Losing at UCF’s Game

At track meets, one of the most entertaining events is the “thrower’s relay” where a group of discus, javelin and shot put throwers show off their running skills on the track.

There are reasons those guys throw the discus, javelin and shot put. They are just as integral to the team’s success as the guys on the track, but that “unofficial” race is always good for laughs because those guys aren’t meant to be there.

Throwers don’t compete against runners and vice versa.

Unless you are counting Temple’s 52-40 loss at UCF.

The game was a winnable one if the Temple of 2015 and 2016 was on the field, forcing the UCF guys to play Temple’s game–run the ball with an elite tailback behind a fullback and chew up each quarter with eight-minute-type scoring drives against the 91st-ranked rushing defense in the nation and limit UCF possessions to a bare minimum.

Instead, Temple’s “throwers” tried to beat UCF’s track guys at their own game and no team in America can get in a track meet with them. Temple, rather than run the clock down to single digits before snapping on each play, snapped the ball in the high 20s almost every down.

updateducf

White helmets made the record 12-12 after UCF

On a night when UCF’s longest scoring drive was 2 minutes, 55 seconds, that’s not a sound game plan.

Temple’s only chance was to use lead blockers for running backs Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner and chew up the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of UCF Heisman Trophy candidate Milton McKenzie.

The 2018 Owls, while setting a school record for total yards, pretty much failed to utilize the one game plan that could have won them the game. The 2016 Owls would probably would have won this game with Armstead following Nick Sharga through the hole and the punishing body blows would have had a cumulative effect later in the game.

There were no body blows because Temple fell into the trap of playing UCF’s game, which is to run a track meet. This time, Armstead got 149 yards on 27 carries while hobbled in an empty backfield, and you’ve got to wonder what he would have done if he had a caravan of blockers (H-backs, fullbacks and tight ends) in addition to offensive linemen. My strong hunch is that this Temple team would have fared much better on the scoreboard playing the 2016 version of Temple TUFF offensive football. That version chewed up clock with running plays, kept the sticks moving with play-action, and helped the defense stay fresh.

This version gave the ball to UCF and way too many snaps to Milton and did not help the Owl defense at all. It was a dark night for the tuckered Darkside Defense.

Statistics pretty much favored Temple except in the area of penalties where the Owls racked up 15 penalties for 149 yards, some undeserved, but most deserved. Matt Rhule would have gone ballistic if the 2016 Ventell Bryant spun the ball after catching it, but Geoff Collins had a few words with Ventell after he drew a 15-yard penalty for it. Ventell did the same thing after catching a touchdown pass in the end zone, but the same refs who saw fit to penalize him the first time overlooked it the second (probably because he did not do it in front of a UCF player).

Don’t know what Temple was thinking when it drew up a game plan to get in a track meet with track athletes but, last night, statistics were for losers. I would trade all of those school records for a reversal of the scoreboard in a heartbeat.

It was a valiant effort against a great team with a lot of nice stats but the only stat that matters is 52-40.

It is the only one that ever does.

Sunday: Fizzy’s Corner

Monday: The Bright Side

 

 

Elephants and Zebras

candy

“If I give you guys candy, will you promise not to ask about my 92d-ranked total offense?”

There will be a big Elephant in the room—or, in this case, stadium—tonight when Temple faces No. 9 Central Florida on ESPN (tonight, 7:30).

They will be in the form of another great African animal, Zebras.

If there are some, err, questionable calls by officiating, it should be understandable but certainly not forgivable.

Make no mistake, the American Athletic Conference would prefer for UCF to beat Temple. When that prefer turns into want, that’s where the problem arrives.

cincysalty

Cincy fans were salty about this call but photo shows a possession and a foot drag.

The Owls will have to face the ninth-ranked team in the country (though, curiously, not in the FBS playoff top 10 as released Tuesday night). They will have 43,000 fans rooting against them. Their task is hard enough without having the six guys who can make the most impactful decisions making incorrect ones.

It might not even be a conscious bias, but a subconscious one. These officials are employed by the league and know the league would look good with another NY6 bowl and UCF is this league’s best hope for that. Temple, with losses to Buffalo and Villanova, is all but eliminated from a NY6 spot even if the Owls run the table. There may be mulligans in golf, but there are none in college football and that’s why the Owls should have approached those first two games as if they were league championship ones.

This one is. If the Owls win, they have a clear shot to the league title game and can even absorb a loss to Houston next week and win their division if they beat USF and UConn at home. This would be the key win that unlocks that opportunity for the Owls.

The officials, though, know that a UCF win helps the league more.

So is, say, Isaiah Wright takes a kickoff back 95 yards for an apparent score and a late flag comes out on the UCF 5, the reason will be apparent.

The flip side of this argument is that the conference probably also preferred Cincinnati to win last week in Philadelphia but that was in Philly and this is in Orlando and that’s a big difference.

So Elephants and Zebras could be as important as Owls and Knights tonight. If, however, nobody notices the officials, then that’s the way it should be.

UCF: Owls Need Prescription From MD

rockarmstead

Rock Armstead needs to get the ball 25 times for the Owls to win.

In many ways, Temple’s task of beating Central Florida reminds me of the famous quote of British General “Bad Boy” Browning in Cornelius Ryan’s excellent book “A Bridge Too Far” when the General turns to his superior, General Bernard Montgomery, and says: “I think we may have gone a Bridge Too Far.”

At first, glance, expecting the Owls to win in Central Florida’s environment may be a bridge too far Thursday night (7:30, ESPN). That’s only if the Owls have the same kind of offensive game plan Montgomery employed in trying to take the bridge at Arnhem in World War II–trying to use paratroopers against two divisions of German Armor or, as the British spell it, Armour.

Not a good plan.

booth

Similarly, if Brigadier General Dave Patenaude takes the same offensive approach he has in the past three games–mostly passes to the sidelines and fades to the end zone–he’s going to get slaughtered like Monty did in the Battle of Market Garden. Fades and sideline routes are the Temple equivalent of paratroopers.

This time, the key to the game is matching Armor with Armor.

For the Owls to win, they have to assume that Heisman Trophy candidate Milton McKenzie is going to play and set their game plan around their own star, Ryquell Armstead, who must play for the Owls to have any chance. I have no inside info but did watch him bounce around on the sidelines 10 days ago and he had no limp and was moving around pretty well. Plus, he’s single-digit TUFF.


Since Patenaude doesn’t
believe in using the
fullback as a lead
blocker, he is going
to have to dust off
the Maryland game plan
and put the tight ends
in motion to create just
the tiny holes Rock needs
to rip off 2-, 3-, 4-
and 7-yard type runs
against the 91st-ranked
FBS run defense

Give the ball to Rock Armstead–we’ll call him Tank for this game–and help him out by giving him as many lead blockers as possible. Since Patenaude doesn’t believe in using the fullback as a lead blocker, he is going to have to dust off the Maryland game plan and put the tight ends in motion to create just the tiny holes Rock needs to rip off 2-, 3-, 4- and 7-yard type runs against the 91st-ranked FBS run defense.

Any good General will tell you it’s always a good strategy to attack the weakness of your enemy. Fortunately, UCF has a chink in its armor and Temple has Armstead to take advantage of that weakness.

Bill Parcells employed a similar strategy with running back Ottis Anderson in Super Bowl XXV. A reporter after that game asked Parcells a question about why he kept feeding him the ball even though most of his first-half carries were only two and three yards: “It wasn’t the two and three yards, it was the cumulative effect those two and three yards had on the defense. Those runs allowed him to break the big one and win us the game.”

Pass only off play action once the run is established and only to move the sticks and keep the clock rolling. Armstead will have to carry the ball 25 times for Temple to win and none of those should be out of an empty backfield where a linebacker can key on him.

That way, two things are accomplished–long scoring drives for Temple and keeping the ball out of McKenzie’s hands. Limit McKenzie’s possessions and he won’t be able to do things like ring up 45 points (as he did against Pittsburgh). The cumulative effect will allow Armstead to do what Anderson did and rip off enough big ones that both wear down the UCF defense and keep the Temple defense fresh. This is Temple’s Super Bowl and taking a page out of the Tuna’s super playbook is probably a wise approach. Certainly, he turned out to be a better General on the football field than Monty did in Market Garden.

Anything outside of that thinking and winning in Orlando may be a bridge too far for these Owls. The MD game plan could be just what the doctored ordered to keep the Owls’ championship hopes alive.

Thursday: Final Game Day Thoughts

Friday: Game Analysis

Final Tribute To the Seniors

 

 

 

How do you frame a portrait of goodbye to the seniors who have now a 50/50 shot to be the undisputed winning-est class in the history of Temple University?

You might include at least a little rain, symbolic teardrops from Heaven that come with the territory to bid a fond adieu to what has been the best four-year period for the school’s football fans.

triangle

That white triangle is where we will be on Saturday at 1

 

Include a mostly gray day against a worthy unbeaten foe, and finish it with a win. Celebrate with a lot of high fives and smiles in the parking lot afterward.

That would be the most fitting celebration of these wonderful young men who have given their all to Temple University.

They say to be the champs you’ve got to beat the champs and UCF hasn’t beaten these champs yet, and hopefully won’t.

When you break football down to its essence, it’s all about making plays and that’s what this group of seniors has done for the last four years and five in the peculiar case of defensive end Sharif Finch.

Temple at Central Florida

Keith Kirkwood: 1 second left

That might be as a place to start this tribute as any because Finch was here—believe it or not—as a starting linebacker in Matt Rhule’s FIRST season. He sacked the Rutgers’ quarterback and that appeared to end the game with a Temple win but called for what film later showed was a bogus personal foul and kept that game-winning drive alive. (Hell, Finch should have never been placed in that spot because Rhule eschewed the quarterback sneak behind two future NFL players—quarterback P.J. Walker following center Kyle Friend—on a fourth-and-three-inch call. Instead, Rhule inexplicably called a five-yard deep handoff to fullback Kenny Harper which was stopped for a five-yard loss. With RU having no timeouts left and Temple the ball on the RU 20 with 1:02 left, four inches would have ended that game with a kneel down or two.)

labolito

Nick Sharga watched by Bernard Pierce

Finch, now at DE, has been making plays for five years at Temple and four full ones and only two weeks ago was named the AAC Defensive Player of The Week for his effort in a 34-26 win over Navy.

In the play-making arena, fullback and linebacker Nick Sharga is right up there with the greatest playmakers in Temple football history.

Sharga was so much a part of the consecutive 10-win seasons that Rhule mentioned him (although not by name) in his introductory Baylor press conference. “We went to a pro-set at Temple because we had an NFL fullback,” Rhule said.

finch

Sharif Finch picks off Sackenberg.

Baylor might not, but Temple still has for at least the next two games. Sharga will go down as the most versatile player in Temple history because he was the best linebacker on the field in a 34-12 win over nationally-ranked Memphis in 2015 even though the national defensive player of the year, Tyler Matakevich, was lined up next to him that day.

Temple hasn’t nearly used Sharga as much as it should this year and its success going forward could depend on how much it uses this most valuable asset in the next two games.

Still, there is more to this class than Sharif and Nick, so shout outs must go to players like defensive back Cequan Jefferson, who chased after and recovered a loose ball on the kickoff against Cincinnati last season; wide receiver Adonis Jennings, who became a star he after transferring from Pitt; kicker Austin Jones, who had a Temple school-record 19-straight field goals broken (also, at the time, the best of any FBS kicker) against Memphis last year. That was the game what he was the victim of a cheap shot. Also gone will be punter Alex Starzyk, who has been solid since debuting in a 37-7 win at Vanderbilt in 2014.

Other goodbyes go to long-snapper Corey Lerch, who played for LaSalle High in the best high school league in America, the Philadelphia Catholic League. Long-snappers are like officials. If you don’t notice them, they are doing a great job and, since I did not notice Corey, the only thing I can say is: Great job, Corey.

americansked

Last year’s juniors were just as responsible for this as last year’s seniors were.

Keith Kirkwood, who made the most clutch catch in Temple history (against UCF) will be exiting stage left soon and that’s a pretty good memory to take to tailgates the next 50 years. Keith will never have to buy a brewski, that’s for sure.

Corners Artrel Foster and Mike Jones will also be missed. Foster was been steady and dependable while Jones was never the same player after being called for a bogus pass interference on a 50/50 interception that might have turned the Houston game around this year. It looks like that play took a lot of the natural aggressiveness out of Jones. They don’t call interference on 50/50 balls in the MEAC where Jones shined the last two seasons. Hopefully, he can leave Temple with a Pick 6 and a punt return to the house in the next few games.

Other seniors departing include linebacker Chris Smith, who is above the line for the first time this week, and offensive linemen Brian Carter, Leon Johnson and Cole Boozer. Carter was a defensive line starter in the 2014 game and gave up a solid career on that side of the ball to move to OL for the good of the team.

Defensive linemen Greg Webb and Julian Taylor will also be departing, homeboys and starters from each side of the river: Webb from Timber Creek (N.J.) and Taylor from Abington in Montgomery County.

There’s no crying in both baseball and Temple football, but if the skies open up and drop a symbolic tear or two on this senior day, that should be forgiven because it will be a sad day for all of us.

Sunday: Game Analysis

Owls Turn To Boomer Sooner Than Expected

Aaron Boumerhi now unexpectedly gets forced into the spotlight.

At opposite ends of the Commonwealth (yes, it’s a Commonwealth and not a state) of Pennsylvania reside the worst and best names for a starting kicker in the long and storied history of college football.

Pitt has a guy named Chris Blewitt (pronounced BLEW IT) as its placekicker.

Temple now has a guy named Aaron Boumerhi and it is the very best kicking name in the country because it is pronounced BOOMER-EYE.

boumerhi

                               Aaron Boumerhi’s community duty included helping his fellow students move into the dorms.

After starting kicker Austin Jones was the victim of a cheap shot in the middle of the field at Memphis (not called), he is out for the season and Boomer is your new kicker. All we know about Aaron is that he stroked one right down the middle for an extra point. While at Philipsburg-Osceola High, he did not have many chances for field goals but he later became a camp warrior, going to numerous kicking camps and scoring high enough to earn a shot at Temple.

Owls’ coach Matt Rhule speaks highly of him, saying at one time that he considered using Boomer as his kickoff guy this season because he has a “Brandon McManus” leg on kickoffs. We all know McManus, err, boomed many of this kickoffs not only through the end zone but once or twice into the seats in his four years at Temple and now is a NFL star.  Rhule “ruled” against it because he wanted to preserve Boumerhi’s redshirt so he could kick through the 2020 season.

The best-laid plans often go astray due to things coaches cannot control like cheap shots.

The bottom line on Boomer is that he’s got a good leg, but is he as accurate as Jones was? Probably not since Jones hit a NCAA-best 17 in a row before missing two at Memphis and, in reality, we don’t know if he’ll perform at a high level. His extra point was fine and, if the Owls can rely on him in that area and the short field goals that Jones made routinely, that is really all they can expect.

If however, he turns out to be another Brandon McManus, that will be a bonus no one expected. We should find out for sure before long.

Saturday: Game Day Preview

Sunday: Game Analysis 

Game Day: What, Me Worry?

worry

On a worry scale of 1-10 with one being not worried and 10 being eight eaten fingernails, the UCF at Temple game has to rank at about as closest to one as any other Temple game in recent memory. The 5-0 Owls are on a serious roll and the 0-6 Knights are in free fall, playing in Philadelphia before a hostile crowd of 30,000 on a cold night.

pain

You know all about how Florida teams do in cold weather. We don’t know the actual record, but it took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about 40 years to win a game in under 50-degree weather. The temperature at kickoff tonight should be 47 degrees, which reminds me to remind you to wear gloves. It was only eight or so years ago a tailgater named Lazygoat saw me wearing gloves on the first cold day of the season and begged for them.

Like a lot of Owl fans at the first cold home game of every season, he did not come prepared. He forgot, which would have made him a great AP Top 25 voter.  Since I did not have an extra pair, he spent the rest of the day blowing into his fingers. So let that be a warning.

A little nippy, but nothing Temple TUFF can't handle.

A little nippy, but nothing Temple TUFF can’t handle.

Another warning that the Owls would be wise to heed is to put this game away early because, if there was a lesson to be learned at UMass, it was allowing a team back into a game after going up 14-0 just serves to embolden them and give them some hope to get that first win. I’m sure the 12-1 UCF team that came into Philadelphia in 2013 did not lose any sleep the night before beating Temple. Nor did the 1998 Virginia Tech team (that finished 8-2 but lost, 28-24, to then 0-6 Temple).

George O’Leary, being the smart coach he is, really has only one option and that is to rip a few pages out of UMass head coach Mark Whipple’s book and load up the box to stop the run. At that point, the Owls can do one of two things—abandon the run (not recommended) or go two tight ends and a fullback and put more helmets on their helmets and knock them back off the ball (recommended). Then pick spots for play-action passes to Robby Anderson and Co.

If P.J. Walker has to throw 48 passes again instead of a more manageable 20-30, it could be a long night. That’s not Temple football. Temple football is running the ball, hitting play-action passes, playing tough defense and great special teams.

So, like 1998, upsets can happen and that knowledge should be enough to keep it from happening. That, and adhering to the principles of #LeaveNoDoubt, which means to play every game like it is a championship one.

deptchart

Tomorrow Afternoon: Complete Game Analysis

Monday: Photo Essay

Words of Wisdom

If you do not have time to watch, just advance to the 28-minute mark for some words of wisdom.

Part of the King James Bible, loosely defined, is credited for the phrase “out of the mouths of babes come words of wisdom.”
That phrase rang true for me while watching the latest version of Matt Rhule Weekly on Temple TV above.
Two young men—not exactly babes, but at least young–who work for the TV station, Zack Gelb and Chase Senior, showed an understanding of the Temple personnel that coaches twice their age who are 18 for 77 in third-down situations and 3 for 23 in their last 26 do not seem to understand.



People wonder why Temple is 18 for 77
and 3 for 23 on third down and the answer
is pretty obvious to everyone but the guys
presiding over the 18 for 77 and 3 for 23

“They have to show more commitment to the running game, particularly in the red zone,” Gelb said.
“Once Temple gets into the red zone, they get a little too cute with the play-calling,” Senior said. “Yesterday, you said you’d love to see Kenny Harper and Colin Thompson in the I formation and just pound the rock in the end zone. How about an I formation with Colin Thompson and Kenny Harper where Thompson runs it out into the flat and P.J. Walker can just dump it to him?”

Or why not Jahad Thomas behind Kenny Harper AND Colin Thompson?

People wonder why Temple is 18 for 77 and 3 for 23 on third down and the answer is pretty obvious to everyone but the guys presiding over the 18 for 77 and 3 for 23.

The solution is right in front of their eyes, heck even on their own Temple TV station, but they could be too stubborn to implement it. Good job by Gelb and Senior breaking it down this week.