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

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

Greatness Straight Ahead

greatness

Well, all that talk about a 6-6 season for Temple lasted, oh, about two weeks.

For the past six months, we’ve been writing that this team was better than last year’s team and there was a lot of pushback that we were expecting too much.

Now, after a 46-30 win over a South Florida team that was the consensus favorite to win the AAC East title, all of the goals we had outlined for this team since the Cherry and White game are not only in sight but likely.

This was the step forward year, next year was the step back year. (When we say step back, we mean double digit wins to eight, not double digit wins to six.)

All the Owls have to do to step forward is to win the remaining four games on the schedule that are far inferior to South Florida. Do that, and the Owls take a nine-win season into the title game and that title game could be in Philadelphia, not Houston. Philadelphia as the title site makes 10 wins possible, and a bowl win makes 11 wins possible.

Anytime you go from 10 wins to 11 wins the program is going forward.

There is work to be done, but the heavy lifting was completed last night when fullback Nick Sharga showed why we were pleading for a fullback for the first two years of the fullback-less Matt Rhule regime. Now the fullback should be a staple of Temple football going forward. Just look at these blocks from Sharga.

nick

sharga

After the game, Ryquell Armstead, the chief beneficiary of those blocks, said he saw USF defenders step away from the contact when they saw Sharga come after them in the second half. They wanted no parts of Sharga. It sure looked like that on the TV replay. With a torn ACL that prevents him from playing defense, Sharga is finding people to block.

Temple football is good defense, establishing the run, control the clock and a lot of that is based on the play of the fullback and Sharga was the Unsung  Hero on Friday night. Combined with the “sung” heroes, who were too many to mention, this season is coming together just at the right time.

How far the Owls take this is really up to them and no one else and, if they don’t quit, greatness is well within reach.

Why The Names Ritrovato and Wilson Are Important

few

Nick Sharga had Jahad Thomas’ back all season.

Judging from Temple opponents’ websites—and one Rutgers’ one—the conventional wisdom acceptable as gospel elsewhere is that “Temple has lost everyone and will return to being bad” in the 2016 season.

The pack of so-and-so fans nods their collective heads as if the OP has some inside knowledge of Temple football.

Those of us who are a little closer to the program, purchase season tickets, watch every minute of every game know better. Part of that more plausible narrative is that, while the Owls lose a great linebacker like Tyler Matakevich, they have three potential very-good-to-next-level linebackers returning in single-digit players Avery Williams (2), Nick Sharga (4) and Stephaun Marshall (6).

Think about that for a minute. Temple handed out nine single-digit numbers as voted by  their teammates as the nine toughest guys in the 105-man program and three of those guys are not only returning, but also play the same position—linebacker. (We know Jahad Thomas and Sean Chandler also are among the returning single-digit players, too.)

Yes, Temple will miss Tyler but nowhere near as much as the Temple haters think.

That’s why it is important, although not absolutely vital, that the “Unsung Hero” of last year’s team, Sharga, gets to move to his primary position, which is linebacker. To do that, Temple will be looking closely at two names who can play fullback, Rob Ritrovato and Taiyir Wilson.

The interesting thing about Ritrovato was that the staff had confidence enough to play the 6-0, 228-pounder against Penn State. That’s when he suffered a season-ending injury. The other player listed as a fullback is Wilson, a mid-year enrollee from Fork Union (Va.), who is 6-2, 245.  He played fullback at Perkiomen Valley prior to that.

If either of them show they can lead block for tailbacks like Sharga did, the Owls will have the luxury of moving Sharga over to the other side of the ball where he obviously has a nose for it.

Nick Sharga is Temple’s Unsung Hero

thenickster

Nick Sharga has been the kickout block for Jahad Thomas all season.

Somewhere along the line on Saturday night, if head coach Matt Rhule keeps a promise, Nick Sharga will carry the football for Temple’s 25th-ranked football team and it will be an appropriate reward for the team’s most unsung hero.

Sharga, a 6-2, 235-pound redshirt sophomore, is just the kind of player teams need more of and just the kind of player Rhule has built a respected program upon. Three weeks ago, Rhule said the team is going to give him the ball at some point and, with one more regular-season game left, that time will probably be on Saturday night (7 p.m.) against visiting Connecticut.

Nick Sharga, Temple,

A handoff to the fullback would be a fitting reward for Sharga, who has led the way through the hole for tailback Jahad Thomas all season. The only thing that has stood in the way of Sharga being a two-way starter an All-American linebacker named Tyler Matakevich, but there can be no doubt that Sharga already has played a huge role in the team’s 9-2 record. When Matakevich takes his considerable talents to the NFL next year, Sharga will slide over into his “Mike” linebacker position and the Owls probably will not suffer a significant drop off.

While no one plays 60 minutes anymore, Sharga is a throwback in that he starts on offense at the fullback position and is a backup linebacker on defense.  In a 31-12 win over then No. 23 Memphis last week, Sharga played 20 plays on offense, 15 plays on defense and five on special teams and that’s just not done in big-time college football anymore.

damp

I hope that damp means dew not rain.

Matakevich is one of the three finalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s top defensive player. Bednarik, like Matakevich, played his home college football games in Philadelphia but, unlike Matakevich, was the last of the 60-minute men. Sharga  isn’t a 60-minute guy, but he’s getting there.

Sharga injured his ACL his senior year of high school, ended up at Division II West Virginia Wesleyan, put some outstanding film together and decided to walk-on at Temple last year. In spring ball this season, he made plays all over the field and his teammates voted him a single-digit number (4) awarded to the nine toughest players on the Temple team.

If he gets the ball on Saturday and runs far with it, no one will be surprised because of how far he’s run to get to this point.

Running Game: Toughness Over Flash

When the Temple football coaches got together in the War Room at the E-O at the end of the season, the No. 1 topic had to have been to fix what was broken.

There can be no doubt it was the running game, the worst in the AAC and the chief reason the Owls had the worst third-down efficiency in the FBS. (The punt return game was also a disaster, but that was because the Owls decided early to use a possession receiver instead of an explosive return guy like Nate L. Smith to take back punts.)

Now, with 10 days left before Penn State, the solution appears to have been toughness over flash. Jahad Thomas, last year’s leading rusher, appears to have won the job despite strong challenges from Jager Gardner, David Hood and Ryquell Armstead. Four-star recruit T.J. Simmons also is in the mix, but someone will have to redshirt and he appears to be the odd man out.

One of the best ways to measure a player’s potential impact is comparing what that player did against similar competition.

While Simmons played perhaps against the best talent (Florida) and Gardner against the worst (Western North Carolina), Gardner’s numbers and size cannot be ignored. He might have lost the job by fumbling in a scrimmage, but if the Owls need explosiveness and flash at the position they do know where to go.

Thomas was nowhere near as dominating against some pretty good high school competition, but he’s obviously earned the coaching staff’s trust by his toughness. Would love to see the Owls attempt a more traditional running game by using Nick Sharga as a fullback to lead interference for Thomas and some of the other tailbacks and, since Sharga has gotten time as a fullback (in addition to linebacker and defensive end), that is possible—probably likely in goal-line situations.

Some red flags are involved in every player, with the possible exception of Armstead and Gardner.

Thomas does not seem to have the elite breakaway speed needed for the position. He was caught from behind in the Houston game.

Simmons had his best season as a freshman but has not played significantly since his junior year (nine games).

Of these players, Gardner’s size and speed and high school stats remind me most of Bernard Pierce and that’s the kind of player the Owls need at the position.

Player Ht./Wt. H.S. Best Year Games Yards Touchdowns
Jahad Thomas 5-10, 170 Sr. 13 889 15
Ryquell Armstead 5-10, 205 Sr. 11 1,488 18
T.J. Simmons 6-1, 195 Fr. 11 1,487 20
Jager Gardner 6-2, 205 Sr. 13 2,776 36
David Hood 5-9, 185 Sr. 12 1,651 21