Game Night Minus-1: Flipping the field

Going into the season, if you honestly asked yourself the question what sets Temple apart from every other team in this conference you might come away with these takes:

  • Great linebackers
  • Great offensive line
  • Great return game

The return game is led by the school’s first (and perhaps last) returning first-team All-American. (We’ll answer why later in this post.)

If there’s a key to winning in football, it’s accentuating your strengths to the detriment of the bad guys. The linebackers have been as advertised, all single-digit Temple TUFF guys who have played up to the honor. The offensive line is still the offensive line that Ryquell Armstead followed to six touchdowns at Houston and helped him become a fifth-round NFL draft selection.

Something appears to be missing.

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Forecast: Mostly cloudy with a chance of punt returns

Oh yeah.

That great return game, particularly on punt returns. Isaiah Wright, that first-team All-American punt returner, has 10 punt returns for 68 yards, a 6.8 average and no touchdowns. Pedestrian figures for a first-team All-American considering that he had 19 punt returns for 23.8 per return last year and two touchdowns. The alarming number is the good returns he has passed up so far, instead electing to fair catch. He’s had more fair catches (16) than punt returns (10). From my seat, he’s made pretty good decisions on about half of those as a guy was in his face. The other half, not so good. He’s had at least a step, maybe two, to work his magic.

Enough with the fair catches already. If we wanted a guy to make fair catches, we’d have any other wide receiver on the roster back there.

Nobody makes the first guy miss as much as Wright and, if I’ve missed anything this year, that’s what I’ve missed the most: Seeing Wright make the bad guys break their ankles trying to tackle him and make that punt return the best offensive play in the playbook.

I don’t think we will ever see a returning first-team All-American at Temple again unless he’s a true freshman or sophomore and Temple doesn’t recruit those kinds of guys (Trevor Lawrence of Clemson is an example). Once they are a junior, they can declare so Wright did Temple a huge favor coming back for his senior year.

He can do himself a bigger favor by returning those punts for the final half of the season and showing the NFL scouts that he still has the Wright stuff. He can still raise his stock from a UDA to a high pick with a good final seven games. Remember, at this time last year, Duke’s Daniel Jones was rated as a UDA but his terrific second half of the season–including the bowl win over Temple–kept moving him from a fifth to a third to a first-round pick as the season went along.

The most important thing now, though, is helping his teammates achieve their goal which is a championship run (see above video). Wright was a big part of those great plans for this year and just because hasn’t been so far doesn’t mean he can’t be going forward.

Nothing better than Saturday night to start flipping the field only the way he can and reminding people that the Owls have a weapon no other team in this league can match.

Predictions (for amusement only): A very tough week for picks. Thought about taking Tulane getting the 3.5 points at Navy but Navy is playing so well that I’m letting that game go. Do like Indiana giving the 1 at Nebraska, Georgia State as a pick at Troy (still not fully recovered from losing coach Neal Brown), Liberty giving the 7.5 at Rutgers (betting against RU has made a lot of people rich), Ball State giving the 3 at Ohio, fake Miami (Ohio) getting the 2.5 against visiting Kent State (can’t believe Miami is an underdog there), TCU getting the 2.5 over visiting Texas and Pitt laying the 5 against the real Miami. So thankful that Manny Diaz is learning on the job there and not at Temple.

Last week: As far as the spreads go, I was 5-2-1 (the push was Wake beating FSU by the 2) so I will just throw out the push. Lost on Cuse and Duke but won five straight: ECU covering the 33 against UCF, Minnesota covering the 29.5  (Rutgers never covers these ridiculous spreads) and also winning with Louisiana Tech (a much better team than people realize), Georgia Tech (Diaz is even worse than Collins, if that’s possible), and BYU not only covering but winning the game OUTRIGHT against unbeaten Boise State. For the season: 29-12 SU, 25-16 ATS.

Sunday: Game Analysis

 

Game Night: Wright Time to put best feet forward

Forget about baseball for a moment since just about all of the ratings indicate much of America has, even in the postseason.

This is football season and there are two games on nationally Thursday night.

One is an NFL game.

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The other is Temple football. Believe it or not, a large swath of the country doesn’t care much for the NFL but instead prefers college football and, for those folks, this is Temple’s chance to shine.

Maybe one or two times a year the university has a chance to put its front porch on the national stage without significant competition and one of them is Thursday (8 p.m., ESPN) at East Carolina. They won’t be seeing Temple as a chemistry class or a library or a band, but Temple as a football team.

So logic follows that maybe the Owls should put their best feet forward.

Or at least the best two feet they have: Isaiah Wright.

If there’s a common thread to the statements that Matt Rhule, Geoff Collins and Rod Carey have made about any Temple football player it’s various forms of this quote:

“We have to find a way to get the ball more to Isaiah Wright.”

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As a freshman under Rhule, Wright caught 8 passes for 74 yards with zero touchdowns but was more involved as a runner by carrying the ball 42 times for 232 yards, including a touchdown at Tulane.

As a sophomore under Collins, Wright had 46 receptions for 668 yards and four touchdowns and 25 carries for 188 yards and another touchdown. Those numbers regressed to 33 catches for 368 yards and three touchdowns and 19 carries for 84 yards a year ago.

This year: Wright has 22 receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns but just four carries for 42 yards.

What do those statistics tell you?

When the guy’s number is called, he delivers but his number has not been called nearly enough–particularly on running plays. This is a coaching problem, not a player problem, and has been for some time. Carey isn’t going to run Wright out of the Wildcat (and that makes sense because he doesn’t throw from it) but more jet sweeps after faking inside to Re’Mahn Davis could be just what the doctor ordered. The film shows a lot of movement–mostly with wide receiver Jadan Blue–on running plays, but not a whole lot of use with a handoff off that movement. Get Wright involved on a few of those jet sweeps and chances are everything else opens up.

No better time than Thursday when the university is putting its best figurative foot forward on potentially the biggest stage of the year to put its best literal two feet forward.

Friday: Game Analysis

 

5 Goals Out of Summer Camp

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You can make up all the mock depth charts you want (as we have today) but the power of moving up the charts rests in what these young men do.

According to The Inquirer’s Marc Narducci, the highlight of the first day of Temple football summer camp was the handing out of single digits.

Count me among those loving Temple’s single-digit tradition–perhaps because it gets mentioned on every national telecast–but more significant highlights should be coming in the next four weeks.

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Owls have 2 votes in the coaches poll. Since you are not allowed to vote for your own team, I’m guessing Geoff Collins and Matt Rhule

Temple’s schedule is an odd one in that the Owls have nothing more than a practice game with Bucknell on the schedule on the last day of this month, followed by a too early bye week, then the real schedule.

These should be the 5 goals to accomplish in the next four weeks:

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Dan Archibong (photo by Zamani Feelings) is a good bet to earn a single digit.

Hitting

Few Cherry and White days were more disappointing than the past one. After watching a few drills that did not involve hitting, the fans left in droves. I was gone right after they practiced punt returns with the return guy catching the ball and running through a line of players who had no interest in touching him. That’s not football. After a 35-0 loss to Pitt in 1983, Bruce Arians brought the team out at 6 a.m. and had them hitting in full pads the next morning. “Dumb mistake by a rookie coach,” Bruce said at the end of that season. “We were out-hit that day. We got into a physical mentality in that practiced and we weren’t outhit the rest of the year.” Owls need to create that mentality early.

Depth

The Owls have a lot of promising players on the second units of both lines but few of those actually saw game action. They need to develop that depth this month.

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Solving the Running Back Dilemma

Head coach Rod Carey indicated that he’s open to moving Isaiah Wright into a full-time role at running back should no one emerge as a go-to guy. That beats what he said a week earlier when he indicated going to RB by committee was an option. Running back by committee is like having a baseball closer by committee. It never works. I like Jager Gardner as a backup but I don’t see him as an elite No. 1. Jeremy Jennings is fast, but he doesn’t have great open-field moves. Tyliek Raynor strikes me as a David Meggett-type third-down back. Maybe a true freshman will emerge like Bernard Pierce did in the weeks before the 2007 but, failing that, using Wright (where he has been used in the past) there will give the Owls the best running back in the league without hurting a deep and talented wide receiver corps.

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RPO: Blessing or a Curse?

Quarterback Anthony Russo talked about the Owls using more of a run-pass-option this year than in the past couple. That’s a blessing if the run option is to a running back instead of a quarterback. You won’t catch Bill Belichick using Tom Brady as a run option nor should Carey expose Russo to getting killed on similar plays. While Russo is no Tom Brady (yet), he is like Brady in that he’s more valuable as a dropback passer than as a run decoy. A good coach designs schemes to best utilize the talent he has, not the talent he wants and, for Temple this year, the RPOs should be delayed draws and an occasional swing pass out of the backfield and little else.

A place for Franklin

The Owls need to get Sam Franklin on the field and, with a linebacker corps that includes Chapelle Russell, Shaun Bradley, Isaiah Graham-Mobley and William Kenkewu, snaps will be limited there. He has an opportunity to play safety and that’s where he should line up.

Other than that, and getting the timing down, the Owls are all set to build on expectations that have them getting more votes in the coaches poll than Tennessee and Ole Miss.

Saturday: Around The League

Monday: 5 TUFB Headlines We’d Like to See

Saturday (8/17): Depth Chart Thoughts

Between a Rock and a Wright Place

All we know from what Rod Carey has said is that Isaiah Wright “will be moved all over the field.”

Judging from what he has privately told some people, including Wright himself, the part of the field he will park himself most at is running back.

That both makes sense and is good news because not many college football teams have a first-team All-America returning and, in Wright, that’s just what the Owls have. Plus, the Owls have plenty of talented wide receivers.

They are a little thin at running back.

He was named first-team All-America kick returner by The Sporting News and, while Owl fans would like to see him in that role again this year, a team that desperately needs a top-tier running back could use Wright lugging the ball at least 15 times a game lined up behind Anthony Russo.

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Army head coach Jeff Monken called Wright a “touchdown waiting to happen” before his team’s 2017 game with the Owls and with good reason.

What kind of running back would Wright be? He gave a slight glimpse in a 38-0 win over Stony Brook in 2016 when he carried the ball seven times for 48 yards but Wright was a true freshman playing in his second game. (For comparison, Bernard Pierce’s first game produced 44 yards on six carries as a true freshman.)

Wright would be more of a Pierce-like running back than Ryquell Armstead was. To use a baseball analogy, Armstead was a line-drive hitter who could occasionally hit a home run. Wright, like Pierce, is a home-run hitter who can take it to the house on any given play.

Wright will get a long look at the position at summer practice. Here’s hoping, instead of moving him around, new head coach Rod Carey will make the sound football decision for Temple and leave him right there.

Wednesday: The 2020 NFL Draft and Temple