Keeping it between the boards

Gavin Dionisio should compete for the kicking job.

As a young man, I was charged with taking a final look at the sports pages before they hit the hard-scrabble streets of Doylestown.

One guy who needed heavy editing was a NASCAR “writer” named Eddie Blain.

He always ended with a signature closing line: “Keep it between the boards.”

Except one time.

We’ll say it was a typo.

“Keep it between the broads.”

Funny line and the people in the composing room loved it, but I couldn’t let it go. I had to send another version of the story out with the correct closing line.

The keep it between the boards line referred to keeping the cars on the track and out of danger.

That story reminded me a little of the Temple kicking game last year.

It should be a little easier to keep kickoffs inbounds than it was to keep cars inside the track but each kickoff was a painful exercise in covering the eyes and listening to the play-by-play to see if it wasn’t a disaster.

The Owls had five kickoffs go out of bounds last year, two in just one game.

How does that happen?

Who allows this slop to hit the streets?

Oh.

Rod Carey.

When guys like Don Bitterlich, Nick Mike-Mayer, Brandon McManus, Austin Jones and Aaron Boumerhi were here, the Owls went four years at a time without a single kickoff going out of bonds. That’s a total of about 20 years. Even Jerry Berndt had good kickers in Cardinal Dougherty’s Bill and Bob Wright and Bobby Wallace had a solid kicker in Cap Poklemba.

Temple fans have gotten into the habit of assuming that part of the game was on auto pilot. Really, even though Will Mobley was an OK short-distance kicker, the Owls haven’t had a home run hitting kicker since Carey didn’t guarantee Boumerhi’s scholarship,, forcing him to transfer to Boston College.

They still might not, but at least they understand they have a problem and that’s a change in the right direction.

Fortunately, the Owls brought in Archbishop Ryan all-state kicker Gavin Dionisio to challenge Rory Bell for the job this year. We checked with some Ryan guys we know (it’s our other alma mater) and Dionisio did not have a single kick go out of bounds in his three years as Ryan’s main kicker. Hopefully, the competition on kickoffs makes Bell better in that area, too.

Gavin isn’t perfect–his longest field goal in high school was only 38 yards–but it’s nice to know that it should be OK to assume the kickoffs will be kept between football’s version of the boards for a change.

Friday: A Big Target

5 Temple Newcomers to Watch

It’s pretty hard for a newcomer, where it’s a true freshman, a redshirt freshman or a transfer to make a difference in college football these days.

The culture and the systems are usually so firmly entrenched it takes a year or two to make an impact.

Temple had at least one, running back, Ray Davis, make a big breakthrough last year and this year there could be at least five more. Not many predicted Davis would get more than 900 yards, but that’s the great thing about college football. Someone always breaks through and makes an impact.

At least five could do the same for the 2020 football Owls.

All five of them come in areas of need (kicking game, offensive line, defensive end) so we’ll just concentrate on those areas because guys like Nazir Burnett (wide receiver) and Muheem McCargo (linebacker) probably will need injuries at deep positions to get on the field and show their stuff.

Kicker (both No. 47)

Will Leyland and Rory Bell. Not much to chose between the Wilmington (Ohio) Bell and the Souderton (Pa.) Leyland so this is an interesting battle to watch. Bell was first-team all-Southeast Ohio and Leyland was on the roster of the Big 33 game as the kicker for the East team before that game was canceled. Both have pushed three-year starter Will Mobley for the starting job and, should the Owls need to kick a field goal from distance expect one of the two to get the shot. It’s been a long time since the Owls have been a threat from distance (Boomer, Austin Jones and Brandon McManus come to mind).

Offensive line

C.J. Perez (center) and Michael Niese (guard) are accomplished transfers from Northern Illinois and Dayton who should upgrade an offensive line that was battered in the 55-13 bowl loss to North Carolina. One of the reasons why it was battered was because one of the two most reliable performers, Vince Picozzi, was out with an injury. He’s back and they are here and the Owls should establish a running game that will make Anthony Russo that much more an effective passer. It will also help the passing game if these guys provide Russo with an extra second or two to throw and they should.

Defensive End

When Quincy Roche left for Miami, that meant the Owls had to replace the AAC Defensive Player of the Year and a double-digit sack guy. So the Owls dipped into the P5 and got Manny Walker out of Wake Forest. Will he get double-digit sacks? Doubtful, but if he applies enough pressure on the outside, expect NFL prospects Dan Archibong and Ifeany Maijeh to get better numbers in that area than a year ago. Roche was getting the attention last year. Walker will have to earn some of it this season.

Friday: 5 Improvements We’d Like to See

Monday: The Other October

Friday (Oct. 9): Finally, a Game Day

Sunday (Oct. 11): Game Analysis

Special Teams are Like Umpires

Whether he wants to admit it or not, Rod Carey cannot say his special teams by delegation produced better results than any of Ed Foley’s special teams at Temple.

Special teams are like umpires. If you don’t notice them, they are great. If you do, they are like Angel Hernandez.

Terrible.

If you don’t notice them, they are John Libka–generally considered the best balls and strikes umpire in the game today.

Last year, Temple football’s special teams were closer to Hernandez than Libka.

After Brandon McManus kicked this game-winning field goal against UConn, head coach Steve Addazio said: “Our goal was to put the ball in the center of the field and let the best kicker in the country win it for us.” He did.

For about a decade before that, nobody really noticed Temple’s special teams. Maybe not coincidentally, that started in 2009 when head coach Al Golden also assumed the head coach of the special teams’ role.

When Steve Addazio took over for Golden, he promoted tight ends coach Ed Foley who made Temple’s special teams legendary for excellence. Foley was a guy who rose to his level of competence. He’s a very competent special teams’ coach, one of the best, but as an interim head coach he proved to be a bridge too far. There can be little doubt if Foley, say, won either the Wake Forest game or the Duke game as an interim, his chances of being Temple head coach today would have been far greater than they are now.

Last year, in an administrative move, Rod Carey took Foley from the field to an off-the-field role and that caused Foley to go to Baylor and now the Carolina Panthers.

The Owls were the Keystone Cops of AAC special teams and that stung Temple fans were used to Owls making big plays in that third of the game.

“If we’re great on defense and special teams, we’re going to be in every game,” Golden said in 2009. “That’s two-thirds of the team. I really felt that special teams was an area I had to take charge of myself.”

Maybe it was Carey’s fault for letting Foley go. All we know is that, under Foley, the kicking and return coverage games were great. With pretty much the same personnel last year, they were terrible. In order to gain trust of Owls fans, it’s going to have to improve this year.

Will we ever see this stat again under this staff? Got to hope so. In this case, we’re from Missouri (show me state) and they are from NIU.

Last year, the Owls couldn’t make a routine extra point at Cincinnati and that might have cost them the East title. A block was missed. Was that the fault of the new special teams “coaches” (Carey has a couple of coaches in charge)? Maybe not. But it didn’t happen on the regular under Foley.

Under Foley, Isaiah Wright was a dynamic punt and kickoff returner in 2018. Under Carey’s coach by committee in 2019, he was just another guy. Temple always flipped the field on kickoffs. Too often last year, the Owls started drives deep in their own territory. Maybe Foley would have been able to communicate how important it was for Wright to eschew the fair catches for the reward of a big play.

The Owls were aggressive on special teams for a decade, going after blocked punts and field goals. High risk, high reward. The philosophy changed to no risk no reward last year. Disappointing. If you’ve got no athletes, that’s probably the way to go but Temple has always had athletes out the wazoo, notably but not limited to 6-5 wide receivers like Branden Mack with a 91-inch wingspan who liked to block punts. They played scared on special teams. That might be the NIU way but that’s the opposite of Temple TUFF.

Now the rebuilding of the Owls’ special teams begins. The Owls recruited a couple of high-profile kickers and Will Mobley’s job appears to be in jeopardy. Rory Bell has a longer leg (Mobley a very reliable extra point kicker) and a pedigree for success at the high school level.

Looks like to me Bell is the guy for kicking. For punting, Adam Berry had his moments and most were not good. Did not like his body language after failing to field a snap or shanking a punt. Hopefully, he has matured but thanks to recruiting, the Owls now have some other options.

Golden was right. This is 1/3 of the team and deserves attention. It did not get that last year. If the Owls are going to be successful in this department, we will not notice this aspect of the team at all.

Monday: Did You Ever Get The Feeling?

A couple of special additions

If one play turned around the Temple season, it was a Keystone Cops’ like extra point that was not only blocked but taken back all the way for two points at Cincinnati.

That miss was in no way the fault of kicker Will Mobley because careful review of that replay showed a guard missing his block that allowed a hand to get through.

rory

Still, those two points were the difference between a Temple lead in a game the Owls had to win. They really should have won that game in Cincinnati because a lead would have dictated the approach in the fourth quarter.

Whatever, it highlighted a problem with the Owls that needed to be fixed. The Owls have not had an impact kicker since Aaron Boumerhi helped save the 2016 season. That was the year Austin Jones busted his leg on a cheap shot at Memphis. Going into that game, Jones–who transferred to Alabama and obscurity (Quincy Roche take note)– hit a Temple record 17-straight field goals.

Why do we bring all of this up?

First, placekicking has pretty much never been an area to worry about. The Owls have been blessed from guys like Nick Mike-Mayer to Don Bitterlich to Cap Poklemba to Brandon McManus to Jones and Boomer.

Lately?

Not so much.

Mobley is a pretty reliable extra-point type kicker but do you trust him with a 44-yarder with 30 seconds left in a big spot?

bellster

Gotta love that all of Rory’s family and friends already have their Temple swag.

He’s never shown that deep leg threat.

Two kickers Rod Carey is bringing in this year, though, do. Carey watched the same film you and I did and is doing something about it.

Rory Bell of Wilmington (Ohio) is outstanding as is Souderton kicker William Leyland.

Bell was ranked No. 2 in the nation by one of the scouting services, Game Winning kicking.

Leyland was named the kicker for the East squad for the Big 33 game that unfortunately will not be played due to the pandemic.

Both have big legs and can win a game and both will come as PWO (preferred walk-ons).

May the best man win, err, a scholarship. The Owls already have won getting both on the roster.

Now let’s hope the Owls can tighten up all the loose ends on their special teams to give these guys a shot to shine.