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.

wright

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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Geoff Collins’ Shocking Admission

 

dunce

Go through the posts on this website and you will find several references of Temple’s offense being one where the coaches tried to fit a square peg into a round hole.

shargamilk

So you can excuse us for wondering just where Temple head football coach got this notion from when he uttered this quote at the inaugural Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl press conference.

“I think we were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole on offense,” Collins said. “Once we got a good taste of who our personnel was on offense, it kind of took off.”

Collins could have saved a whole lot of time and heartache by reading what was posted here in September.

Maybe he did.

This is what we wrote in a post on Sept. 22, after a 43-7 loss to USF:

“Ask any Temple fan who followed the team over the last 40 years (I will raise my hand here) who the best set of receivers are in Temple history and that fan will probably say the current group of Ventell Bryant, Adonis Jennings, Keith Kirkwood and Isaiah Wright. Any offense that has those four guys on it is not rebuilding, it should be reloading.

Emphasis on “should be” because the coaching is the X-factor here. Temple won the past two seasons because it catered an offense to suit the talents of its players, and did not try to force fit a square peg (spread offense) into a round hole (play-action offense). A good head coach tailors a scheme to the talent he has, not the talent he wants.”

Better late than never, but putting the square pegs into the square holes and the round ones should have been something that was figured out by August, not by the end of October. The real sad thing is that Collins seemed to be onto it at the season ticket holder party when one season-ticket holder asked him to “never take Nick Sharga out of the game” and Collins responded by saying that he would not and, if anything, Sharga’s role as a lead-blocker in a play-action-oriented offense would be greater than it was a year ago. For reasons only Collins knows, he lied. Maybe he allowed offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude to have too much input.


At least Collins dictated a heavy dose of play action over the final six games of the year and that saved their season. That was the personnel they had all along.


“Temple won the past two
seasons because it catered
an offense to suit the
talents of its players,
and did not try to force
fit a square peg (spread offense)
into a round hole
(play-action offense)”
_ Temple Football Forever, Sept. 22, 2017

“I think we were trying to kind
of fit a square peg in a round
hole
on offense. Once we got
a really good taste of who
our personnel was,
it kind of took off.”
_ Geoff Collins, Dec. 6, 2017


The Owls took way too long to figure out that they never needed a “running” quarterback as much as they needed a guy with a big enough arm to get the ball to their most talented players on offense, their wide receivers. They figured out too late that many of the “drops” they suffered in September were the result of these same receivers circling back on poorly thrown balls. When they inserted the guy with the big arm, those receivers caught balls in stride and away they went, usually into the end zone.

Collins followed the outline of the advice, although we would have liked to seen more running from guys like Ryquell Armstead and David Hood behind a guy like Nick Sharga.

Maybe next year with those two behind a guy who goes by the nickname of Nitro, opening passing lanes for a guy who goes by the name Juice.

Let’s hope a second-year coach isn’t as slow on the uptake as the first-year one was. One of the fastest ways to fix a problem is to recognize it and, with that one quote, Collins showed there is hope for a better future plan.

Monday: The Padre Pio Factor

Wednesday: Bowl Preview

Friday: Bowl Analysis

Christmas: Season Analysis

Missing In Action

shargamilk

Arguably, there were a lot of valuable players on the 2016 AAC championship team but, if you were to take a super secret vote of the players, it might have come down to two.

P.J. Walker or Nick Sharga.

Frankly, I don’t know who would have won and it would not have surprised me if Sharga did.

That’s why, even with the euphoria on Saturday of watching my beloved Temple Owls finally play like the team I thought they were before the season started, there was a tinge a sadness in that the best fullback in the country was limited to largely a special teams’ role.

If the full potential of the Owls are going to be realized, then the talents of the most valuable player on a Power 6 championship team should be maximized, not minimized, going forward.

Imagine this scenario, for instance.

David Hood’s hands on the back of Sharga as the fullback pancakes one linebacker on the way to a big gain. Over and over again. Then he does the same for Rob Ritrovano, whose “Nitro” nickname might be the best Temple football moniker since Gerald “Sweet Feet” Lucear.

This pile does not begin to move until Sharga takes charge. 

Then, if Ryquell Armstead’s recovery takes a little longer than expected, Sharga leading the way for Isaiah Wright on little swing passes out the backfield as a counter to blitzes on quarterback Logan Marchi.

All of these things open up options for the best group of wide receivers I’ve ever seen at Temple—Ventell Bryant, Keith Kirkwood, Marshall Ellick, Adonis Jennings and Brodrik Yancy.

Sharga’s just another weapon in what would be a nuclear arsenal and plugging him back in there on every down adds megatonage for every other weapon.

When I was introduced to Geoff Collins at the season-ticket holder party, I asked him to do me one favor.

“What is it?” Collins asked.

“Never take Nick Sharga off the field,” I said. “At least on offense. He’s not only the best fullback in the country, he’s the best blocker in the country and that includes offensive linemen. He’s probably also your best linebacker.”

“Don’t worry,” Collins said. “I won’t. We’re going to be using him even more this season.”

That promise was not kept on Saturday.

Keeping it in the final six games could be the difference between greatness and mediocrity.

Thursday: A Throwback

Spread This

spreadthis

This should be the only spread at the E-O until Sharga graduates.

If you’ve listened to several of the interviews Dave Patenaude gave over the offseason, included in his comments are several references to wanting to keep the Temple offensive identity, which is to run the football behind the fullback and keep defenses honest with play-fakes to the halfback resulting in explosive downfield plays in the passing game.

So far, so good.

Then the new offensive coordinator throws in a curse word: Spread Offense.

emptyset

Under this kind of empty set, AAC defenses routinely audibled into a blitz  and often sacked P.J. Walker.

Actually, that’s two curse words but who’s counting?

If there is one thing Matt Rhule learned after his first two seasons (8-16), he said it was that the spread was something that rubbed against every fiber in his football body but indicated he was intoxicated by watching the big-time teams play that way.

“That’s just not the way Temple plays football,” he said before the 2015 season. “The sooner I came to realize that, the better off we were at the end of last season. Under Al (Golden), we were a run-first, utilizing the fullback  type of team and we forced the linebackers and safeties up so we could make big plays in the passing game. That’s who I am. That’s the way I coach and I got talked out of that.”

Rhule would not say who did the talking, but the speculation squarely centered on offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield. Once Rhule put his foot down, the Owls had back-to-back 10-win seasons.


With the run established,
linebackers and safeties
freeze for a split second
with that kind of fake and
Owl receivers would be so
open Russo won’t know which
one to pick out. With a
fullback like Sharga and
tailbacks like Ryquell Armstead
and Jager Gardner,
that’s the only way to play

Temple’s identity as a team which sets up explosive plays in the passing game off the fear of the run is as much the school’s own as Navy’s triple-option is today. To mess with that is to play with fire.

Plus, the Owls have the best fullback in college football, Nick Sharga, for one more year. While they have him, they should use him as another offensive lineman to open up the running game and occasionally running over linebackers with the ball in his hands. Under that scenario, the linebackers and the safeties inch up to the line of scrimmage to protect against the run and are susceptible to the kind of deft play-fakes a quarterback like Anthony Russo makes easily. With the run established, linebackers and safeties freeze for a split second with that kind of fake and Owl receivers would be so open Russo won’t know which one to pick out. With a fullback like Sharga and tailbacks like Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner, that’s the only way to play.

If they are really thinking about uttering curse words like “spread offense” 2018 might be a good time to tinker with that concept.

Not before.

Monday: 5 Reasons Why Owls Will Win AAC Title

Wednesday: Power 5 Misconceptions

Friday: The Big Cheese

In One Case, Position Flexibility Could Be Epic

running

Nick Sharga gains a first down on this run in AAC championship game and makes a tackle as a linebacker (below) in 2015 game against Tulane.

linebacker

After about almost every press conference, new Temple head coach Geoff Collins talks about position flexibility.

In the first scrimmage on Saturday, tight ends were playing offensive tackle, a backup fullback was playing guard and all four starting defensive backs were playing the other’s positions—corners playing safety and vise-versa.

There was so much flexibility going on, folks thought the entire Temple football team was double-jointed.

If, however, Collins truly wants to achieve flexibility he might consider bringing back the 60-minute player and we have our own suggestion.

Nick “Shots Fired” Sharga.

There are a couple of good reasons for this.

The first is that new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude seems fixated on expanding the multiple wide-receiver sets and that, by its very nature, limits the role of Sharga as a fullback. That’s bad news in my opinion because his lead blocking in the run game makes him an additional downhill offensive lineman and opens up the passing game because opposing teams cheat their linebackers and safeties up against the run.

Without Sharga in there, the element of surprise is gone and the opposition knows the Owls are going to fling the ball out there as fast as they can.

Say, though, Sharga plays no more than 15 plays a game at fullback. He PROBABLY is also the team’s best linebacker, so why not get him 15-30 snaps on that side of the ball. All the defensive coaches have to do to judge for themselves is watch the game film of Sharga starting at linebacker playing 20 plays on defense in a 36-12 win over No. 21 Memphis and Paxton Lynch two years ago. Despite National Player of the Year Tyler Matakevich also playing linebacker, Sharga was among—if the the best—defensive player on the field that day.

Sharga might not be able to play 60 minutes, like another Philadelphia collegiate player, Chuck Bednarik, but getting him as many reps on both offense and defense—say, 50 of the 60 minutes—is something he is more than capable of handling.

On Oct. 18 1986, Holy Cross player Gordie Lockbaum  played 143 of the 171 snaps in a 17-14 win over Army. On that day, he led Holy Cross in rushing and receiving and played free safety on defense.

The team that wins usually is the one able to get their most productive player on the field and, once the new coaching staff figures out Sharga fits that description, the better off we will all be.

Wednesday: The First Casualty of the QB Wars 

Tough Guys Wanted

labolito

This Joseph V. Labolito shot is the photo of spring practice so far.

The tradition at Temple has been to name nine special tough guys before the first game of the season and number those guys 1-9, not necessarily in order of toughness.

Temple University official photographer Joseph V. Labolito captured the essence of the single digit tradition and the university in general with one general iconic photo shot (above) last Thursday. In the background, is a smiling Bernard Pierce—one of the few guys who turned down the honor of the single digit—and in the foreground is the toughest of the tough guys, Nick Sharga.

There are a few digits left, but here’s a novel idea.

Be very stingy about giving out the numbers just to fill out the roster.

Before Pierce’s sophomore season, then head coach Al Golden wanted to give Pierce a single digit but Pierce already was well on his way to making No. 30 a special number in Temple history and wanted to keep it. Golden honored that request.  Pierce singlehandedly lifted the Owls to arguably the second-best win of Golden’s Temple career—a 27-24 job at 10-win Navy, with 268 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. (He also had a big hand in the biggest win of Golden’s career, a 30-16 thumping of BCS bowl-bound UConn, but that came in the next season.)

If the Owls find enough guys who meet the standards of guys like Sharga, Ventell Bryant, Sean Chandler, Keith Kirkwood and Jacob Martin, then they should hand out the rest of the numbers before the Notre Dame game.

If not, make it a game-to-game thing for performances in the game before or just  hold the number open. That makes the honor that much more special.

Who fills out the list?

My guess if Sharif Finch will be at least a candidate for a single digit. How long as Finch been around? He played a terrific game as a starting linebacker in a loss at Rutgers that would have been a win had he not been called for a bogus penalty on a late hit two plays before RU hit the game-winning touchdown pass. That was way back in 2013. Finch is also a big-time playmaker and has blocked five punts in his Temple career and also picked off New York Jets’ quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the key play of a 27-10 win over Penn State two weeks ago.

Other than Finch, a darkhorse candidate could emerge. Maybe Ryquell Armstead, but, either way, Temple will need more than nine tough guys to be successful whether they get a single digit or not.

Tomorrow: Done Deal Of The Century

Crunching Leadership Numbers

More leaders coming back in these 32 seconds than have left.

A few weeks ago, someone broached a question about who the leaders will be on the 2017 Temple football team.

It was a fair question because a couple of leaders left on offense and a couple of more left on defense in Jahad Thomas and P.J. Walker and Haason Reddick and Nate Hairston.

The answer lies in the numbers.

 

thisandthat

This (left) more than made up for that (right).

 

 

Or, in this case, the number because the returning single-digit guys—particularly Nick Sharga and Ventell Byrant on offense and Jacob Martin and Champ Chandler on defense—are natural-born leaders and provide enough quantity to go along with the quality.

It’s no coincidence that Thomas, Walker and Reddick were single-digit guys and there is no law against any of the other guys assuming leadership roles, as No. 15 Hairston did by locking down one corner.

Anyone who thinks there is a dearth of leadership on the 2017 team should be disabused of that notion.

All you had to do was look at the widely viewed tape of “The Drive” when Bryant not only caught three clutch passes in 32 seconds against UCF, but staggered to his position just before the final play from scrimmage. Any other player would have been so hurt he remained down but, even though he was groggy he had enough sense to realize that if he had stayed down, there would have been a 10-second runoff and Temple would have lost the game.

That’s leadership.

That presence of mind led to the latest single-digit guy, Keith Kirkwood, who saw a ball in the air and knew he had to catch or the game was over. Kirkwood made a great catch in the back of the end zone and the Owls were on their way to a seven-game winning streak.

Kirkwood, Bryant and Adonis Jennings, among others, give the Owls what I feel is their best receiving corps since Van Johnson and Troy Kersey were on the same team.

On defense, with Chandler in the middle of the field for a full season and Martin and Sharif Finch creating Mayhem in the pocket on defense, the Owls are in good shape.

At this point, it should be fun watching this team develop their own identity between now and opening day.

 

Friday:  Month of Mayhem