again). In no metric world is Sharga a defensive end. He’s a fullback/linebacker. Temple has plenty of experienced DEs; it could use Sharga’s experience at linebacker now.

Put Wright at tailback and Sharga at part-time linebacker and, for Temple, hope turns into a winning reality and a lot of positive plays get made on both sides of the ball.

With this staff, though, do not hold your breath.

That’s why this ECU game will probably go down to a field goal either way and that’s not the kind of result a defending league champion with this much talent returning should ever accept, even grudgingly.

Tomorrow: ECU Preview

Houston: Does This Staff Have The Wright Stuff?

What are you waiting for, the bowl game?

It might be a little harsh, but the term brain dead about a first-year coaching staff occurred to me more than a few times during the Notre Dame debacle, the USF debacle and similar near-debacles against UMass and Villanova.

Last year’s championship staff figured out, early on, that getting the ball in the hands of a talent like Isaiah Wright might be a pretty good idea.

connection

Wright, playing part-time tailback, had 46 yards on seven carries in a 38-0 win over Stony Brook. Temple had nice tailback options in that game, including Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstead. Matt Rhule, a $7 million-per-year coach, chose Wright. Before you dismiss the Stony Brook program, it was in a tight game this year at South Florida in the fourth quarter.

Temple was not.

Rhule stated to the press that one of his priorities early in last season was getting the ball in the hands of the elusive Wright. They met across the long table in the coach’s office at the Edberg-Olson Complex and came to the conclusion they could use Wright as a wide receiver, a tailback and a Wildcat quarterback.

They only put the Wildcat package in BECAUSE they had him, not because they wanted to do it.

performance

“Operator? Please get me Waco, Texas; a listing for Glenn Thomas or Matt Rhule. Thanks.”

What did this new genius from Coastal Carolina do with Wright the last two games? Give him the ball four times in two games. For Louisville math majors, that’s two times in each game.

Ryquell Armstead is banged up and he looks slow behind an offensive line that returns three of its five starters. Those three starters blocked well all of last season, so it’s not on them. Having Wright in the backfield with his explosive first step and his multiple-cut abilities can only help whomever is the quarterback.

Getting the ball in his hands a lot more than two times might be the difference between victory or defeat on Saturday afternoon (noon start, be there or be square, that’s why we never give TV info for home games).

For the first four games, we’ve learned this staff is–to be overly kind–slow on the uptake. To me, you can maximize any slim chances you have against a 3-1 Houston team by the number of times you get the ball in the hands of your most explosive player on a team that, by the way, that has a number of explosive players still. His touches work at wide receiver, they work at running back and they work at Wildcat quarterback. He’s had only 10 so far and he’s produced 194 yards. Too few touches in my humble opinion. Give it to him double-digit times, and you open it up for guys like Armstead, Sharga, Keith Kirkwood, Adonis Jennings and Ventell Bryant.

Wright can THROW the ball on a dime from 70 yards and he can do a lot on CATCHING swing passes out of the backfield to beat a blitz or even a conventional rush. Geez, you would think this staff knows that by now. Certainly the other staff did.

If Wright gets the ball only two times again, we can officially declare this new staff brain dead and take them off life support. We will track each and every Wright touch against Houston and it will be the subject of our next Thursday post.

Geoff Collins, since you are the CEO of this organization, it’s ultimately your responsibility. This will not be on Dave Patenaude. You must tell him what to do and expect him to do it.

Sunday: Game Analysis

Tuesday: Fizzy’s Corner

Thursday: Tracking The Wright Touches

The Mildcat Offense

wright

In a very strange way, Matt Rhule’s introduction of a wildcat offense a year ago might be a nice starting point for new head coach Geoff Collins.

While the biggest question going into the Notre Dame game could be who is going to start at quarterback, the prospect of Isaiah Wright coming out in the first series under center could probably throw off the Irish defense.

Last year, Wright ran a rather muffled version of the Wildcat offense for a couple of series each game. We’ll call it The Mildcat. When the very talented runner came in the game, you could bet that he would carry the ball.

If, though, Collins could jazz up the package with a pass or two–creating an equal threat and keeping the defense on its toes–that might work better for the Owls. People who watched in practice a year ago have related stories that Wright can throw the ball 65 plus yards on a dime.

Unfortunately, we’ve never seen that in a real game.

Maybe this year.

Maybe even on the first series.

One thing is certain: The Owls are going to have to find a way to get the ball into Wright’s hands, either as a slot receiver, running back or Wildcat quarterback. They have an abundance of good receivers, so creating some package which has him throwing the ball more often might make the offense harder to stop and give him more holes to dart through in the running game.

It could not hurt.

We’ve waited this long to find out who the starting quarterback will be. If Owl fans have to wait until the second series of the first game to find out the “true” starter, they would probably understand.

Monday: The Magnificent Obsession

How Do You Lose? Let’s Count The Ways

Ample evidence in this film to make P.J. a full-time rollout passer as we’ve been saying all year.

Up 13-0, you’ve got to win the game.

So, how do you not?

Let’s count the ways.

The first and most important is that you cannot come up with empty possessions. An empty possession is one without a field goal or a touchdown and, after 13-squat, the Owls came up with seven empty possessions.

Watching on TV, it only seemed like 70.

Phillip Walker had a career night with over 400 yards worth of passing, but most of those 400 yards were needed with a 13-0 lead and the Owls were way too comfortable walking off the field as it went to 13-3 and 13-6.

yet

For the Wildcat to work, got to throw off it from time to time.

There has got to be a greater sense of urgency at 13-0 than there was Thursday night.

The body language was “la-dee-da, we’ll get them next time” but, in big-time college football, there is no next time.

The sad truth is that there will be no AAC championship for the Owls this season and it was left on a football field in Memphis when the score was 13-0. They had a chance to put the hammer down and make it 20-0 and 27-0, but refused to see how important that was.

You can talk all you want about a kickoff return for a touchdown or two long touchdown runs before that, and even the two missed field goals from a guy who had hit 17 in a row (I know, the announcers should have never mentioned that), but this game, this night, was lost when it was 13-0.

The Temple coaches were far too comfortable is “managing” the game at 13-0 rather than putting it away when the pedal needed to be put to the medal. Nick Sharga and Brian Carter, two standouts in their limited time on defense stopping the run up the middle, were nowhere to be found and the Owls were gouged up the middle late without them. Does this coaching staff even know they are on the team? From the 120 yards in penalties at Penn State to the horrific defensive game plan against Army’s triple option, to the lack of killer instinct at Memphis, one thing is clear about this 2016 version of the Temple Owls.

This is a poorly-coached football team. How does Memphis hire a 34-year-old guy with no head coaching experience who goes 4-1 when the same guy Temple hired in his first year went 2-10? You thought Memphis would have the coaching growing pains, not Temple. Turned out the opposite was the case.  The Wildcat Offense is an absolute joke when you have someone running it who has not demonstrated he can complete a pass out of it. What do you think the scouting report for Temple is when Isaiah Wright comes into the game? That he’s going to throw the ball? They just load up on the run.

Late in this one, I thought the law of averages would catch up to Temple and the Owls would be the ones benefitting from a Hail Mary pass instead of the ones suffering from it (Fordham, Buffalo, UCF). Instead, this game was lost long before then when the game was sitting on what turned out to be unlucky 13.

Now the only thing left is to figure out what crummy bowl game the Owls will be sent to, if indeed they are that lucky.

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Even before the game, not a whole lot of belief in Temple anymore (Sad).

Sunday: Catching Up With Greatness