We Were The Champions, My Friend

Spurred on by a friend who liked my review of a recent Elton John movie, I finally got around to watching Bohemian Rapsody the other night.

“Mike, great movie, but you’ve got to watch Bohemian Rapsody and get back to me.”

I did.

Late to that party but better late than never.

An absolutely brilliant film and Remi Malek deserved his Best Actor in a Lead Role Award probably better than anyone I’ve seen in the last decade.

At least.

One of the cornerstones of the film was the 22-minute performance by Queen during the Wembley Stadium version of Live Aid which was pure gold. Widely hailed by critics as the best live performance by any rock band ever, I can honestly say I’ve never seen an audience both more mesmerized by any rock band or more participatory in the concert itself.

It got me to thinking about Temple football and crowd reactions.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen a lot of great Temple crowds.

While 35,000 people going crazy in the 27-10 win over Penn State at Lincoln Financial Field was truly inspiring and 30,000 Temple fans in a Mayor’s Cup win over Villanova (where only 5,000 Nova fans could make it) was a close runnerup, I have to give the nod to one game in 2016.

The 34-10 win over Navy at Navy.

That was SUPPOSED to be a home game for Navy but, of the nearly 30K fans in a 35K stadium, at least 15K were Temple fans. Maybe more, maybe less, but from the sound of the crowd only one team had a home-field advantage.

That was Temple.

Fans of then the No. 19 team in the country, Navy, largely sat on their hands.

That’s damn impressive because one group of fans had to travel three hours to get to the game while the other group had to roll out of bed and walk a mile or so down the road.

We were the champions, my friend, and the noise we made will be remembered to the end.

In the closing 20 seconds when the outcome had been long determined, I made my way to the concourse like a nut case and yelled out to no one in particular:

“THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!!!”

Sheepishly, I looked around hoping no one saw me but saw about a dozen or more people wearing Temple stuff smiling back and clapping.

They understood the 50 years or so of frustration being released in a positive manner.

Savor it because while being a champion again is always the goal, don’t know if the present-day college football landscape will ever give Temple the same kind of even playing field it had seven short years ago.

Monday: How History Could Repeat

Game Day: Thanksgiving Plus 10

 

A lot of you experienced your Thanksgiving Day nine days ago.

Mine is today.

When you live long enough to see your brother, then father, then mother, pass on  all in a period of four years and realize that there is no place to go on Thanksgiving anymore, the feeling of loneliness can be overwhelming on that day.

That’s why I am thankful for my Temple football family and today’s championship game, no matter what the result, will be the best Thanksgiving Day ever.

I’ve always been at least a small part of the Temple football family and decided to step up to the plate a little over 10 years ago and give it a voice on the internet when the program was threatened by a short-sighted President. Over those years, it was a dirt poor family, then worked its way up to the middle class and now is on the verge of riches—all because of good, old-fashioned American hard work and upward mobility.

If the Owls win today (noon, ABC), they will have done it by beating a worthy foe and the trophy will be well-earned.

Temple would not have it any other way.

fifteen

The Temple football story is a great story because the Owls have been pushing that rock uphill in a BCS environment that is set up to reward the rich P5 schools and keep the G5 schools in “their place.” That’s why you see the same schools in the Top 25 just about every year.

If the Owls win today, they will finish the regular season in the Top 25 and might or might not be headed to the Cotton Bowl. Either way, a win will almost assuredly put them in a sweet bowl and assure another wonderful Thanksgiving with this beautiful family of friends, fans, players and coaches. Hoisting that trophy will be something no other Temple team can boast about.

There are a couple of things pointing to this victory. The Owls were just as impressive against SMU and East Carolina as Navy was and Tulane and UConn, while very competitive with Navy, were outclassed by Temple. The Memphis result was at Memphis, while Navy had Memphis in Annapolis. The distractions about possibly losing their head coach, which existed in the week before last year’s game, do not exist this year.

Most of the tea leaves are coming up Temple. That could all change in the first quarter, though, if the Owls line up in a 4-3 defense, but learning from mistakes should be part of any process.

It all comes down to whether the Owls can handle the road environment and, from what I hear, this will be as much of a home game from a crowd standpoint for Temple as it will be for Navy.

It should be a great trip for Owl fans and, if they bring the noise, a better ride home for a family that deserves a feast.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow: Game Analysis

 

Mandatory Military Training Film

Hopefully, Phil Snow is breaking down this game film frame by frame.

About a year ago, give or take a month, the slogan the team adopted for the 2016 Temple football season was Unfinished Business.

If not original, it was unmistakable in meaning.

The “Unfinished Business” was getting back to the championship game and winning it this time. In many ways, while the Navy game (high noon, Saturday) on the road is a challenging assignment, much of the heavy lifting already has been done. To even get this far again is a huge accomplishment and maybe the hardest part of the job.

Now the Owls have one more piece of business left to do and it involves a well-thought-out game plan that involves adopting some free military intelligence, courtesy of Air Force.

unfinished

Hopefully, they learned something from the first game of the season that they can apply to the penultimate game. The Owls have to know by now that “business as usual” will not help them finish their overall business. Matt Rhule hinted as much post-Army game when he said his coaching staff will have to review how they attack a triple option team and change things up. The manual says nose guard (hint, Averee Robinson), tackles in the A gaps (Michael Dogbe and Freddy Booth-Lloyd), and eight in the box to string out the option.

Send more defenders than the triple option can block and create havoc in the Navy backfield. There is a little risk involved in this process that puts all the pressure on defending the pass on three players—the two corners and safety Sean Chandler, but that’s a low-risk and high-reward process the Owls will have to adopt on Saturday. They have the athletes to defend the pass with three.

One thing the Owls do know is that sitting back in their base 4-3 defense against this type of offense is not going to work, no matter how many times you say “Temple TUFF” or “Unfinished Business.” Of course, the Owls will have to remain true to themselves on offense, by running the football with a mixture of play-action passing.

On defense, though, they cannot be as stubborn as they were on Opening Night.

To win this battle, they have to do their good diligence in military intelligence and all the intelligence they need has been supplied by another branch of the fighting forces, the Air Force.

Tuesday: 5 Plays That Will Work For Temple

Two Ways to Look at This

pitchtwo

Look how far off the boundary corner is. One 3d and 3, Anderson had the same cushion on the other side  later in the game. Take it, and Owls have a new set of downs with 7:18 left and a possible 24-21 deficit.

 

There are two ways to look at Temple’s 24-13 loss to Houston on Saturday.

There is the Kumbaya view and the real world view. The Kumbaya view seems to have carried the day in the post-game Matt Rhule press conference and on much of social media. You know, “I’m proud of the kids” and “this is one of the greatest days in Temple football history” and “we’ve gone from point D to point A.”

real

That’s born out of T-ball mentality. You know, there are no losers and everybody gets a trophy for participation. Little Johnny goes home with a pat on his head. The coaches are great. The kids are great. We’re all just so darn proud of everybody.

Kumbaya.

Ugh.

Then there is the real world view. You know, the “what the hell is going on out here?” view.

The last quarter was a cluster, err, bleep that made you wonder what goes on at the $17 million Edberg-Olson Complex the other six days of the week. In the last seven minutes, Temple showed itself either unwilling or incapable of running a functional two-minute drill that every high school, college and pro team seems to run efficiently.  (If you don’t believe it, take a look at the way St. Joseph’s Prep runs it. The offensive line sprints to the ball. Plays are called at the line, not looking over to the sidelines, with the emphasis on a short passing game to get out of bounds and stop the clock. Prep coach Gabe Infante is only seven blocks away. Invite him over this week.)

tickets

That was a blown opportunity to win a championship due to a number of brain cramps by the coaching staff.  There is no guarantee that the Owls will be back in the title game next year and, if they aren’t, the coaches have no one but themselves to blame for a number of perplexing offensive miscues.  With four minutes left, they seemed incapable of running a true two-minute offense, taking precious seconds off the clock on every play by having the kids stare over to the sidelines for plays. Those 20, 30 seconds a play add up and, before you know it, the game is over.

That wasn’t the worst. This is the worst.

After closing the gap to 24-13 with 7:18 to go in the game, the Owls had a 3d and 3 at the Houston 38 but inexplicably attempted a long pass into the end zone. The call was made even more confounding because Houston was playing 10 yards off Temple wide receiver Robby Anderson on the play.  A simple pitch and catch would have moved the sticks.

Moving the sticks then would have cured a lot of earlier self-imposed ills. Early on, the players had just as much to do with it as the coaches did but after fighting back they deserved a coaching staff that was more focused. The Owls have been a team all year whose motto was to not beat themselves by turning the ball over, but on their first drive of the game, quarterback P.J. Walker threw an interception. That resulted in a 7-0 lead. The Owls were driving for a tying touchdown when Anderson—who caught 12 passes for 150 yards—was fighting for yardage and fumbled the ball on the Houston 5-yard-line. That led to a 10-0 lead.

Had the Owls moved the sticks on 3d and 3, instead of taking the shot into the end zone, they might have scored to make it 24-21 and that would have left seven minutes to bleep around with the dog stare offense. Instead, they followed that botched call with a clinic in mismanaging the clock and never had a chance to find out what would have happened.

While the physical errors by the unpaid amateurs could be forgiven, the mental ones by the well-paid professionals cannot.

Tomorrow:  Thoughts on the Bowl Lotto

Tuesday: …. But the Big Story on Action News Is …

Wednesday: Houston Photo Gallery

Thursday: One Wacky Throwback

Friday: Matakevich’s Special Moment on ESPN

Saturday: A Look at the Other AAC Bowls

Sunday: Welcome Criticism

Monday (12/12): 5 Things the Owls Have to Clean Up

Tuesday: The Fallacy of the Fall Off

Wednesday: The Problem With Watch Parties

Thursday: The Pitt-Navy Monkey Wrench

Game Day: The Robby Anderson Effect

Tulane v Temple

TU will find a guy who can make catches like this occasionally, but it will be hard to find a guy who makes these catches as routinely as  Robby Anderson does. 

Hard to believe today will the penultimate game to one of the most exciting receivers who has come to Temple since the great Van Johnson and we are talking, of course, about Robby Anderson.

Anderson, you might know about. Johnson, you might not.

Yes, Van Johnson, the late 1990s Temple receiver, not to be confused with Van Johnson, the 1940s actor. The actor was shot seven times in his movies, the wide receiver once when growing up in D.C. When he played for Temple, he got off the line of scrimmage like he was shot out of a cannon. He was to the great Henry Burris what Anderson is to P.J. Walker.

Yeah, I know Temple’s had a lot of great receivers since then, from Phil Goodman to Charlie (err, Zamir) Cobb, and Bruce Francis and Rod Streater, but there’s a little “it” factor that has set Johnson apart from his successors and Anderson from his predecessors. Johnson’s 1996 season was very similar to Anderson’s 2013 season. In that year, in 11 games, Johnson had 50 catches and eight touchdowns and 902 yards. In 2013, in nine games Anderson had 44 receptions for 791 yards and nine touchdowns.  This year, he has 52 receptions for 723 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games. Both guys could go up and get the ball and make explosive plays after they caught it.

vanster

Van Johnson, TU player

actor

Van Johnson, 1940s actor

In a game like today, at Houston (noon, ABC) for the championship, while everybody will be focused on Jahad Thomas, Greg Ward and Tyler Matakevich, it’s often another guy who grabs the spotlight and Anderson certainly is capable of being THAT guy. He has not had to be that guy this because Temple can spread the rock around, but he is a prime time player. He is only four receptions away from 100 for his career and I believe he will get them. If a couple of them are for touchdowns, the Owls will win. If he catches just three balls, he will pass Steve Watson into the sixth spot on the all-time list.

Speaking of lists, most of the bowl projections by the so-called experts have Houston beating Temple and earning the AAC’s slot in a NY6 bowl.

ESPN analyst Lee Corso might give his stock answer to that assumption, “not so fast, my friend” by closely observing the evidence at hand. Two or three games into a 12-game season, comparative scores hardly seem like a good way at picking a winner but that equation all changes 12 games into a season.  Those appear to point to Temple as the winner over host Cougars.

Both teams played Memphis and UConn recently and Temple performed significantly better against similar opposition in two games than Houston. The Cougars lost at UConn, 20-17, two weeks ago while Temple beat UConn, 27-3, last week. A lot of that could be attributed to the Cougars being without  Ward Jr., but the 27-point difference points to more than just one player.

Another example is Memphis, as the Tigers led, 34-14, with seven minutes left at Houston before blowing the lead and losing, 35-34. A week later, the Tigers were not even in the game at Temple, where the Owls won, 31-12.

Those are a couple of compelling examples, but there have been others as Cincinnati had the lead for much of a game at Houston before falling, 33-30. Its game against visiting Temple played out far differently earlier in the season as the Owls took a 34-12 lead into the fourth quarter before holding on to win, 34-26.  Temple’s top two non-conference foes, Penn State and Notre Dame, was certainly tougher than Houston’s top two, Vanderbilt and Louisville, so the evidence suggests that Temple has been steeled for these types of games.

Of course, there is other data to consider, but there is a lot of empirical evidence out to suggest that Temple will come out on top but part of the fun of football is discovering if the clues lead to the right conclusion.

Call it a hunch, call it men’s intuition, but I have a strong feeling that Robby Anderson will factor rather largely into this game.