A special bonding night with players

darkside

(Mostly) linebackers at the season-ticket holders event Wednesday night.  (photo by Ted DeLapp)

A little bonding between a fan base and a team is always a good thing.

On Wednesday night, at the beautiful Aramark Center—the indoor home of the Temple football Owls—there was a lot of it.

Out of the blue (well, mostly black uniforms), Temple linebacker Chapelle Russell reached out and approached me and shook my hand.

Now I have never met Russell before nor him me, nor do I even know if he knows who I am, but I appreciated the gesture. He honed in on me like I hope he does the Villanova quarterback on 9/1, reached out his hand and shook mine and said this:

“Hey, thanks for coming.”

“You guys are going to be really good,” I told him. “Enjoy the season. It’s going to be special.”

“We all know it,” Chapelle said.

“I can’t believe we have some Temple fans say this is a seven-win team,” I said. “This is a nine-win team at worst.”


To me, it all depends
on whether Temple does
what it did in 2015 and
2016—get back to its Temple
TUFF offensive philosophy
of an elite running back
following an extra offensive
lineman (fullback) through
the hole to establish the
run and then explosive
downfield plays in the
play-action-faking passing game

“Yeah, we’re going for more than that,” he said. “Everything is looking really good. I mean, really, really good on both sides of the ball.”

Then we shook hands again and parted. I will never forget his amiability to a total stranger.

 

That was just a small part of what went on that night, with Temple fans and Temple players mingling and mind-melding. The good vibes were all around.

“You guys are the best fans in the country,” Temple quarterback Frank Nutile said in that deep New York accent. “You’re going to see a lot of great plays with a lot of great players on offense.”

On defense, tackle Michael Dogbe said: “We’re ready to go up against any offense in the country.”

Nutile might have been right on both counts. Temple fans make up more in quality than they make up in quantity and the last decade or so has rewarded them for sitting through a 20-game losing streak and 20 years of unmatched futility. On his other point, he has an AAC championship tailback to hand the ball off to (Ryquell Armstead) and plenty of athletic touchdown-makers to throw to, including Ventell Bryant (who caught a TD pass in the title game) and “touchdown waiting to happen” Isaiah Wright.

Dogbe and safety Delvon Randall have a chance … chance … of being first-round NFL draft choices. This is at least the equal of the two 10-win Temple teams in 2015 and 2016 seasons and the talent level just might be better.

To me, it all depends on whether Temple does what it did in 2015 and 2016—get back to its Temple TUFF offensive philosophy of an elite running back following an extra offensive lineman (fullback) through the hole to establish the run and then explosive downfield plays in the play-action-faking passing game. That’s the kind of offense that has a defensive coordinator’s head spinning, not an ill-advised spread that features an empty backfield that invites both blitzes and sacks. Matt Rhule said 2014 was a wasted season because he allowed his OC then to talk him into the spread.

These kids, and these fans, deserve head coach Geoff Collins to put his foot down and get the most out of this talent and not allow the current OC to make the same mistakes the one in 2014 made or that the current guy did for the first half of 2017.

Meanwhile, at least on this night, the fans, coaches and players were all on the same page. It was a beautiful thing to see.

For me, at least, I can’t wait to see Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner putting hands on the back of Rob Ritrovato and finding big holes to run through. Then, watching the bad guys’ safeties and linebackers inching closer to the line of scrimmage to stop that run and Owl quarterbacks deftly faking to the tailbacks and finding receivers running so open through the secondary they won’t know which one to throw to. … at least that’s the plan.

That’s Temple TUFF.

We haven’t seen it since 2016.

If we see it in a couple of weeks, nine wins might not even be the ceiling.

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More Cons Than Pros in Flexibility

tool

Eighteen nights until game day and the Temple Owls are testing one of the tenants of the Geoff Collins’ football philosophy:

Position flexibility.

I’m all for it if the guy doing the flexing actually plays some downs at his other position during the season.

If not, it’s a waste of time.

That’s kind of where I was leaning when I heard that Shaun Bradley, arguably the Owls’ best linebacker, was getting some time on the other side of the ball as a running back. That’s a real head-scratcher because the Owls are deep and talented on the other side of the ball with Ryquell Armstead, Jager Gardner and Tyliek Raynor leading the way.

I’d just as well keep Bradley as a linebacker, thank you, and spend these 15 practices between now and Villanova mastering the art of disrupting those pesky crossing patterns over the middle.

That’s one side of the “position flexibility” argument. The other side, of course, is that all of the offensive linemen should be able to play any position—with the exception of tight end—along the line and the defensive ends should be able to play tackle and vice versa.

Now that would be valuable practice time well-spent.

When it comes to defensive players on the offensive side of the ball, the term “diminishing returns” comes to mind. Same way for offensive players on the other side. Matt Rhule believed in a limited amount of flexibility, playing Nick Sharga at both fullback and linebacker in 2015 and 2016. In the 2015 win (34-12) over Memphis, Sharga was easily the best defensive player that day on a field that included the national defensive player of the year (Tyler Matakevich). Sharga not getting extended looks at linebacker last year was a waste of talent, especially considering OC Dave Patenaude’s aversion to using a fullback.

This year, though, the roster does not need flexibility, at least not the cross-side-of-the-ball flexibility Collins advocates.

The Owls also appear set at wide receiver with the injured Broderick Yancy returning to practice later this week to join a talented and experienced group that includes Isaiah Wright and Ventell Byrant. That mollifies the loss of wide receiver Marshall Ellick, who transferred to Stony Brook.

Bradley isn’t the only defensive guy being used on offense but it doesn’t appear to make sense when he’s missing valuable reps on defense doing something he is unlikely to do during the regular season.

Hopefully, Collins knows what he’s doing but, last year, Keith Kirkwood was talked about as a defensive end and Nick Sharga as a linebacker and neither played much at their secondary positions.

Position flexibility might be a tenant of Collins’ philosophy but winning football games should be the landlord.

Friday: Thoughts From Season Ticket Night

Monday: Dodging Bullets

Wednesday: Taking Shots

Buffalo Shuffle Could Be a Tussle

leipold

The most intriguing thing about the University of Buffalo’s football team is the name of its head coach.

Lance Leipold.

If the name sounds familiar to college football junkies of all levels, it should.

Leipold was 109-6 at  DIII Wisconsin-Whitewater and won six national championships in eight years. He made it to 100 wins in the shortest time of any NCAA coach, any division.

gameresults

If that doesn’t tell you the man can flat-out coach, he supplied further evidence when he improved what had been a two-win Buffalo team to six wins last year.

Temple tried hiring a lower division legend in Bobby Wallace without similar success but it appears that the formula is working for the Bulls because the improvement indicates that Leipold is well on his way to having his system in place entering Year No. 4 at Buffalo.

If he’s able to make a similar improvement this season, this could be a very tough second game for Temple. His two top playmakers—quarterback Tyree Jackson and wide receiver Anthony Johnson—return.

Buffalo is dangerous because it was able to beat Lane Kiffin’s 11-3 FAU squad—a team many felt would have given Temple a much tougher bowl game last season than the other Florida alphabet school, Florida.

Jackson and Johnson were instrumental in that win and would like nothing better than performing well in the home stadium of the Super Bowl champions.

All of that said, Temple head coach Geoff Collins is paid very handsomely to hold serve at home against teams like Buffalo and reach up and win a game or two on the road against a team where the Owls are underdogs.

Still, don’t be surprised if it’s a much tighter game than the last time the Bulls visited, a 37-13 Temple win.

Wednesday: Position Flexibility

Friday: Thoughts From the Season-Ticket Holder Party

They Really Like Us

toure

Mohamed Toure can wear gray both at Pleasantville and Temple

The late great Vince Hoch explained to me the secret to recruiting once.

“Mike, it’s all about building relationships and chemistry,” Vince said.

Hoch probably is one of the two or three best defensive coordinators I’ve known in my 40 or so years covering Temple who built a relationship with a player named Mike Palys. Bruce Arians, who replaced Wayne Hardin, followed up on the relationship and successfully recruited Palys to Temple.

buckethats

Temple’s mostly young staff seems to relate well with the kids

Temple wanted Palys. Penn State wanted Palys.

“We never got a guy Penn State wanted until then,” then head coach Wayne Hardin said. “That was a great job by Bruce, but we established that relationship with him from the time he was a sophomore.”

Some incoming staffs want to establish their own recruits but, at Temple, Arians trusted Hardin, Matt Rhule trusted Al Golden (and to a lesser extent, Steve Addazio) and Collins had a great relationship with Rhule.

It all helped for relatively seamless recruiting.

Palys was an offensive player from a place called Moscow (Pennsylvania, not Russia or Idaho) but back in the early 1980s he built a solid relationship with everyone on the Temple football staff, even the defensive coaches.

When crunch time came, Palys picked Temple because of those relationships first and the fact that he believed Arians when he told the young man Temple would allow Palys to play both baseball and football at Temple.

grayunis

Palys excelled in both sports, becoming an All-American in baseball (and starting in centerfield for Team USA) and scoring two touchdowns in Bruce Arians’ final game, a 42-28 win over Boston College.

Relationships are something the current head coach, Geoff Collins, and his staff apparently understand. Whatever this staff lacked in game-day preparation in the first half of the 2017 season, they seem to make up in connecting with the kids. It’s understandable because Collins learned the tricks of the trade as recruiting coordinator at both Georgia Tech and Alabama and he has assembled a young and charismatic staff.

The Owls are close to getting a very good linebacker in Pleasantville (N.J.) High’s  Mohamed Toure, who seems to be favoring them over Rutgers, according to this story on NJ.com. He was supposed to be at Rutgers, skipped an appearance there to show up at Temple instead.

Hoch talked about relationships and those relationships lead to a lot of Jimmies and Joes (and Mohameds) signing on the dotted line.

If Jimmies and Joes and Mohameds can overcome the X’s and O’s, Temple is indeed in very good shape for the next few years.

Monday: An Early Look at Buffalo

Shining Light on Villanova Game Plan

These days at Temple football practice time has been set aside for things like photo shoots and press conferences but, at some point, work has to be done to win a game.

All you have to do to figure out the Villanova game plan is to pop in a tape of last year’s game.

Villanova is going to throw to the tight end—a lot—and going to try to throw crossing underneath patterns to backs coming out of the backfield. That approach pretty much moved the sticks and shortened the game for the Wildcats, but did not put a whole lot of points on the scoreboard in a 16-13 Temple win.

Villanova: Never forgive, never forget

Daz got one thing right: He beat Nova 42-7 and 41-10

For a FCS team looking to beat a FBS team, that has to be the goal. Shorten the game and keep the ball out of the hands of the more talented team.

Villanova did that well a year ago.

Temple has to counter by using its best defensive player, safety Delvon Randall, to cover the tight end and keep the linebackers from being crossed up by the crossing patterns by defined assignment football.

Will the Owls learn?

Those who do not learn by history are doomed to repeat it. There is a history involving the Owls and nine months to prepare for an opponent that telegraphed their game plan.

For the entire year leading up to the 2016 Army game, we outlined Phil Snow’s shortcomings against triple option teams—both at Temple and his previous stop, Eastern Michigan—and presented a simple plan to stop the triple option.

Nose guard, A gaps covered by tackles, and the play blown up at the point of attack. These were solid precepts covered in Wayne Hardin Football 101.

The Owls had nine months to make those adjustments and made none, instead sticking with their base 4-3 defense.

The outcome was that the Army fullback ran for over 100 yards and two touchdowns in both an embarrassing and costly loss. Had the Owls won that game, they would have had a much better argument for a NY6 playoff game. Snow learned his lesson by the Navy championship game, going with a nose guard and two tackles to stymie Navy’s high-octane offense and come away with a 34-10 win but it was a lesson he chose to ignore for the opener. If anything, the Owls learned that being stubborn and, to use Matt Rhule’s words “do what we do and don’t worry about what the other guy does” is not a good philosophy for winning football. Instead, you’ve got to recognize what the other guy does well and counter your game plan to stop it.

It is a lesson these Owls, too, should not ignore. Somewhere in the fine print of Geoff Collins’ contract is the mandate to pummel this team. He has three weeks to find the Mayhem that disrupts what we all know Villanova will attempt to do.

Friday: They Really Like Us

Monday: A Peak Ahead to Buffalo

Wednesday: The Position Flexibility Canard  

He Said What?

 

The  crowd gathered on the iconic steps of the Art Museum and some guy with a microphone and a Temple football jersey that read the twitter handle @mikeFox29 uttered these words:

“Bring home that national championship, Temple.”

Or something like that.

The crowd went wild.

At this point it is probably worthwhile noting that the “crowd” consistent entirely of Temple football players doing a photo shoot there.

Still, the words “national championship” and “Temple football” are so rarely uttered together I had to find out who the guy was.

So I messaged photographer Zamani Feelings, who was there for the shoot, and he got right back to me.

aacsnip

Just about everything would have to break Temple’s way for a national championship

“He’s Mike from Fox 29,” Zamani wrote.

“Gee, thanks.”

The only “Mike From Fox 29” I could find on the list of employees at Fox 29 was Mike Jerrick, the morning anchor.

That “Mike from Fox 29” did not match up with the “Mike from Fox 29” who was holding the microphone in the photo shoot so, while the guy was from Fox 29, he certainly wasn’t Mike from 29. Obviously, he doesn’t know the deck is stacked against teams like Temple having the same goal the 64 teams from the Power 5 conferences have. This is probably the No. 1 thing wrong with college football and UCF was the perfect example of it. UCF can beat a team from the Big 10, Maryland, on the road, 38-10 and beat a team that beat the eventual national champion, win every game on the schedule, and not even be in considered for the four-team play off.

This time, though, the messenger is not as important as the message.

For Temple to win the national championship, the Owls would have to win every game on the schedule and Maryland would have to win the Big 10 and Boston College would have to win the ACC.

Then the Owls probably would get an invite to the Final Four playoff. Camel passing through the eye of a needle chance.

So, to quote Jim Carrey, “So, you’re saying there’s a chance?”

Remember that guy on the steps of the Art Museum if it happens. We’ll try to find out his full name between now and then.

Wednesday: An Early Copy of The Villanova Game Plan

Silver Linings (Stadium) Playbook

badurban

Color me totally underwhelmed by this projected stadium design.

Sometimes the worst decisions are the impulsive ones.

General Robert E. Lee, holding the advantage pretty much everywhere on the Gettysburg Battlefield on the first day, ordered a charge of General Pickett’s 30,000 troops right into a heavily defended Union position. They pretty much got wiped out.

Had he waited a day and covered both the left and right Union flanks instead of going up the middle, we might all be speaking with a Southern accent right now.

Pretty much that’s the way I feel about the Temple Stadium situation.

martin

Temple fans would tire fast of a glorified high school stadium like this one at Northeast.

Even the most ardent “shovel-in-the-ground-by-August” guys are believing that this is more a dead deal than a done one.

It’s been what I’ve been writing in this space since the March 6 Mitten Hall meeting fiasco. Nothing has changed since then except the goal posts have been moved from, say, 2018 until 2030 or even later.

The neighbors don’t want this, never have, never will, and Temple is dead set on getting the neighbors’ support before proceeding on this project. Since that’s the case, we might have to wait until the neighborhood becomes fully gentrified before proceeding. That probably won’t be before 2030. That’s a more likely scenario than trying to convince Social Justice Warriors to abandon their platform of the moment.

Russell Conwell, the Temple founder, was on the other side of that Pickett’s charge as a Union captain. He survived and so will his beloved Temple.

There is a Silver Lining in the way this play ended.

Building a 30-35K stadium that looks only a little nicer than Northeast High’s Charlie Martin Memorial Stadium would only make those 200 or so fans who think that having “TEMPLE” and “OWLS” spelled out in the end zones every week would more than make up for the bare-bones cheap stadium they would be forced to sit in six times a year.

Building an Akron or a FAU stadium does Temple no good and probably commits Temple to a life sentence of being as irrelevant on the college football landscape as, err, Akron or FAU are now.

Wait and build something like Houston has now is the perspective Temple should have. Swallowing hard and extending the Linc deal is the only way to go. After all, as Bill Bradshaw once said, Temple plays in the nicest football stadium in America. It’s a pro one, but it’s still the nicest.

Otherwise, the 2018 version of  the 1863 Pickett’s charge is an impulsive decision Temple doesn’t need to or even can make right now.

That’s the only silver lining in this otherwise dark cloud.

Monday: He Said What?

Wednesday: Here’s What Villanova is going to (try to) do …