Coastal Carolina Soft

Bye week has arrived for Temple football and, frankly, it could not have come at a better time.

An intervention is needed and someone needs to slap both Dave Patenaude and Geoff Collins upside the head. Not enough to hurt them or put them into the hospital, mind you, but just enough to slap them out of this soft Coastal Carolina poison they have fed as the antidote to Temple TUFF.


It’s one thing to lose,
but it’s quite another
to lose by tearing
apart what has been
the very fabric of
this program for the
last decade. This is
not on the kids, it’s
on the coaches.
It’s been on the
coaches all season

They need to get Patenaude and Collins into the conference room at the Edberg-Olson Complex. Maybe Matt Rhule and Al Golden can explain what Temple TUFF means to them in terms that only a fellow football coach understands. In the back of the room, Ed Foley and Adam DiMichele need to be nodding their heads in agreement.

Saturday’s excruatingly painful 31-28 loss at Army—easily the most painful of many painful losses I can remember in over 40 years as a Temple fan—wasn’t decided on Boomer’s two missed field goals nor the unexplainable final drive as much it was much with 3:16 left in the third when Isaiah Wright was tripped up on the Army 1.

The former Temple coaches who built this thing and do not want to see it collapse like a house of, err, straw, cannot explain to Patenaude and Collins what Temple football is as much as what is is not. This is the message that Rhule, Golden, Foley and DiMichele should deliver to Collins and Patenaude.

message

That other stuff, running Frank Nutile out of a shotgun on first-and-goal, is not Temple TUFF. That’s Coastal Carolina Soft.

Run Ryquell Armstead three times, four if you have to, behind Nick Sharga and get the seven right there and the game is over. Hell, my money is that Armstead and Sharga get the job done the first time, not the second or third–just like the two did here a year ago against Cincinnati. That time, Sharga pushed Armstead into the end zone. He does even better lead blocking. That’s Temple TUFF. I’m not sure these coaches understand that. As Harry Donahue might say, check that. I AM sure they don’t.

Temple got no points out of that possession when it should have gotten an easy seven. Get those seven points and the Owls are sitting on a  14-point lead, not a seven-point one and the Owls didn’t have to worry about any other sins that they committed. Playing a prevent defense against a team that is just not comfortable with throwing the football makes that team comfortable. Putting the quarterback on his ass, especially with his team having no timeouts, is the best pass defense that has ever been devised by man. If you can’t get there with four, send five. If you can’t get there with five, send six.

Just get there.

That’s Temple TUFF, too.

It’s one thing to lose, but it’s quite another to lose by tearing apart what has been the very fabric of this program for the last decade. This is not on the kids, it’s on the coaches. It’s been on the coaches all season.

Whatever happens in the remainder of the season, an intervention is needed now.

Tuesday: 5 Quick Patches

The Point of No Return

box

Temple stacked the box and made Navy pass. It should follow the same blueprint against Army

A college football game runs about three hours in real time, maybe three hours and 15 minutes.


Fast forward to today
and Rhule’s successor,
Geoff Collins, has
reached the point
of no return this
season. Lose, and
the Owls can kiss
any outside hope
of a bowl goodbye

When Temple visits Army at high noon on CBS Sports Network (94 on Verizon Fios, 221 on Direct TV and 734 on Xfinity Comcast), fans should be able to find out whether Temple will win or lose within about the first five minutes.

If the Owls come out in their usual 4-3-4 defense with the A gaps uncovered and no nose guard, Temple fans should probably find something better to do than torture themselves for the next three hours.

In fact, Army is hoping for that to happen because they run their fullback through the A gaps—the spot to the left or right of the center—to set up everything else.

Most teams fall for it and that’s why an undermanned Army can beat these more talented teams who recruit players with NFL aspirations.

A 5-2 defense, though, with the A gaps plugged is Kryptonite for even the best triple-option offenses.

There are some teams that go out of their way and change their defenses up to stop the triple option, though. Three years ago, Duke plugged the A gaps but going to a 5-2 and using two tackles and came away with a 34-3 win over Army. Last year, North Texas did the same in a 31-19 win at West Point.

A year ago, then Temple head coach Matt Rhule—given nine months to prepare for the Army triple-option—said he wouldn’t do anything out of the ordinary that he “we don’t worry about the other team does. We do what we do and concentrate on that process.”

That kind of stubborness led to a 28-13 loss against Army before 34,005 fans at Lincoln Financial Field and many of those same fans did not come back for the rest of the season.

Months later, both Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow were able to turn that season-opener into a learning experience that resulted in a 34-10 win over Navy. Snow put Averee Robinson and Freddy Booth-Lloyd over the Navy center and started Michael Dogbe and Greg Webb alongside those guys as the starting tackles. Without a hole to run the fullback through, the triple option was plugged up and the Owls had maybe the most important win of their history. The Owls sold out and swarmed to the ball and that’s just the approach they should use these next two weeks. Eight in the box and let Sean Chandler, Artrel Foster and Mike Jones deal with any passes these teams attempt. Football is not rocket science.

Fast forward to today and Rhule’s successor, Geoff Collins, has reached the point of no return this season. Win, and there’s a chance to salvage something. Lose, and the Owls can kiss any outside hope of a bowl goodbye and they are staring at a three-or-four win season.

Let’s hope he studied film of the two service academy games the Owls played a year ago and applies the Kryptonite that keeps hope alive for the Owls and their fans.

Either way, the outcome could be decided in the first five minutes.

Tomorrow: Game Analysis

tffsaturdaypicks

Throwback Thursday: Fighting Fire With Fire

Things We Have That Army Doesn’t: Swag, Juice, Money Down, #The Standard; … Things Army Has That We Don’t: Five Wins

armymontel

If the Owls follow the 2012 blueprint of run-heavy on Saturday, they could be doing this post-game at West Point.

Very few civilians living in California today would say this, but the professional firefighters know the best way to fight fire is with fire.

It’s called a backfire and has often stopped wildfires faster than gobs of water have.

Temple fans know all about the backfire Steve Addazio set to stop Army’s wildfire triple option in 2012.

Montel Harris, Nate Combs

My all-time favorite Temple post-game photo, then Army captain (now Ft. Hood Texas Major) Nate Combs congratulating Montel Harris for his 351-yard, seven-touchdown, game.

His name was Montel Harris.

Harris at the time was splitting duties with Matty Brown but when the Bug (of Bernie and the Bug fame) went down with an injury after scoring a pair of first-quarter rushing touchdowns, Harris had to carry the load and what a load he carried.

When it was all over, Harris set a Temple single-game record with 351 rushing yards and scored seven—that’s right, seven—touchdowns.

Quarterback Clinton “Juice” Granger was largely a game manager that afternoon in West Point, throwing only five passes in a 63-32 win over Army.


The pass-happy coaches
at Temple now might do
well learning from that
experience as they have
two really good tailbacks
(three, if you count
Isaiah Wright and they
apparently are not aware
of the fact that Wright
was a good tailback
for Matt Rhule)

The pass-happy coaches at Temple now might do well learning from that experience as they have two really good tailbacks (three, if you count Isaiah Wright and they apparently are not aware of the fact that Wright was a good tailback for Matt Rhule) and probably the best blocking fullback in Temple history, Nick Sharga.

Last week, in a 28-27 win over Eastern Michigan, Army rushed for 417 yards as a team and held the ball for over 37 minutes despite not completing a single pass. They threw as many passes last week as the Owls did in that 63-32 win. Five.

If the Owls repeat history, throw only five passes, and gain 417 yards on the ground, you’ve got to like their chances again on Saturday. Hell, a now fully healthy Ryquell Armstead even might be able to run for 351 but, if Hood, Armstead and Wright combine for 417, that will probably be more than enough. Run the ball, eat the clock, throw the rare pass to keep them off balance and the Owls might just do what Army did a week ago in controlling 37 of the game’s 60 minutes. That would keep the triple option off the field for at least that much time. That’s fighting fire with fire.

They might even go the full Monty (Harris?) and fight fire with fire by starting another game manager quarterback who goes by the nickname of Juice and run those tailbacks behind Nick Sharga left, right and up the middle all day. At least that’s the type of game plan devised by some remnants of a national championship coaching staff at Florida coming off a bowl win in their first season at Temple. In 2011, that staff took a team with less talent than this team has now and won nine games.

With this staff, though, don’t hold your breath.

Saturday: Stacking The Box.

Unintended Consequences

Thanks to TU’s refusal to play an 8-man front, we may have already reached our high-water mark for number of Temple fans this season.

Two steps forward, one step back.

That has been the pattern for Temple football, even in the era of resurgence that came with the hiring of Al Golden late in 2005.

Have a chance to get bowl-eligible in 2008, lose on a Hail Mary pass at Buffalo instead. Go to Ohio for a chance to win a title in 2009, lose that game instead. Bring 23K Temple fans to a frozen tundra in D.C., have them go home losers instead. Win a bowl game in 2011, have a disappointing season in 2012.

Two steps forward, one step back.

Now, it has happened again with the embarrassing and unacceptable loss to Army in the season opener. The Era of Good Feeling (two steps forward) was sustained for most of 2015 because of a 7-0 start and because of the big win over Penn State.

laborious

Former Temple player Fizzy brings up a lot of good points in this email.

Even last year, though, a dumb decision by the administration to turn down a chance to play Auburn or Virginia Tech resulted in a return to the MAC, where the Owls proved once again that they cannot beat a winning MAC team. That was a game the Owls could have and should have avoided at all costs, because they had nothing to gain and plenty to lose and they lost plenty. It was embarrassing and a step back in a two-step forward season.

If the Owls had beaten Army before a crowd of 34,005, they would have set themselves up for a nice run of home crowds in the first-ever season where they played seven home games. They would have not drawn the 34,005 for Stony Brook that they did for Army, but they might have gotten the 30,181 they got for a winless UCF team in the mid-point of last season. Hard numbers point to the major reason for disappointing attendance is a disappointing early loss. That pattern is likely to repeat itself because hard numbers do not lie.

Now, they will be lucky to get 22,000 fans—if that—for Stony Brook on Saturday. The fans cannot be blamed. The players did not deserve to be thrown under the bus (they were). It was just two God-awful coaching game plans, one on offense and one on defense, which deserve the brunt of the blame. Nine months to get ready for a one-dimensional team and the Owls approached the game like they were playing any other foe. Still have not heard a word from CEO Matt Rhule on how poorly prepared this team was or a word criticizing either of his coordinators game plan that showed little imagination on offense and no semblance of a clue as to how to stop even the most basic option on defense.

Do not hold your breath.

Accepting responsibility at the top is not coming, but the unintended consequence of a mostly empty stadium for the balance of the season is bound to be on display Saturday. It will be impossible to get the stadium as lively as it was on opening night unless the Owls take a long winning streak into the USF game.

That is the unintended consequence of two steps forward, one step back, which seems to be par for the course for Temple football the past few years. There are words to describe the feeling for the fans and they must include agonizing, frustrating and infuriating.

The fans deserve better.

Friday: A Look At Stony Brook

Perfect Day For Openers

The key will be avoiding the letdowns that ailed TU last year.

In the closing months of a losing battle, Democratic primary contender Bernie Sanders told supporters that he was “good at math” but assured them that he still saw “a narrow path” to the nomination. Due to circumstances beyond his control (super delegates), that narrow path turned out to be as small as the eye of a needle.

So, too, it is for Temple’s path to the national championship game. Even folks who are good at math can see it’s a narrow path for Temple, but it’s a path nonetheless and it might be larger than the eye of a needle. The reality is that if both Houston and the Owls go 12-0 during the regular season, and Temple beats the Cougars in the title game, it would be extremely difficult to keep Temple out of a four-team playoff—especially if Penn State beats Pitt and has an upper-tier season in the Big 10.

depthchart

Biggest depth chart surprises:

  1. Adrian Sullivan beating out last year’s starter, Brian Carter, at RG; Logan Marchi earning a second team QB tie with Frank Nutile; Marshall Ellick beating out Ventell Bryant at WR and Brodrick Yancy earning a No. 1 at WR; On defense, freshman and special teams star William Kwenkeu earning a backup LB spot and true freshman Benny Walls doing the same at SS.

In that scenario, Houston would own a win over a team picked to win the Big 12 title and Temple would hold a road win against a Big 10 contender. If Penn State does the impossible and wins the Big 10, then the Owls would be shoe-ins for a four-team playoff but that’s probably asking for a bit much.

On this perfect day to open the season, maybe the Owls will finish perfect but that’s a lot of gravy to ask for because they had their head-scratching moments a year ago (USF, SMU in a win, Toledo) and lost four of their last seven. That’s been the pattern for long-time Temple football fans, even in good seasons, since 1982.

After Wayne Hardin’s tenure, even good Temple football seasons have gone like this: Beat someone you are not supposed to beat (Wisconsin, 1990) and lose to someone who are not supposed to lose to (Wyoming, 1990). The pattern repeated itself under Al Golden (UConn win and Ohio loss, 2010), Steve Addazio (Maryland win, Bowling Green loss, 2011) and Matt Rhule (Memphis win, Idaho and Fordham losses, 2013).

That pattern did not exist in Wayne Hardin’s best years, especially 1979 when the Owls only lost to two ranked teams, Pitt and Penn State, and the average margin of those two losses was eight points. No one on the current schedule, including Penn State, will probably be ranked and there is no reason why Temple has to repeat that pattern this season.

The key, of course, to break it and we have not seen it done in 30 years. I’ve said a few months ago that this team is more than capable of breaking the school record of 10 wins with 11, and that’s the minimum acceptable benchmark.

Anything else will be gravy and I like gravy.

Tomorrow: Game Analysis

Monday: What’s New?

Army’s Vanishing Problems

In my mind, Army’s biggest problem is Temple.

About a month ago, I thought Army had problems.

Yesterday gave me some perspective in the form an unrestrained pit bull.

I got bit minding my own business on my walk in the park in Huntingdon Valley on an otherwise great Tuesday afternoon. Said a friendly hello to a stranger who looks like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski and the next thing I know is that the dog that should have been on a short leash was on a longer one and my right arm was spouting blood. Just got back from Holy Redeemer Hospital and eschewed the five rabies shots offered me. If I start frothing at the mouth on Friday night, it won’t be because of Temple’s vanilla play-calling as so beautifully chronicled by Fizzy in this January post.

lastvisit

Army’s last visit to LFF.

That just goes to show you how problems change in a month. I will take Army’s over mine right now because the Army looked like it had major problems a month ago.

Their leading rusher, Aaron Kemper, and one of their bigger playmakers on defense, cornerback Josh Jenkins, have left the team between spring and summer camp. Additionally, a fullback and a slot back as well as a starting lineman, all of whom were expected to contribute, have departed, meaning the Black Knights have lost five potential starters since May. Army only returns about a dozen seniors to a team that only had one FBS win last year.

Add Army’s starting QB from last season — Ahmad Bradshaw — to the list of key players that have left the team.  The next guy up, Chris Carter, is a sophomore who started two games last year.  He has not practiced since the first day due to a hamstring injury.  Behind Carter are four freshmen. If you don’t think that’s a problem against this speedy Temple defense, you have not been paying attention.

Let’s go with the most important player, Bradshaw, first. He’s not only back, but head coach Jeff Monken has said all is forgiven and he will be the starter for the Cadets on Friday night (Lincoln Financial Field, 7 p.m., 2 p.m. tailgate).

Well, that changes a lot of things because Carter is the quarterback who brought Army to within four points of an upset over a team all of us respect, Navy, and its great head coach Ken Niumatalolo and Monken figures Bradshaw is the better player.  Still, only 16 seniors on a roster of 142 players has to mean something. Jenkins is also gone, but does that mean new Temple offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas will use play-action passes to suck in the linebackers and safeties and go over the top to people like Marshall Ellick to attack the new guy replacing him?

Hell, yes, I hope so.

Or I will be frothing at the mouth. If the score is 0-0 and I’m frothing, call the EMTs.

Friday: Depth Chart Thoughts

Game Week: Don’t Sleep On Cadets

 

For all of defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s accomplishments, and there are many on this last-go-round at Temple, an Achilles’ heel for him has been trouble defending the triple option.

Army

That’s one reason why the Owls cannot sleep on the Army Cadets (7 p.m., Friday, Lincoln Financial Field). There are many more and we will outline those later in this post, but first let’s concentrate on Snow’s recent history against those teams. In three of the four games his teams have played against the triple option since 2010, his defenses have allowed those teams at least 31 points.

The reason for Snow’s problems have been simple. He stubbornly has played his base defense, the 4-3, against a speciality offense that requires a standard speciality defense. The way to stop the triple option is simple: 44 stack, nose guard over the center, the two A gaps (to the left and right of the center) covered by a tackle, eight in the box and force the triple option team to pass.

For some reason known only to God and Snow, he refuses to do that.

The most recent game was an abomination, a 31-24 loss to Navy played on a 92-degree day in September of 2014. (For those who say Navy was good that year, Western Freaking Kentucky—which I call WFK—beat them, 18-6. Their coaches found a way to stop the triple option.)  In 2012, while coaching Eastern Michigan, his defense allowed 38 points against the Cadets. Fortunately, the EMU offense bailed out the Eagles, winning that game, 48-38.  In 2010, his EMU defense allowed 31 points in a 31-27 loss to Army. The one outlier was a 33-14 win for Temple over Army in the 2013 game. The next year, though, the black-helmeted Owls sat back in the heat and waited for the triple option offense to attack them and often found themselves in 3-on-2 mismatches against a quarterback, fullback and pitch man. That’s how Navy won that game, 31-24.

Montel Harris, Nate Combs

Temple running back Montel Harris (8) talks with Army linebacker Nate Combs (22) in my favorite Temple-Army photo of all time.

After that game, I asked former Temple coach Wayne Hardin—who never lost to a triple-option team while at Temple (he did at Navy, but that was to No. 1 Texas in 1962)—how to defend it and he told me that the triple option leaves the backside unblocked for blitzes. If you have a particularly fast corner, you can give up the backside by blitzing him and blowing up the play before it starts. He said the one gamble is vulnerability  to the throwback pass (ala Adam DiMichele to Matt Balasavage for a score in 2007), but that happens so infrequently it’s worth the risk.

For some reason, Snow has refused to do that. Maybe the Owls will try it with 4.3 sprinter Nate Hairston on Friday night.

The other reasons why you cannot sleep on the Cadets are rather obvious. First, their toughness is unquestioned. They are literally on the frontlines for this country. In addition, they play a fairly challenging schedule and are often in games against so-called Power-5 teams. Last year, they lost to a very good Navy team by four, Penn State by six and Wake Forest by three.

They will not be intimidated by the Owls and the Owls have to strap their helmets on tight Friday night. Hopefully, those helmets will be Cherry or White, not Black.

gameweek

Wednesday: Army’s Vanishing Problems

Friday: Depth Chart Thoughts and Predictions

Saturday: Game Analysis

Monday: What’s New?

Taking Army Seriously

Montel Harris

The greatest TU performance ever against Army: 351 yards, 7 TDs by Montel Harris (8), here singing T for Temple U.

One of the themes on social media a year ago when someone looked down the schedule to a more compelling game was to concentrate on the next one.

The players even took that approach with the subtitle season slogan “What’s Next?” and that might have been a large part of the reason Temple tied a school record of 10 wins a year ago. That, and playing two more games than the 1979 team.

Before the UCF game, which was oh for the season, I mentioned to Tyler Matakevich that the great thing about him and his teammates this year was that I had confidence they were taking UCF just as seriously as Notre Dame. “Absolutely,” Tyler said, “that’s all we think about is what’s next and not what’s after that.”

What’s next is Army and hopefully these kids take the same approach that those kids did.

A good indication that they are is that the coaches are because Matt Rhule made a side trip to Air Force Academy last month to pick the braintrust there on how to stop the triple option. USAFA runs a more polished version of Army’s triple option. Temple was embarrassed against Navy’s version two years ago and did not seem to have an effective counter. A Temple defense that finished No. 4 in the country in points allowed gave up 31 to Navy that day and the loss—coupled with a 16-13 loss to Memphis—probably cost the Owls a bowl bid.

Not only is Temple making an investment in research and development, but the Owls also dedicated at least a half-hour to defending the Army triple option in spring practice. The Army game is well-placed from the Owls’ standpoint because they don’t have to cram triple option preparedness into a short work week.

The Owls are anywhere from 16.5 -22-point favorites on opening night, but they are approaching this like it’s a pick-em and that’s the best sign of all.

Monday: 5 Things We’d Like To See By Opening Day

Wednesday: Immediate Help Is On The Way

Friday: Temple Football Forever Goes On One-Week Summer Hiatus