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

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.