Today is one of the 5 most important days

A lot of us have been holding our breath until our faces turned blue but that process ends today.

At least for me.

College football has changed a lot in the past three years, let alone past 20, but it’s pretty safe to say that the start of spring football practice has always been one of the five most important days of the year.

The others being, in no particular order, spring game, recruiting signing day, opening day and bowl game. (The Cherry and White game hasn’t been relevant for a couple of years but there was a time when it was huge on the Temple football calendar.)

Despite the shaky state of the program, we can now all breathe a sigh of relief.

At least we can assume that the guys who practiced today are all in and will be Temple football players this fall and that’s significant achievement in this day and age of the dreaded transfer portal.

My biggest breath was reserved for one guy who has been my favorite Temple football player over the last two years: Jadan Blue. (Even though you see some spellings as Jaden, the school’s official website has him listed as Jadan and we will go with that.)

He’s a game-changing type player who caught three touchdown passes in a competitive game against Memphis and probably will leave Temple with a lot of receiving records. If he gets double digits in terms of touchdown receptions for the 2021, he could be the next Owl drafted in the first round (hell, Jalen Reagor had only nine TD catches his senior year at TCU and got drafted in the first round).

He is the only Owl in the history of the school to catch 95 passes or post 1,000 yards or more in a single season. When you think players with the talent of Van Johnson, Leslie Shepard, Steve Watson, Randy Grossman, Robby Anderson, Rich Drayton, Keith Gloster, Willie Marshall or Bruce Francis never put up those kind of numbers, that’s saying a lot. Hell, Jim Callahan caught six touchdowns in a single game (and Francis five) but neither of those guys caught 95 balls or got 1,000 yards in a single year like Blue did in 2019.

Truthfully, I thought he was a goner to the portal but I’m glad he stayed.

If Temple is going to be competitive this fall–and that’s a big if–Blue will be a big part of it because he is in a receiving room that is, without question, the most talented room in the AAC. Randle Jones, on the other side, is a flat-out stud and Purdue transfer Amad Anderson is an accomplished and proven Big 10 receiver.

If Duece Mathis can get those guys the ball, Temple can turn the scoreboard into an adding machine at Lincoln Financial Field.

The problem is the other side of the ball. I don’t see the Owls getting enough pressure on the opposing quarterback to disrupt things on the defensive end nor do I see them being able to stop the run consistently enough.

They could lose a few games 39-38, 41-29 and 45-40. Or maybe win them that way.

That’s a problem, though for defensive coordinator Jeff Knowles and line coach Walter Stewart to solve. No amount of X’s and O’s can make up for the J and J’s (Jimmie and Joes).

In the meantime, we’ve gotten this far and enough of the “good guys” have stayed to at least make things interesting on one side of the ball.

The best of the good ones just might be Blue, which best describes the color of my face while holding my breath and hoping he would stay.

Friday: Loaves and Fishes

Monday: Keeping it Between the Boards

Some early stat predictions

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Anthony Russo (circled) needs to improve by only two touchdown passes to break the single-season record held by both Adam DiMichele and P.J. Walker (above).

Weekly phone calls from Temple trying to sell season tickets is one indication that a full season will be announced soon.

How soon?

Your guess is as good as mine.

The school recently announced it will have both online and in-person classes and the second part of that pretty much confirms the requirement for a football season.

So here goes some early (on-the-record) stat predictions based on a full 12-game regular season (not including a potential bowl game):

We’ll repost this after the season to see how right we were but going on record is important.

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Quarterback

Anthony Russo is poised for an outstanding senior season. Even if he has a merely “good” one, he will break at least a couple of career passing records at Temple.

His sophomore season stats were these:

Fourteen touchdown passes, and the same number of interceptions. He had 2,563 yards in 2018; 2,861 in 2019. The record is 3,295 by P.J. Walker in that championship season (2016).

He improved those numbers by seven and three, both on the good side, in 2019 regular-season stats and, based on that math, we’re going for these predictions for 2020:

Prediction: 28 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and it’s not a reach that he will become the first Temple quarterback ever to have a 3,296-yard season so we will go for that. LSU’s Joe Burrows went from 19 touchdown passes to 60 his senior year, so it’s not out of the question that Anthony throws for 39 and ties the career record (74) of  Walker, but we’re not getting that crazy. We’ll take just the same improvement he made last year for next year.

If P.J. (who started the better part of four years to Russo’s three) still holds the career touchdown record, that’s perfectly understandable. The other two records are within reach, though.

Receivers: (Jadan Blue and Branden Mack):

Blue set single-season records for Temple in both receptions (95) and yards (1,097). That was a terrific improvement from his 2018 season. He did, however, only have four touchdown receptions and those numbers are going to have to improve to get attention of NFL scouts looking for impact-makers. So we’re going to go with fewer receptions (90) and yards (1,007) but we’re going to add five more touchdown receptions:

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William Kwenkeu (35) revives his Gasparilla Bowl MVP performance by leading the Owls in tackles this season.

Prediction: Blue, 90 receptions, 1,007 yards, and nine touchdown receptions.

Mack had seven touchdown catches and is taller (6-5 to 6-1) so we’re going to give him those seven and raise his number of receptions from 44 to 61 and his yards from 667 to 897.

Running backs

Ray Davis had 900 rushing yards in his first season as a freshman.

Prediction: He will raise that to 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns his second season simply because Rod Carey and staff will realize they have a big-time playmaker on their hands and won’t make the same mistake of game-planning 26 passing plays in the first 34 snaps from scrimmage (see Cincinnati game, 2019).

Defense

Sacks: Interior tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh will lead with 9.

Interceptions: Safety Amir Tyler with 5.

Tackles: Linebacker William Kwenkeu with 88.

Tackles for loss: Linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley with 11.

OK, those are guesses. Guys will have to remain healthy and, as always, someone will come from nowhere to surprise everyone. My guess is that a DE named Nickolos  Madourie  (who had 17.5 sacks as a JUCO in a single season) will be just one of those guys and there could be many. Graham-Mobley could lead in overall tackles and Kwenkeu–who had two sacks in a bowl game–could lead in tackles for losses.

That’s part of what makes college football great and that’s why we hope there is a concrete announcement saying we will have it soon. Save this post and clip it and hammer me if I’m wrong in December.

If I’m above 50/50, I will take it. More important is getting to those double-digit wins which will mean the profile of all the above guys will rise considerably more than anything they can put on the stat sheet.

Monday: A Potentially Special Addition

 

Comparing seasons: A soft 8-5

 

In the entire modern history of Temple football, the Owls have had eight seasons similar to the one they had in 2019.

The most similar one was the same 8-5 the Owls posted in the previous year, but the Owls also had a 9-4 season in 2011, an 8-4 season in 2010, a 9-4 season in 2009 and a 7-4 season in 1990.

The difference is a stark one.

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For Temple to be really successful in 2020, Rod Carey will have to put the ball in Ray Davis’ hands as much as Matt Rhule and Geoff Collins did with Ryquell Armstead

In none of those other seasons did the Owls suffer three blowout losses like they did in 2019. To me, despite the two wins over then top 25 teams, that’s a soft 8-5.

If Pat Kraft pulled Rod Carey into his office for a year-end review like most of us people in regular jobs have, that’s the one criticism he should have of his old Indiana football buddy.

“Rod, great job beating two top 25 teams but you’ve got to cut that blowout shit out.”

Somehow, though, I think Rod-with a $10 million buyout–is on cruise control at Temple and Kraft is offering no year-end reviews.

Take what Geoff Collins did vs. Carey in comparison. In my mind, Carey still retains bragging rights against Mr. Mayhem because he beat Collins Power 5 team with Group of Five talent, 24-2. If that changes this season in Atlanta, though, that all goes out the window.

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Today is our 11th anniversary on wordpress after switching from blogspot

Still, the Apples vs. Apples comparison–Temple talent under Collins vs. Temple talent under Carey–has to objectively go to Collins and that comes from a guy who was a lot tougher on Collins and his offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude than I ever was on Carey and Mike Uremovich.

Here’s why: Collins’ 8-5 season was way more competitive in the five losses than Carey’s 8-5 season was. Collins’ team led, 34-26, at halftime against a top 10 team on the road, UCF, before falling, 52-40. Carey’s team lost at home to the same talent, 63-21.

Carey also lost head-scratchers at SMU (45-21) and to a 6-6 UNC team (55-13). In both games, Temple was a 6.5-point underdog. It wasn’t just me that saw Temple as the underperforming team, it was the nation.

Our reasons have been chronicled in this space until our faces have turned Jadan Blue. Temple has been a run-first team under previous coaches and the Owls used their toughness along the offensive line and in the run game to extend opponents into the fourth quarter. Carey bringing a RPO to Temple from NIU has needlessly opened areas for the bad guys to exploit and run away from Temple. Nothing would open passing lanes for All-American potential receivers like Blue and Branden Mack than a strong running game led by Ray Davis. Nothing makes those passing windows tighter than a passive commitment to the run.

We posted these same criticisms of Matt Rhule after his first two RPO years and he was flexible enough to change his style and increase his pay from $2.4 million per year in his final contract at Temple to $4.7 at Baylor and $6.3 at Carolina.

So far, Matt hasn’t cut us a residual check and we don’t want one.

All we want is for Temple to get back to being Temple. Run first, extend the game into the fourth quarter and not be embarrassed in losses. If Carey gets a pay raise for returning the Temple brand, we will kiss his ass incessantly and thank him without expecting anyting  in return.

If he’s too stubborn to change, he will never be successful here but a lot of 6-6 seasons will keep him around for a decade or so and pay him comfortably because Temple never fires mediocre coaches. To me, that’s not good enough.

Temple should always strive for excellence and reject medicority the same way it rejected failure more than a decade ago.

Monday: Another kick in the nuts to the G5

Wednesday: An April Anthology

Friday: Is That All There is?

For Temple, All-American Game Week

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All you need to know about the football game Temple University will be participating in on Friday is that there is the potential for at least three first-team All-Americans to take the field one last time this season.

And that’s just for Temple.

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Annapolis weather is 55 with sun and clouds on Friday

Sam Howell, the current North Carolina quarterback, probably has a pretty good chance in the next year or two as well as do two of their linebackers.

There’s no doubt in my mind that if both defensive end Quincy Roche and center Matt Hennessy stay at the university for one more year, they will both move up from second-team All-Americans (USA Today’s Pro Football Focus team) to a more consensus first-team next season. That is a decision that’s up to them but a career is all about memories and legacy and Temple having two first-team All-Americans would be something extra special for each of those guys to carry through for their lifetimes.

Either way, they are both first-team All-Americans in my mind and Friday represents at least one more chance for this Temple fan to see them play.

 

To me, it would make sense for both to stay and not just because I’m a Temple fan. Neither player is projected above the third round and the real money and job security comes with being either a first- or second-round pick. No doubt in my mind a first-team All-American is a first- or second-round pick.

There is a huge risk involved in leaving early, as Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson found out last year. He was an undrafted free agent, cut and his football career is over. Jackson was the MAC offensive player of the year while leading Buffalo to a 10-4 season after he threw for 3,131 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while completing 55 percent of his passes. Jackson also ran for 161 yards and seven touchdowns. Had he stayed at Buffalo, he would have been able to refine his game and move up on the NFL draft charts and had a much better chance to stick.

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That leaves the third Temple first-team All-American: Wide receiver Jadan Blue. There’s every reason to believe that with Anthony Russo here still dropping dimes to him, Blue can break all of the career and single-season Temple receiving records and, with that, become a first-team All-American as well. Blue already has the single-season Temple mark for catches with 80 this season, breaking Zamir Cobb’s mark of 74 set in an otherwise forgettable 2003 season. (For his first two years here, Zamir was known as “Charlie Cobb.”) Blue is within the range of Temple records for all-time yardage, receptions and touchdown catches and should literally grab those three marks next season.

If Hennessy and Roche join him for one more season of fun, the Owls will probably go into the season as the favorite to win the AAC and give Temple a real shot at three first-team All-Americans.

For Temple, it could be the difference between another 8-4 season and a 12-0 one.

Wednesday: Merry Christmas

Thursday: Game Preview

Saturday: Game Analysis