ECU-Temple: A Fork in The Road

When late night TV wasn’t as political and arguably more funny, Johnny Carson had a few notable characters.

One of them was an infomercial guy named Art Fern who talked about forks in the road.

“How do you get there? Let me tell you friends, how do you get there! You take the San Diego Freeway to the Ventura Freeway. You drive to the Slauson Cutoff, get out of your car, cut off your Slauson, get back in your car, then you drive six miles till you see the Giant Neon Vice-Squad Cop. When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Well, Saturday’s noon showdown against visiting East Carolina is the ultimate “Fork in the Road” game for Temple.

This is how Temple used to dominate East Carolina, with a fullback (Nick Sharga), leading the way for an elite tailback (Jahad Thomas). Now the Owls don’t even use a fullback and the elite tailback has seen enough of Rod Carey’s RPO offense to transfer out in the middle of the season.

The two teams have similar records (1-5 for Temple, 1-6 for ECU) but are seemingly headed in different directions. ECU has been on an upward swing against AAC opponents, certainly more competitive than Temple has been. The Owls have slowly been on the decline and their 1-5 is considerably less impressive than the Pirates.

Temple TUFF: Sharga (4) leads the way for Armstead (25)


Everybody has COVID issues and the Owls have got to stop using that as an excuse and just win a damn game.

Consider this: In the last four games, the Owls have lost by double digits. In their last seven games of the 2019 season, the Owls lost four and three of them were by double-digits. Before now, the last time the Owls lost four consecutive games by double digits was in Steve Addazio’s final season, 2012, when they lost to Rutgers (35-10), Pitt (47-17), Louisville (45-17) and Cincinnati (34-10).

On the other hand, in two of its last three games, ECU has been more competitive than Temple in losses to some good teams–Tulsa (30-34) and Tulane (21-38) before being blown out by Cincinnati, 55-17. ECU beat South Florida by 20 and the Owls needed a miracle fumble left on the carpet to beat USF by two.

There’s no disgrace losing to Cincy, either. A lot of good teams have been blown out by the Bearcats this season and Temple won’t play Cincy until the final game next week.

Fork in the road indeed. Apparently ECU, under former James Madison head coach Mike Houston, is headed in the right direction while someone needs to tell Rod Carey Temple needs to upgrade its GPS system.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Pirates are a 3.5-favorite against a program that it has never beaten in American Conference play?

The Owls have a true freshman quarterback in Matt Duncan, but Tulane also had a true freshman quarterback and did not use that as an excuse. The Owls have rolled out two quarterbacks since Anthony Russo and, frankly, none is an acceptable AAC-level quarterback.

Duncan’s got to put the big boy pants on and lead the Owls to a win or this entire program is about to go down the wrong road and hit a wall. If they total their ride, it will be a long time before they get back on the road to respectability again.

Friday night pick: Usually never go for a 32.5-point favorite, but really like a solid FAU Owls’ squad to lay the wood on UMass.

Saturday picks: Coastal Carolina laying the 6.5 against visiting App. State, Liberty getting the 3.5 at NC State, and Georgia State laying 3 at South Alabama.

Update: Evened the season record at 3-3 by going 2-1 against the spread. FAU easily covered the 8.5 as did Wisconsin the 3.5. Only loss was Nebraska beating PSU. LT and Rice postponed due to COVID. Record this week: 2-1. Overall: 3-3.

Late Saturday Night: Game Analysis


Game Day: A Fork In The Road


The Mayhem  Express has reached a fork in a road and the map doesn’t indicate which road to take that might lead them to the Promised Land.

Go down the wrong one and this already long season could get a lot longer.

Make the right decision and the Owls could be on a journey that leads to that elusive bowl win that even their last two Top 25 teams could not get.

I must admit that the normal amount of confidence I had in the Owls getting this job done in Greenville, North Carolina (ESPNU, noon today), has been shaken.

Not by the players, but by the coaches.

The Owls have doubled-down on a quarterback who has thrown six interceptions in the last two games and an offense that is ill-suited to the personnel they have. The head coach who assured me personally that he would never take Nick Sharga out of the game looks the other way when his offensive coordinator pulls Sharga  out routinely for three wide receivers. Sharga has not played a single game that he was in for more than 15 offensive plays this year and that’s a disgraceful misuse of a wonderful blocking asset.


The defense has shown signs of life only recently after getting uncharacteristically and shockingly gouged on long running plays in the first four games.

The personnel on both offense and defense is fine, so the logical conclusion is the coaching is not up to last year’s standards.

Phil Snow’s defenses were not spectacular but were sound. Except for the opening-game debacle versus Army, when the scheme was wrong, each player was in the right spot to make a play most of the time. This year, they’ve been caught in wrong slants and coverages and the coaches said they were only “misfits” that would be cleaned up next game. Then the next game came and there were more misfits. Defensively, we will find out if the better performance versus Houston was an anomaly or a harbinger of things to come.

Am I the only one who did not hear the word “misfits” applied to a Temple defense in the last two years?

I don’t think so. When you don’t need excuses, you don’t need to come up with them.

If we don’t hear the word misfits in the post-game media session today, you can assume Temple has won what figures to be a low-scoring game.

Something like 16-13 because this OC is a very stubborn man who is never alarmed by scoring 16 or fewer points. That’s where I think this result will fall, something like 16-10, 16-13, 21-17. If Temple wins 41-10, then we are cooking with gas.

If not, we’re rubbing two sticks together and hoping to get a spark.

If we do hear the word misfit against an offense that can put points on the board, just assume the Owls have taken the wrong turm and are on the road to oblivion and that’s the kind of Mayhem none of us expected when the season started.

Tomorrow: Game Analysis

Game Day: Some Deep Galactic Thoughts

Some crazy stars and asteroids are aligning soon, and we’re not really sure what they mean, if anything, about the outcome to tonight’s Temple at ECU game.

What I have learned on the ABC Evening News with David Muir is that an Asteroid is coming within close proximity of the Earth on Halloween Night. Since I have purchased one of those $20 Millionaire lotto raffle tickets drawn that night, it would be my luck to win a million at 7 p.m. and have the earth smashed into by an Asteroid at, oh, about 11:30 p.m.

If, however, a 7-0 Temple team were to beat a 6-1 Notre Dame team five minutes earlier, I could not have picked a better way to go–so maybe that Asteroid means the Owls will beat the Pirates tonight. Omen quotient: Temple win.

Fans watching the game on ESPN2 tonight will be treated to live cuts to Temple fans cheering on the Owls at Shorty's Flatiron Bar in NYC.

Fans watching the game on ESPN2 tonight will be treated to live cuts to Temple fans cheering on the Owls at Shorty’s Flatiron Bar in NYC.

Some other galactic omens:

  • Last year, East Carolina was unbeaten and ranked No. 21 coming into Philadelphia to play Temple and lost to the 4-3 Owls. Tonight, Temple is unbeaten, ranked No. 22 and playing a 4-3 team in Greenville. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean history repeats itself for the 4-3 and unbeaten squads. Not even Bill O’Reilly can spin this one positively. Omen quotient: Temple loss.
  • Both teams have won a game they’d like to do over: Temple beating UMass, 25-23, and East Carolina beating Towson, 28-20. UMass is bad, but it’s 10x better than Towson. Omen quotient: Temple win.
  • Last trip to North Carolina: Temple’s 37-3 win at Charlotte looks better in light of Charlotte extending Old Dominion to a 37-34 game last week. A lot of projections have Old Dominion in a bowl game. Omen quotient: Temple win.
  • ESPN is going to send a film crew to New York City to shoot a group of Temple fans watching the game at Shorty’s Flatiron, 66 Madison Avenue, Manhattan. ESPN is owned by the same company that owns ABC, Disney. ABC is doing the Temple vs. Notre Dame game primetime in nine nights. There is nothing more this Mickey Mouse operation (and we say that positively) would like than to be shooting shots of screaming happy Owl fans after Temple touchdowns. Omen quotient: Temple win.
  • Matt Rhule channeled his inner Joe Maddon before the game: “As Joe Maddon says, if the pleasure outweighs the pressure, you’re good. I don’t want the pressure to be too much.” The Cubs got swept, 4-0. Much more interested in what Terry Collins had to say. Omen quotient: Temple loss.

    Joe Maddon

    Joe Maddon

  • Jahad Thomas mentioned two words that have never been uttered by a Temple player before: “National championship” in response to a question from Mike Kern about what would constitute notable accomplishments. “A conference championship, an undefeated season, a national championship—things of that nature,” Thomas said. Well, we were just hoping the Owls weren’t looking ahead to Notre Dame, let alone nine games down the road. Omen quotient: Temple loss.

Hopefully, just an innocent remark and not bad Karma but we won’t find that out until around 10:30. Meanwhile, keep an eye on the sky.

Tomorrow: Game Analysis

5 Keys That Could Unlock a Big Win at ECU

Matt Rhule has some good ideas on getting his team to relax.

The odds makers who reside in Las Vegas have made East Carolina University a favorite over the visiting Temple Owls (tomorrow night, 7 p.m., ESPN2) and the reasons are mostly because Temple (6-0) is coming off a short week with a big game coming up in Notre Dame and the Pirates are a very good home team. There are a couple of things wrong with that thinking, though. ECU (4-3) is also coming off a short week and, while it is a good home team, Temple showed enough grit to survive a similar road test at Cincinnati earlier this season. Also, the Owls are wise enough to know that Notre Dame, while big, is nowhere near as important as the ECU game is to them. The matchups also seem to be in Temple’s favor as ECU is weak against the run and Temple has proven to be a formidable rushing team. The game is played on the field, though, not in Las Vegas, and if the Owls do these five things, they should be just fine.


  1. Commit to the Run

ECU gives up 188 yards per game on the ground. The Owls have not seen that kind of porous run-stopping since UMass. Mark Whipple had a good game plan against the Owls, stacking the box with eight. Instead of check-mating that with two tight ends and a fullback, the Owls played into Whipple’s hands by throwing the ball 48 times. They got away from their identity and threw a couple of costly picks that allowed an inferior team to hang around for three hours. They must stay within themselves, throwing the ball 20-30 times. If they have to, they must put more helmets on ECU helmets and knock them back off the ball.


  1. Rush the Passer

The Pirates employ two quarterbacks, one a passer and one a runner. The Owls need to blitz the passer and contain their lanes on the runner.  James Summers (No. 11) is the runner. Fellow junior Blake Kemp is the passer. Kemp has a problem with turnovers and, if the Owls treat him with the same respect they treated Christian Hackenberg with (none), they should be able to force a couple of turnovers. The old saying in football is that when you have two quarterbacks you have none and the Owls need to show why that saying is true.

  1. Block a Punt

This was Sam Benjamin’s specialty last season. No. 10 blocked two punts in the UCF game a year ago and one in the Charlotte game this season. Now, Adonis Jennings has joined the punt-blocking party, using his length and athleticism to block a punt against UCF last week. With Benjamin coming from the side and Jennings from the middle, blocking a punt would take pressure off a return game which has been shaky the last couple of weeks.


  1. Play-Action Passing

When P.J. Walker throws 20-30 passes (and not the 48 he threw against UMass), the Owls can have an explosive downfield passing game. They must rip the “out” pattern—the one that went for a Pick 6 against UCF—out of the playbook, though. Once they get Jahad Thomas going in the run game, faking it to Thomas should find receivers like Jennings, Robby Anderson, Ventell Bryant and John Christopher finding open seams over the middle.

  1. Protect the Ball

Easy to say, hard to do, but head coach Matt Rhule hit on it in his Tuesday press conference when he said the ball is going to come free on things like a bad snap or bad bounce but just fall on it and do not try to pick it up. Falling on it allows the offense—with its impressive arsenal of offensive weapons—to live another day. If the Owls protect the ball, they will likely live a day at 7-0—which would be their first-ever day with that record.

As Rhule says, just go play.

Shaken, But Hopefully Not Stirred

A long time ago a former Temple football father started a music craze with these three simple words:

Shake, rattle and roll.

Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” is widely credited with getting the rock and roll genre started in the 1950s and his son, Scott Haley, was an outstanding tight end for the Owls when the Owls used to throw to tight ends way back in the football stone age of the 1980s.

Scott Haley's dad. He rarely tailgated.

Scott Haley’s dad. He rarely tailgated.

Now at least a derivative of  those three words have entered the Temple football dictionary again as Matt Rhule mentioned his team appeared “shaken” in practice this week.  A report in the Philadelphia Daily News about this press conference (above) noted Rhule used the word “fast” three times but his use of shaken has got me rattled and rolled.

Under Al Golden, even when Temple was playing very good BCS-level teams (Uconn, Navy and UCLA come to mind immediately), the Owls always played with a “Temple TUFF” swagger. Golden even noted that coming off the field at halftime in the UCLA game before a national TV audience: “We always play Temple tough,” Golden said, adding, “that’s spelled T-U-F-F.”

Shaken never entered the Temple football vocabulary back then.

It has now. Sure, the Houston and UCF teams the Owls played the last couple of weeks were very good but they were no better than Uconn, Navy and UCLA back then and back then Temple was playing with MAC-level recruits.

High winds: Hopefully, the Owls can move out of the spread and go 2 backs and power football. Failing that, maybe some of those Shane Carden passes will blow into the waiting arms of Tavon Young.

High winds: Hopefully, the Owls can move out of the spread and go 2 backs and power football. Failing that, maybe some of those Shane Carden passes will blow into the waiting arms of Tavon Young.

Got to wonder if at least a little part of the shakes has to do with a loss of confidence in the leadership above the captain’s level and reaching to the very  top of the program. At least Golden had the good sense to use his breakaway 5-5, 150-pound back  from New Jersey, Matty Brown, as a change-of-pace running back and not a slot receiver. At least  Golden had the good sense to know if he found a tailback with Jahad Thomas’ elusiveness and explosiveness, he would use him like he used Bernard Pierce, behind a great blocking fullback,  to maximize his skills and not as a decoy in a spread offense. Golden never had a five-star tight end recruit transfer in from Florida but my guess is that he would have down something radical  like THROWN HIM THE BALL. Just a hunch. Then again Golden never hired an offensive coordinator from Tennessee-Chattanooga.  Probably because Golden never had any friends from Tennessee-Chattanooga.

Rhule’s right about one thing: The Owls appear shaken. What he could be wrong about are the reasons for the shakes.