Temple-Penn State: When A Game is More Than a Game

We often hear, especially in times like last week after a tough loss, that “it is, after all, only a game.”

That’s easy to say for every week other than Penn State Week for Temple people. For  people who say “it’s only a game; it’s’ not life-and-death” … it is life and death for us who have waited for a win over Penn State all of our lives and desperately want to see one before we go to the other side.

lewis

Mr. Katz

Thinking about all of the great Temple fans that I had the pleasure of talking to in the concourses at the Vet, Franklin Field, Temple Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field, like Steve Bumm (see No. 4 in this story), NJ Schmitty, Shane Artim and Dan Glammer, among others, who never got to see this and, of course, Mr. Katz.  They are all gone and none forgotten and never had a chance to see Temple beat Penn State before going to the other side. How many more of us will pass this year with no chance to see a win next year?

This win is much more than for a chance to participate in a bowl game. It is for the respect of an entire city and state. Philadelphia has been force-fed PSU football coverage for 50-plus years when they already had a hometown team. The day Temple beats Penn State will be the day you stop seeing Temple students wearing PSU sweatshirts on campus. It is the day you will finally hear Temple football talked about on the radio and television stations.

owlsrevival22-L

Dan

So, for all those reasons, it is life and death. The Penn State game is much more than a game for Temple people and it has been for 73 years and it will be until the day Temple beats Penn State and hopefully that day is just a few hours away.

I think it is and I don’t think I’m looking through Cherry-and-White-colored glasses this time.

For all of the mismanagement on offense, Temple’s defense—particularly its defensive line—will win this game. Temple has an athletic and quick defensive line and Penn State has largely an inexperienced group of offensive linemen (and thanks to the Penn State fan who sent us that information). These guys are not walk-ons, but they’ve struggled. If Temple’s defensive line does what it did against Vanderbilt—with four SEC starters  returning from a team that went 9-4 in the best conference in America—the Owls should win this game. We are not asking the Temple defensive line to do something it is not capable of doing or has not done before.

shane

Shane

On offense, what the Owls have  is a lot of really good players with unique skills who are not being put in the best position to win. Temple should not be struggling to score 13 points against the likes of Houston, UCF and Memphis.  Temple has two potentially great blocking fullbacks in Kenny Harper and Marc Tyson and it rarely uses them that way. Temple has a potentially great tailback in Jahad Thomas and it rarely uses a fullback block at the point of attack to spring him for big gains. Temple has a potentially great tight end in Colin Thompson and rarely throws him the ball. Temple has at least two offensive linemen who will be playing on Sundays—Dion Dawkins and Kyle Friend—and rarely use those two with Thompson and Tyson running interference on toss sweeps to Thomas that could open up that entire offensive arsenal.

Speaking of that arsenal, Temple has a change-of-pace tailback who runs the ball well in space—Jamie Gilmore—and rarely uses him that way but fans jump all over him when he drops a catchable bomb when they should be jumping all over the coaches instead.  Keith Kirkwood (his OC called him Kirkland on a radio interview), John Christopher and Romond Deloatch—guys with magnets for hands and stick-em rubbed all over those magnets—are rarely thrown but instead target too many guys who do drop balls. The Owls have an extremely talented rollout quarterback, P.J. Walker, who they try to make a dropback passer far too much.



Owl Conundrum:
Temple gets no WR separation
or QB protection in those
formations but stubbornly
roll those formations out
week after week and wonder
why it struggles to score

This offense is a cluster-bleep of trying to fit good square pegs into horrible round holes.

What Temple has on offense is an OC from Tennessee-Chattanooga who is in love with a three- and four-wide formations that this personnel is not suited for and a head coach who is too nice a guy to over, err, rule his good friend. Temple gets no WR separation or QB protection in those formations but stubbornly roll those formations out week after week and wonder why it struggles to score.  With this talent and a more traditional two-back and I-formations with plenty of play-action, Temple is as formidable on offense as it has been on defense this year.

Maybe moreso.

For all that messing around on that side of the ball, I think Temple still wins this one in a game closer than it should be, say 13-10.

Throwback Thursday: Fenton’s Kickoff Returns

Temple beat Uconn, 56-7, and 38-24 in back-to-back years not all that long ago.

Temple beat Uconn, 56-7, and 38-24 in back-to-back years not all that long ago.

A couple of years ago, I wrote on this site before the Louisville game that Matty Brown was going to have a kickoff return to the house and that “the opening kickoff of the Louisville game would be a nice time to start.”

Two days later, Matty Brown took the opening kickoff to the house against Louisville.

statsnip

Sometimes, things happen. People started looking at me like I was Nostradamus after that kickoff.

OK, I’m going to write this as part of today’s Throwback Thursday piece:  Khalif Herbin is going to take an opening kickoff to the house and Uconn would be a nice place to start.

(We’ve already covered the Bruce Francis catch in 2012’s Throwback Thursday.)

I’m saying this not just because Herbin has 4.34 speed and Gayle Sayers‘-like moves in the open field but because Temple has a history against Uconn of shocking the Huskies with back-to-back opening kickoffs to the house, both by the same guy, Mak Fenton.

Fenton’s opening kickoff in the 2001 game led the Owls to a 56-7 win at Franklin Field. The next year, in Storrs, Conn., Fenton took the opening kickoff to the house in a 38-24 win. Both were 94-yard returns.

Temple1

Temple had plenty of incentive to beat Uconn those days. The Owls were kicked out of the Big East a few months before that 2001 game and told they were being replaced by Uconn. The Owls should have plenty of incentive now, too. If they want to win the AAC, and we presume they do, beating Uconn is a must. They must play like mad rabid dogs from the opening kickoff to the final whistle.

And maybe keep making those wonderful plays in the return game they have a history of making against this opponent.

Speed Kills and Speed Would Help

The Owls didn't have the speed at tailback to get outside enough to keep drives going.

The Owls didn’t have the speed at tailback to get outside enough to keep drives going.

It’s funny (curious funny, not humorous funny) how football works.

The hope—at least with a lot of Temple fans—was that Navy would get beaten up so much by a bigger, stronger, faster, Ohio State team that it would suffer so many injuries that would help Temple a week later.



“Give Temple credit.
A lot of that was all
the third and twos
we couldn’t convert.
We have been converting
those in the past.
… but they beat
our guys up front.”
_ Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo
err, five years ago

Instead, Temple was the school that suffered so many injuries that last year’s starting corner, Anthony Robey, had to play safety. Still, the biggest takeaway from the day to me was the Owls’ shocking inability to play the option as compared to the 2009 Temple team. On that day in Annapolis, the Temple defensive front handled Navy’s offensive line in a 27-24 win. So much so that this is what Navy’s great coach, Ken Niumatalolo said afterward:

“Give Temple credit. A lot of that was all the third and twos we couldn’t convert. We have been converting those in the past. … but they beat our guys up front.”

That was then. This was now: Temple was painfully slow at both defensive ends after showing some speed last week. Don’t know whether it was the heat or not, but Praise Martin-Oguike and Sharif Finch played most of the down and distance situations a week ago against Vanderbilt and those two have outstanding DE speed. Their backups, though, who did get a lot of snaps—probably because of the heat— are slow as molasses. Molasses on top of Navy’s pancake blocking is not a good condiment.

How has Temple gone from “beating (Navy’s) guys” to being beaten at the point of attack? Recruiting should have gotten better after the MAC, not worse. I’d also like to know how Western Kentucky—with Western Kentucky talent—beat Navy’s guys last year in a 19-7 win. Or how Duke’s guys did it in a 35-7 win. Playing Navy is tough, but coaches like Bobby Petrino and David Cutcliffe—and, heck, Al Golden—proved it’s not rocket science.

Herbin did not get selected No. 1 in the players’ draft for the Cherry and White game because his teammates like him. He got that honor because he’s a playmaker in the mold of the Seattle Seahawks’ Percy Harvin. The Seahawks find innovative ways to get Harvin the ball. It’s high time for the Owls to find ways to get Herbin the rock.

Herbin did not get selected No. 1 in the players’ draft for the Cherry and White game because his teammates like him. He got that honor because he’s a playmaker in the mold of the Seattle Seahawks’ Percy Harvin. The Seahawks find innovative ways to get Harvin the ball. It’s high time for the Owls to find ways to get Herbin the rock.

Going into the game, I thought players like Matt Ioannidis and Averee Robinson would have so much success inside at blowing up the point of attack that they would stretch the option wide and Temple’s linebackers and ends would have the speed to string the option out to the sideline. Instead, Temple’s linebackers were doing the tackling seven, eight, nine yards downfield because Navy was able to turn the corner time after time. The fullback dive play, which did not work in 2009, worked too much on Saturday.

Not a good sign. Neither was wearing black anything on a 99-degree day. That wasn’t well-thought-out. The school’s colors are cherry and white and there are enough innovative ways to make cherry and white look good. The song doesn’t say “Fight, Fight, Fight or the Cherry and the White … and the black.”

Speaking of speed, it’s also becoming increasingly apparent that until Temple recruits someone with “Bernard Pierce” or “Matty Brown” speed and pedigree, the Owls should consider moving Khalif Herbin—who is faster than both Pierce and Brown were and just as shifty if not moreso—to tailback for at least a few snaps a game as a stopgap measure. No one runs any harder than my favorite Owl, Kenny Harper, but he’d best serve the team as a lead blocking fullback for players like Herbin and Jahad Thomas. Harper can still carry the ball a few times for running plays up the middle.

Herbin did not get selected No. 1 in the players’ draft for the Cherry and White game because his teammates like him. He got that honor because he’s a playmaker in the mold of the Seattle Seahawks’ Percy Harvin. The Seahawks find innovative ways to get Harvin the ball. It’s high time for the Owls to find ways to get Herbin the rock.

All of this can be fixed for the Owls to become the best team they can be. They were not the best team they could have been on Saturday. They have a couple of weeks to tweak and experiment and put the players they have in the best position to win.

This Year’s Chris Coyer?

khalif

Twice as good as 1-11

Gotta wonder where this use of Chris Coyer was 10 other games (he missed one due to injury) because I think he could have won the Paul Hornung Award and the Owls would have been much more successful if he was targeted as little as five times a game.

Every so often, message board reading is about as good a way to check out the pulse of the Temple fan base as there is.

It used to be the post-game tailgates but, after an 0-6 start to the season, most of those familiar faces were gone.

So the message boards it is.

Some of the stuff is pretty well-written, like a post this morning from someone who calls himself “Owlfather.”

Now I don’t know if he’s a father, but I assume he’s an Owl and he pretty much put both this season and next in a nutshell by saying Temple has “crossed the Rubicon” with Matt Rhule and, if the team finished 1-11, he’s going to be in a Catch-22 situation because  he’s going to have a hard time holding together what was once the No. 30-ranked recruiting class in the country. (Now, depending on which recruiting service you subscribe to, it’s no higher than the mid-60s.) Catch-22 is a dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions, which is what Matt Rhule faces after going 2-10. Failure on the field could lead to failure in recruiting (teams recruiting against Temple will love to point out the Owls were 2-10) and failure in recruiting could lead to further failure on the field–a classic Catch-22 situation.

Props to that guy for bringing up both Catch-22, required summer reading my junior year of high school, and Crossing the Rubicon to put this season in perspective.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, today’s 41-21 win at Memphis notwithstanding. (For those wanting to see a complete replay of the game, click here and follow down the list to the Temple game.)

I love historical analogies and “crossing the Rubicon” means there is no going back with Matt Rhule.  It refers to Caesar in 49 B.C. faced with two choices:  To cross the Rubicon, confront Pompey (not Keith) and begin a bloody civil war to become a ruler of Rome or retreat, thus obeying the Roman Senate. He chose to cross the Rubicon.  The expression, crossing the Rubicon means that there is no going back, once a line or a point in time, however you’d like to interpret it, is crossed.

Same thing with Matt Rhule and Temple football.  It has been my position all along that Temple will not fire him BUT that he’s got to do a better job next year than he did this. So I don’t think the 2-10 final record as opposed to 1-11 changed that dynamic considerably. Had Temple beaten the teams it was supposed to beat going into the season (Army, Memphis, Idaho,  Fordham and UConn) and stolen the Rutgers’ game, it would have been making plans to attend the nicest bowl game the school has ever been picked as a participant. I also think that if you score 49 points in any game, you should have the defensive integrity to win it (SMU).

That’s got to happen next year and that’s why Rhule is going to have to look inward and ask himself if the soon-to-be 58-year-old Phil Snow is the right guy to stop today’s sophisticated pistol and spread offenses. I don’t think he is, but that’s a conclusion Rhule will have to come to on his own. Could he get Chuck Heater back? Heater had Temple’s defense ranked No. 3 in points allowed in 2011 and followed that this year by having Marshall ranked No. 23. Marshall, Marshall, Marshall. Or maybe Nick Rapone from the Arizona Cardinals? Would DC be a “promotion” from NFL DB coach? I think so, because Snow himself went from Detroit Lions’ DB coach (of an 0-16 team) to DC at Eastern Michigan and Rapone has Philadelphia roots. Speaking of Eastern Michigan, that school fired Ron English as its head coach and English was a very good DC at Michigan  before he got the EMU job. Maybe he’s available. So there are better DCs than Phil Snow out there and let’s go get one.

Winning today made the offseason much more palatable but there is much more work to do and we’ll have a clue whether it gets done first by the staff decisions Rhule makes in the next few weeks and second by National LOI day if he’s able to hold the class together.

Fourth and inches? Since Rutgers, it’s been P.J. Walker behind Kyle Friend for three first downs in three attempts, something we were yelling for him to do at RU so maybe he’s either heard or learned  at least something.

Great job by Morry Kamara. Thanks, Morry. P.J. Walker and Robby Anderson are stone-cold studs. Maybe next year is Temple’s turn to beat Penn State on a Hail Mary.

A Most Special Group of Seniors

favored

My favorite internet photo of the Eagle Bank Bowl because it shows only about 1/10th of the Temple fans who were there. Twenty thousand Temple fans traveling to D.C. for a bowl game is something I will always remember.

While paging through my copy of the Eagle Bank Bowl program from the 2009 game, I was stunned to see many of the current football players for Temple on that roster.

A college career these days usually is four years and most of those players would have graduated by now but, in my mind, 2009 represented the rebirth of Temple football from what was essentially a 30-year slumber and a lot of those guys were there.  Chris Coyer was throwing the ball to Ryan Alderman every day in practice and Coyer was named the Scout Team MVP the week before Vaughn Charlton started against UCLA in the Eagle Bank Bowl.

The best helmet by far this year. I hope they keep it.

The best helmet this year. I hope they keep it.

Who knows would have happened had Coyer started the bowl game, but I think he might have made just enough plays with his arm and feet to have won it in the second half after Bernard Pierce went down in the first half. Al Golden was 100 percent right in preserving Coyer’s redshirt at the expense of a loss to UCLA in a bowl game but, in retrospect, he was probably a lot more talented than Charlton and Stewart even then. I do know for metaphysical certainty that had Joe Paterno granted Adam DiMichele his release he would have had an extra year of eligibility and Temple would have probably won the MAC that year and maybe have had the same kind of year Northern Illinois is having this season.

Either way, as a Temple fan in D.C.,  freezing your ass off watching a football game never felt so good, at least for the first half.

Kamal Johnson, a defensive tackle, had a sack in the Eagle Bank Bowl and another in the New Mexico Bowl and is the only Temple player I’ve ever known to have sacks while playing for the Owls in two bowl games.

I hope he’s not the last.

Click on the photo for five upsets this weekend.

Click on the photo for five upsets this weekend.

One of the current seniors, Sean Boyle, spent much of the 2008 year (no, that’s not a typo) centering the ball to Adam DiMichele. Imagine that? Boyle played on an offensive line in front of DiMichele, Charlton, Coyer, Chester Stewart, Clinton Granger, Mike Gerardi, Connor Reilly and as a teammate to P.J. Walker. I once said “Hi, Pat” to Sean and he shot back, “Mike, I’m Sean.” Could not tell the difference between Sean and his twin brother Pat. Sorry, Sean. I will always remember both guys as great Owls.

I will go to my grave thinking that Chris Coyer was grossly underutilized by an offensive coordinator, Marcus Satterfield, who never really understood how his versatility could have created so many more scoring opportunities in the passing and running game.

While Ryan Alderman was not my choice to return punts this year (I would have picked the redshirted Khalif Herbin), I walked up to him and thanked him after an early game for not fair catching. “We need to make that an offensive play,” I told Ryan. (He’ll probably get off a good return tomorrow night. That’s my prediction.)

Juice Granger could have quit when they moved him from quarterback but he didn’t and caught a touchdown pass in the Cincinnati game. That was a great moment in a year devoid of great moments. Whatever you think about Juice, just remember, he was the quarterback who “managed” the team to 63 points in a win at Army last year and would have “managed” the team to more than 50 points against Fordham if the team adopted a similar game plan this season. The team was getting six yards a pop (5.8, exactly) against Fordham on the run in the first quarter but then inexplicably stopped running.

I talked to Cody Booth’s dad before the Houston game and lamented they haven’t thrown the tackle eligible pass to him. They still haven’t. Kid has the best hands on the team and he plays tackle, they should throw at least one tackle eligible pass in his direction. In the NFL, this is allowed on any play in which a lineman declares to the ref to be eligible. In college, it’s allowed only on fourth down FG attempts, which would be a perfect fake from a FG formation for Temple. In fact, I have serious doubts that this coaching staff even knows HOW to draw up a tackle eligible play on the blackboard. In the diagram below, the right tackle (in this case) would be eligible:

Cody Booth would be eligible if he lined up on the far right as a TE in this formation.

Cody Booth would be eligible if he lined up on the far right as a RT in this formation.

Paul Layton is the Montel Harris of punting. He will go down in my mind as one of the three greatest punters in Temple history, right up there with Brandon McManus and Casey Murphy. He understands the art and just doesn’t boom for the sake of booming. Temple’s downed more kicks inside the 10 this year than I remember in a long time. I think his game translates well to the next level.

In many ways, this is my favorite group of seniors because they were all around when it changed from losing to winning.

Things did not turn out the way I expected for them this year because of dumb coaching last year (running the ball 75.9 percent of the time on both first and second down, setting up third-down disaster scenarios) and even dumber coaching this year: No quarterback sneak robbed the team of a win at Rutgers, using a punter to attempt a 25-yard FG  against Houston when a perfectly good backup kicker (Nick Visco) was available cost them a 16-15 lead with less than 2 minutes left in that one. Visco later went 7 for 7 in from the same distance in extra points at SMU. That cost the team two wins right there. Not pounding the ball against terrible run defenses (Fordham and Idaho) cost the team two more wins. Matt Rhule spent this year learning on the job and these seniors were the Guinea Pigs. My stance all season was Rhule should have learned on the job at place like Kutztown, not a place like Temple. At the Temple level, this is a too big a business to hire a CEO who requires on-the-job training. The Temple community learned that lesson the hard way with the bottom line being 1-9 and there are simply no excuses for 1-9.

So it is with great sadness that we as Temple fans say goodbye to these players tomorrow night (7 p.m., ESPN3) in their final home game at Lincoln Financial Field. UConn is the opponent.

They deserved a lot better.

NO NAME POS YR HT WT HOMETOWN HIGH SCHOOL PREVIOUS SCHOOL

3 Clinton Granger QB Sr. 6-3 230 Philadelphia, Pa. George Washington Pierce College
4 Ryan Alderman WR Sr. 5-9 175 Downingtown, Pa. Bishop Shanahan
6 Blaze Caponegro LB Sr. 6-1 225 Allenwood, N.J. Wall Township
9 Levi Brown DL Sr. 6-2 300 Bethlehem, Pa. Liberty
10 Chris Coyer HB Sr. 6-3 250 Oak Hill Va. Oakton
11 Zamel Johnson DB Sr. 6-0 175 Staten Island, N.Y. Port Richmond Hofstra
15 Paul Layton P Sr. 6-1 215 Burnt Hills, N.Y. Ballston Lake Albany
21 Abdul Smith DB Sr. 6-0 205 Trenton, N.J. Perkioman School Rutgers
50 Jeff Whittingham OL Sr. 6-2 305 Atlantic City, N.J. Atlantic City
63 Pete White OL Sr. 6-4 330 Upper Marlboro, Md. St. John’s Maryland
74 Evan Regas OL Sr. 6-4 320 Toms River, N.J. Toms River North
76 Cody Booth OL Sr. 6-5 285 Millersville, Pa. Penn Manor
78 Sean Boyle OL Sr. 6-5 305 Towson, Md. Calvert Hall College HS
83 Chris Parthemore TE Sr. 6-4 250 New Cumberland, Pa. Cedar Cliff
86 Deon Miller WR Sr. 6-5 210 Highland Springs, Va. Highland Springs Fork Union Military Academy
93 Kamal Johnson DL Sr. 6-4 310 Willingboro, N.J. Willingboro
 Some of these guys I had the pleasure to meet and they are great people.

Logic fails TU braintrust once again

When this young lady saw the Owls line up in a shotgun five yards back when they needed an inch, she flipped her wig. Can't blame her.

When this young person saw the Owls  line up in a shotgun five yards back when they needed an inch, the fan wigged out.   All the fans watching in Philly were screaming at the TV for the QB sneak, too. Can’t blame them.

Every fifth grade student learns this basic tenant in Geometry class: The shortest distance between two points in a straight line.

Either way, with Walker taking
the snap behind Friend,
you are giving it to either your
first- or second-best player following
either your first- or second-best player

Little Matty Rhule must have called in sick that day in 1985 because on Saturday, facing a fourth-and-inches from the Rutgers’ 15 with less than two minutes remaining, the Temple head football coach elected to run a play to the halfback, Kenny Harper, out of a shotgun formation instead of sneaking his 6-1 quarterback, P.J. Walker, straight ahead for the three or four inches needed for a first down.

Since Rutgers was out of time outs, had the Owls secured that first down, all that was left was three kneel downs for what would have been Temple’s first-ever AAC win. Instead, Rutgers stopped a slow developing play two yards into the backfield, got the ball back and quarterback Gary Nova executed an effective drive that resulted in a 23-20 win for the Scarlet Knights.

What made the curious play call all the more egregious was the fact that Temple has one of the best centers in the country in sophomore Kyle Friend, a 6-2, 305-pound behemoth who neutralized Notre Dame All-American Louis Nix III in the Owls’ opener. Arguably, Friend is the Owls’ best player. Before the season, Rhule said that the team gave out single-digit numbers to the nine “toughest” guys on the team but that the only reason Friend did not get No. 1 was because offensive linemen are not allowed to wear single digits. He might not be the best player only because of what has happened over the last few weeks, but certainly is the toughest.

Arguably, because the team’s best player over the last few weeks has turned out to be Walker, his true freshman quarterback. Either way, with Walker taking the snap over Friend, you are giving the ball to either your first- or second-best player followed through the hole by either your first- or second-best player.

For a head coach, failing geometry is one thing but failing logic is far worse.

Related:

http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com/article/20121127/NEWS01/121127009/Johnson-fired-after-one-season-USM

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaf/2013/10/10/coachs-corner-ball-state-coach-pete-lembo/2959833/