TU-UMASS: Road to relevancy begins here

The next step for the Temple defense: Recover fumbles and take interceptions to the house

Quick, jot down this number: 119.

That’s where Temple football got rated nationally after nearly beating a Big 10 team last week. Moving five lousy stinking spots up the national ladder isn’t going to make anyone outside of Philadelphia notice.

Quick, jot down another number, 20,111.

After 33,297 attended Homecoming, that’s probably the number–give or take 1,000–that Temple will announce after tomorrow’s game against visiting Massachusetts (2 p.m., ESPN+).

The needle after a 16-14 loss to Rutgers hasn’t changed things much. Temple Homecoming fans are usually not football fans, but Temple fans. If Temple had won, they would keep coming back. If Temple had lost, they were gone until next year. That’s what the numbers show based on past history and those numbers never change. Temple lost so it’s tough sledding getting those fans back.

Homecoming fans are not nuanced enough to know there is real improvement in Temple football this season. Regular fans?

Definitely.

Temple could have, probably should have, won, except for a fluke tip interception that went the other way.

The perception to those of us close to the program has changed. Obviously, nationally, Temple football has a long way to go.

Kyle Hunter, one of the nation’s best prognosticators, wrote, “Temple-UMass is the sicko game of the week.”

To many nationally, it is.

Sad, really, how far the program has sunk from an outside perspective thanks to the last guy.

To Temple, though, this game represents the starting point of the road to relevancy.

If Temple wants to make the right turn, it needs to hammer UMass tomorrow and start a winning streak now.

Something on the order of 31-19 would do the trick (49-7 is preferable) and maybe wake a few national people up. Even that won’t move the needle much. To get even a couple thousand of those Homecoming fans back, Temple will need to win at Memphis the next week.

Our picks this week

First things first, though.

The SP+ 2022 computer model has Temple winning 31-19, and has Temple has one of its four best locks of the week. The computer has a 76 percent success rate against the spread. That’s a higher success rate than IBM’s Watson had against Brad Rutter on Jeopardy (72 percent).

I really believe Rutgers would beat Toledo and Toledo hung a 55-10 number on Massachusetts.

Still, UMass fans think they can win and, you know what, the Minutemen definitely can. Put it this way: If freaking Incarnate Word can beat both Nevada and Southern Illinois and Southern Illinois can beat Northwestern, UMass can beat Temple.

If the Owls play on defense like the mad crazed dogs they did against Rutgers, UMass won’t. Rutgers is about 50 points better than UMass. Had D’Wan Mathis not put the ball on the carpet twice, Temple probably could have been 50 points better than Lafayette. Had he not played so poorly in the first half against Duke, that might have been closer. We will never know.

It’s a new beginning now for Temple.

UMass will not come into the Linc with the Owls receiving the same kind of frenzied support from their fans as they did a week ago. So maybe the Owls won’t pummel the Minutemen like they should. The Owls will have to create their own atmosphere by making plays and those of us who are there wearing the Cherry and White will have to pump up the volume.

The blueprint for this trip is clear: Temple must run the ball better than it has in the first three games and its defense must take the ball away.

UMass will try to run and, if the Temple defense plays the way it did a week ago (and in the second half against Duke), it will be forced to do something uncomfortable: Pass. When that happens, Temple defenders must treat that ball like it is theirs.

Temple hasn’t really had a stud running back since Bernard Pierce but it doesn’t need a Pierce this year. It needs a Ryquell Armstead and, in Darvon Hubbard, he has shown that more in real games than any of the other backs. If he or Jakari Norwood is back against UMass, one of those two need to dicate the tempo.

It will be nice to see what D’Wan Mathis can bring to the receiving game and that piece should be available for all to see on Saturday.

It’s too bad the casual fans won’t be there. Some of them will be back if the Owls rip off a modest winning streak that starts here. If it’s an immodest one, all of them will be back.

Picks this week: Went 2-2 last week and, after a 3-2 start against the spread two weeks ago, sit at 5-4 against the spread. We like two underdogs (Duke at Kansas and JMU at App. State) getting a touchdown and Houston’s Rice Owls getting 17.5 against crosstown rival Houston. Also like two favorites, Memphis laying the 12.5 against visiting North Texas State and Eastern Michigan laying the two field goals against visiting Buffalo.

Update: A 2-3 week (missed a push in the Kansas game by a point). Won on JMU and Rice and lost on Memphis, Duke and Eastern Michigan. That puts us at 7-7 for the season.

Sunday: Game Analysis

Monday: Optics

5 Individual Owl achievements that can happen

In Darvon Hubbard, the Owls have a big-time SEC recruit from Texas A&M who should, combined with a veteran offensive line, significantly upgrade the running game.

Hard to believe, Harry (Donahue, in this case) but after three years of despair, it’s not hard to see some Temple football Owls making a mark this season.

After all, all the cheering in the practices in the snow and the weightlifting at the E-O have signaled an all-for-one, one-for-all atmosphere around the $17 million Edberg-Olson Complex we haven’t seen since the first year of the Geoff Collins Era.

That team, arguably a nine-win squad, still did the university proud by winning seven games and taking home a bowl title.

Former Virginia Tech starter Quincy Patterson probably beats out former Georgia starter D’wan Mathis to give Temple the deepest 1-2 quarterback punch in the AAC this season.

Underachieving is not an option this year.

Regular achieving?

In this space, we’ve set the bar at six wins.

Hard?

Sure.

Impossible?

Definitely not.

Since the team is the sum of the individual parts, we can see five things happening on that level that lead to a team success.

Now, mind you, we’re not predicting them, but can definitely envision them:

One, Quincy Patterson becomes a first-team all-league quarterback. Sean Hennigan of Memphis, really, is his top competition but a guy who heard pass-rushing footsteps against a 3-9 Temple team certainly is vulnerable against a guy who once led Virginia Tech to a double-overtime win against North Carolina. Patterson, in my mind, has the “it” factor that both P.J. Walker and Adam DiMichele had. I hope I’m right.

Two, Isaac Moore, Adam Klein and Victor Stoffel take things personally. All three of these players were outstanding for Chris Wiesehan under Collins and the return of their coach revitalizes the Temple offensive line. Moore in particular signaled the end of the Rod Carey Error a year ago today when he was quoted in OwlsDaily.com as saying: “It’s Temple. You cannot lose here. Everyone knows that.” (That was in response to a question about a rare 1-6 season at Temple.) Wiesehan, who did not experience a losing season in his prior years at Temple, was considered by many an outstanding candidate to get the job Stan Drayton did and that’s because many current Temple players went to bat for him. Reason? He had pretty much this same talent operating on a much higher level under Geoff Collins. That would lead to the next achievement.

Three, Darvon Hubbard gains 1,000 yards and scores at least 10 touchdowns. Hubbard was a three-star Texas A&M recruit for a reason and it was because it was a state champion 100-meter guy who also maximized his carries on the high school football field in Arizona. With less than 100 carries, Hubbard had over 1,000 yards in his senior year in high school football. That’s a lot of yards per carry. If he does the same against AAC competition, the Owls more than double their run production next year. Hubbard will probably be the best transfer running back Temple has had since Montel Harris scored seven touchdowns in a single game in 2012.

Amad Anderson is definitely the best Anderson at wide receiver since Robby (celebrating with the great Temple fans here the win over Penn State) caught clutch passes at Temple in 2015.

Four, Adonicis Sanders and Amad Anderson exceed the production of Jadan Blue and Randall Jones. Sanders, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass against Duke last year, could do the same this year. Anderson was a productive starter at Purdue before coming to Temple. Their collective target? The four touchdowns and 661 yards Blue (now at Virginia Tech) and Jones combined for last year. I will bet $20 against any Temple fan at the season-ticket-holder party who wants to take me up on that.

Five, the Owls as a team get more sacks (16+) this year than they did last year (15, 105 yards in losses). North Carolina transfer Xach Gill (who didn’t play last year) is a significant upgrade inside and Layton Jordan is an improvement outside. Kentucky transfer Jerquavion Mahone (who did play last year) needs to improve on the inside and surprisingly Dyshier Clary is listed as a DE starter on the other side ahead of Darian Varner and Evan Boozer, who both have good motors. That’s pretty good DE depth.

If a team is the sum of its parts (and it is), the parts point to better production. Does that equal 2x the wins?

That’s a math question even Albert Einstein would be hard-pressed to answer but the across-the-board improvement we see in mid-July seems to support the hypothesis.

Monday: What They Are Saying …

Temple has many more playmakers this year

Football is not a complicated thing.

Teams that make plays win.

Teams that have more playmakers make plays.

Adonicas Sanders

From where I sit, Temple has at least … at least … five big-time playmakers it did not have last year and that should play a role in the turnaround we wrote about in this space on Monday.

The Owls lacked a lot of things a season ago in finishing 3-9 but the sore thumb in this badly bloodied hand was a lack of speed.

For no matter how highly you think of last year’s running backs (Edward Saydee, Kyle Dobbins or Tayvon Ruley) or even record-setting wide receiver Jadan Blue (now at Virginia Tech) or even four-star starting quarterback D’Wan Mathis, none of them were able to take that ball, turn the corner and outrun anyone on a long touchdown run.

That’s not to say it didn’t happen. Randle Jones outran the entire Akron and SMU teams in recent years on his way to touchdowns and Amad Anderson took a short pass and did the same against Memphis.

Still, as a matter of course, Temple didn’t have enough of those kinds of players a year ago.

It does now.

Five come to mind:

Iverson Clement

Iverson Clement _ The former Florida Gator moved from running back to cornerback because the Owls need speed at that position. New coach Stan Drayton said he studied the film and no doubt saw a tight end chase down a Temple cornerback from behind in the South Florida game and made a vow that it won’t happen again. Iverson intercepts that same pass and puts six on the board in the fall. Because of a falling out with the former staff, Iverson didn’t see the field last year. He will see it this year.

Adonicas Sanders _ Sanders caught two passes against Duke, both for touchdowns in a 31-27 win for Georgia Tech last year, and no doubt Drayton has an inkling Sanders can reprise the role in the opener.

Darvon Hubbard

Darvon Hubbard _ The reason Texas A&M made Hubbard one of its prized recruits a couple of years ago was the elite speed at the running back position the Owls did not have last year. The 100- and 200-meter Arizona High School track champion had over 1,000 yards on just 99 carries at Willow Canyon High.

Dominick Hill_ A defensive back, it’s fair to say without the transfer portal, Temple doesn’t recruit a player like this. He was the No. 1-ranked player in the Orlando Sentinel’s 2020 Central Florida Super 60 and it’s easy to see why because he led Jones High in Orlando to a 13-2 record in 2019 with 30 tackles and a district-leading six interceptions as a senior. The Orlando area is considered the best area for recruits in the best state for recruiting in the nation.

Quincy Patterson _ After watching this young man’s film for the last four weeks, I’m convinced the Owls have recruited their best quarterback since beating out Nebraska for Dodge City Community College first-team All-American Walter Washington. As tentative as Mathis played for most of last season (other than the Memphis game, it appeared he was walking on eggshells), that’s how confidently Patterson plays a position that demands confidence. The Owls will rally around this special talent.

Those are just five playmakers the Owls have this year who did not see the field last year.

There are more and they will let themselves be known to the fans by making big-time plays that translate into wins.

Outside perception: We’re No. 119

The good news today is that the “outside world” sees Temple football as improving under first-year head coach Stan Drayton.

The bad news is that the improvement is so incremental to be negligible.

We’re No. 119.

Last year we were No. 121.

As former co-defensive coordinator, Ola Adams has said many times on Twitter: “Start small and build.”

Going from No. 119 to 121 to starting too small and building too slow, but that’s where ESPN’s Bill Connelly projects the Owls to be in 2022.

Pretty sure those close to the program now aren’t expecting moving two spots up a 130-team FBS totem pole nor are we.

Still, it’s easy to see why the outside world feels that way.

Interesting that Temple is rated below Navy but has an 8 percent better chance of making a bowl.

The Owls have a roster good enough to only win three games under a head coach who was cancer in the locker room.

They’ve cut the cancer out, the roster has bought what the new guy is selling but is that good enough to move from 121 to 80?

Eighty isn’t asking for much because that’s how many teams make bowl games. Eighty out of 130 is the lower half of the second group of FBS teams. Temple should demand that even in an off-year. Yet everybody on the outside seems to think that’s a bridge too far for Temple after 1-6 and 3-9 seasons.

Another way to look at this is Connelly’s projections are usually solid and fact-based but he published a story earlier this month that projected linebacker George Reid as one of the Owls stars.

Two problems with that:

Reid gave up football last month and, while a nice player, I don’t know anyone in the program who said he was a “star” or even projected as one. I’m not all that sure he would even start if he came back.

Connelly never even mentioned a running back transfer from Texas A&M, Darvon Hubbard, who figures to be an immediate upgrade nor mention a Florida transfer at the same position, Iverson Clement, who fell out of favor with the prior staff and is back in the good graces of the new one. The Owls didn’t have a single home run hitter in the backfield last year. Now they have two.

They should be strong at linebacker and in the secondary and be decent on the offensive line. They need to upgrade the defensive line because they, quite frankly, stunk at getting after the quarterback and stopping the run.

In the era of the transfer portal, there are a lot of moving parts. There are still a bunch of good players in the portal now and, if Drayton feels the Owls have an area of need after spring practice, there are better players available.

Spring practice starts Friday and, while the outside evaluation of Temple is important, what the coaches decide about the roster this spring will dictate the results this fall.

If the outside world is right again, the Temple program is in a whole lot of trouble. The good news is that the inside world can do a lot to change perceptions between now and then.

Friday: Line Play

Temple football: Dog hunting season

Hopefully, Drayton does turn out to be a home run for Temple.

That old saying a “hungry dog hunts best” certainly could apply to new head Temple football coach Stan Drayton.

The outsiders, objective people supposedly in the know about college football, rated the Temple coaching hire pretty low on the totem pole and maybe Drayton will use that disrespect and work that much harder to prove the doubters wrong.

What he needs now is players and this is the week to get them.

Heaven knows the Owls need some dogs, the fighting kind and not the laying down kind.

The national sports website Yardbarkers rated the Temple hiring 25th between Sonny Cumbie (Louisiana Tech) and Jon Sumrall (Troy).

Maybe Drayton is hungry enough to prove the doubters wrong. Or guys like Cumbie and Sumrall will prove to be hungrier.

Whatever, the way college football works these days, we could know as soon as December because the transfer portal has proven to turn some mediocre teams to winning ones in a year. For instance, Western Kentucky recruited a portal quarterback out of Houston Baptist, Bailey Zappe, and his 61 touchdown passes helped turn the Hilltoppers from 5-7 to 8-5 in a few months.

Co-DC Ola Adams teased some good news with this Sunday tweet.

Can Temple go from 3-9 to 8-5?

Probably not, but certainly a bowl is within reach in an era where there are more good players in the portal than available scholarships across the 130 FBS programs. It’s a buyer’s market, not a seller’s, and the teams that shop best off the field produce best on it. Recently, defensive back George Reid left the Owls and declared for the portal. Nice player, but there are upgrades all over the place out there and one of Drayton’s jobs is to find one for Reid, and another for record-breaking wide receiver Jadan Blue, two of the few who left.

Already, Drayton got a South Carolina cornerback to commit and a Florida linebacker visited this weekend and Kurt Warner’s son, Elijah, “fell in love with the place” (Temple) and committed. While Warner is only 5-foot-11, the more important numbers associated with him are 26 (touchdowns) and eight (interceptions). That’s a more than acceptable ratio when you consider the Owls’ starting quarterback, Dwan Mathis, had 20 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions in his last full high school year. G5 football proved much tougher as Mathis had only nine touchdown passes against six interceptions and that was nowhere near good enough for either Dwan or Temple.

In fact, only two other recent Temple recruits had more touchdown passes as a high school senior than Warner did and those were Anthony Russo (Archbishop Wood, 2015) and Adam DiMichele (Sto-Rox, 2004), both with 35 each. Even the great P.J. Walker (Elizabeth, N.J) had only 24 touchdown passes his senior year. If Warner produces at Temple like Russo, Walker and DiMichele did, I will sign for that now. It’s not the only metric but consider this: Vaughn Charlton (Avon Grove) and Chester Stewart (DeMatha) had nine and 17 touchdown passes, respectively, their senior years and they were at Temple what their record said they were in high school.

Subpar would be a kind word.

Still, it’s hard to figure that Warner, right now, is anything more than a replacement for Justin Lynch, who transferred to Northern Illinois. Maybe a couple of more years down the road he can be a starter at Temple.

One immediate starter probably will be at running back, where the Owls upgraded their room with the addition of Texas A&M portal transfer Darvon Hubbard.

Definitely fits the profile of a fighting dog, not a passive one.

The Owls need a few more who fit the description. By Wednesday, we will know how hungry Drayton turned out to be.

Friday: Reaction to Signing Season