The Case For The Defense

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Karamo Dioubate (72) who had a hand in the last title, could have two hands in this one.

The other day I sent a message to a politican columnist I know that said simply this:

“Keep calling balls and strikes as you see them.”

I don’t always agree with her—actually, very rarely do—but I respect the way she approaches her craft and the logic of the arguments she makes.

In this day and age of polarization, it makes sense to hear  both sides rather than look for ones that ratified a pre-existing view.

Later in that message, I mentioned to her that the pitch cast on the Phillies games does a much better job at calling balls and strikes than the humans behind the plate do. That’s because the computer—setting the batter’s box the way it should be (belt to knees)—doesn’t make mistakes.

That brings us to the case Temple quarterback Frank Nutile made at media day.

“We’re loaded,” he said.

His head coach, Geoff Collins, was more cautiously optimistic in that kind of setting but said after the bowl game that he was going to have a “ridiculous” team in 2018.

I interpreted that as ridiculous as in the good kind because of the number of key returning players the Owls have in 2018.

Those are humans, though, and humans, like the umpires, can make mistakes in those types of evaluations.

Setting up the equivalent of the “pitch cast” box to take an objective view is the fact that the Owls have three immovable tackles in the middle of the field in Michael Dogbe, Dan Archibong and Freddy Booth-Lloyd and options at both ends in Quincy Roche and either Nickolas Madourie and Karamo Dioubate. Madourie is a junior college transfer who had 17.5 sacks at that level and Dioubate, who has been in the interior in his first two college seasons but was a high school All-American at defensive end, which got him recruited by schools like Penn State and Alabama. If Madourie’s jump to major college football doesn’t translate, Dioubate should be able to handle the other end position. Hell, Dioubate is more of a defensive end than he is a tackle and the Owls might want to utilize his talents where he can create more Mayhem. Just a thought.

The Owls have really good linebackers and defensive backs.

Put them all together and this should be a much more impressive defense that held eight-win Florida International to just three points.

Nutile has played against that defense every day in the offseason and it might be one of the reasons he used the word “loaded” or Collins used the word “ridiculous.”

Those are subjective words, but there is a lot objective data backing it up. The ultimate arbiter will be the record, not the humans who call the balls and strikes.

Play ball.

Wednesday: That’s Special

Friday: Silver Linings

Burying the Nutile Graph

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My friend and former co-worker, Marc Narducci, wrote the definitive piece on Temple starting quarterback Frank Nutile last week. If you can get behind the pay wall, it’s worth the effort. It dotted all of the I’s and crossed most of the T’s and weaved the necessary quotes nicely throughout.

As good as this article was, if I was the editor, I’d have to tell Marc he buried the Nut graph by not even including it in his story.

Make that the Nutile (pronounced New Tile) graph.

Of all of the terrific qualities Temple’s starting quarterback has, he was the No. 1 passer in the nation last season in terms of making positive plays while under pressure. While being pressured by the defense—meaning hit, touched or spun out of a play—Nutile make more positive plays of more than 20 yards per game than any quarterback in FBS football last year.

That includes the six quarterbacks who were drafted in the first 10 NFL draft picks last year. Marc did not mention that impressive factoid about Frank Nutile at all, though give him credit for mentioning that Nutile had 11 touchdown passes and a 60 percent completion percentage in those seven games. Extrapolate that out to the 13 games he should have started and that would be more than 20 TD passes.

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Some guy with a beard pats Frank Nutile on the helmet

This is not to say that Frank Nutile will be a first-round NFL pick or he will be an NFL pick at all. The seven-game sample is not the same sample the first-round picks last year, but it bodes well for the 2018 season. Seven games, though, is enough to indicate that this guy is a proven guy under pressure, much like his quarterback coach, Adam DiMichele, was at Temple. Had DiMichele been granted his release by Penn State coach Joe Paterno, he would have started the 2009 Eagle Bank Bowl and the Owls would have had a signature win over UCLA. P.J. Walker was also good under pressure and chances are few Temple quarterbacks will have a signature drive like the one Phillip orchestrated with no time outs, 70 yards to go and 32 seconds left at UCF two years ago.

Having players like DiMichele, Walker and Nutile under center means a lot because that kind of fearlessness from a leader rubs off on his teammates. That’s a nice insurance policy to have considering much of this Temple fan base has been weaned on a lot of guys who looked like Aaron Rodgers in seven-on-seven passing drills but Mike McMahon in actual game situations. Chester Stewart, Vaughn Charlton and Mike McGann (22 interceptions in 2003) we are looking at you.

Fortunately, we are not looking at them in anything other than the rear-view mirror now.

One of the inspiring things about the Narducci article was the fact that his dad, Robert, a former quarterback at both Maryland and Louisville told him to keep grinding after the disappointment in losing the starting job to Logan Marchi last year. That grinding paid off when Nutile got his chance against Army, completing 20 of 29 passes and a touchdown in a game the offense did not lose.

It’s the same message the Anthony Russo family is giving to their son and no doubt the same message the Toddy Centeio family and the Trad Beatty family are giving to their sons. They have all seen what is on the other end of the grind, too, and the rewards are apparent.

Frank Nutile’s story has made that abundantly clear, even if the nut graph was buried so deep no one could find it.

July 4: 5 New Arrivals To Watch

Friday: Surprising Fireworks

Monday: How New Rules Impact the Owls

The Scrimmage: Sensitivity and Football

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Nowhere in any of these stories dating back to 2013 on this site will you find a negative word about Frank Nutile.

Someone is sensitive out there.

Sensitivity and football usually don’t mix and we got a post the other day saying because we have been impressed with Anthony Russo this spring we are “not giving Frank Nutile the respect he deserves.”

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Sensitivity and football usually don’t mix and we decided not to run the comment because it mentioned a valued poster (not me) and that’s against our rules to personally attack another poster.

Even more important is the flawed premise of the post: That we don’t love Frank Nutile. Liking what Anthony Russo brings to the table in no way diminishes our respect and love for Frank Nutile. The two thoughts are not mutually exclusive.  It’s OK to love BOTH Frank and Anthony and wish that both get playing time without diminishing the other.

Here’s what we have said about Frank in our most recent post:

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How the hell can anyone interpret that as a knock on Frank? Heck, I think even Frank thinks that if he has the same first seven games that Logan Marchi had he would deserve to sit. That said, I hope Frank does a Peyton Manning impersonation the first seven games.

If anything the most recent scrimmage proved it that Temple’s quarterback position is in a lot better shape now that than it was this time last year. Frank is No. 1 and Anthony is No. 2. Last year, four guys were No. 1 and head coach Geoff Collins said all four would play in the first game.

He lied, primarily because he trusted his offensive coordinator too much to make the decision. The OC recruited Marchi for Coastal Carolina. Marchi was the fourth-best quarterback in the Cherry and White game and that wasn’t even subject to debate. The other three were about the same. Now there are checks and balances in place in that Marchi is gone and Ed Foley is assistant head coach in charge of the offense.

Nutile no doubt is THE guy but competition is good for any organization and anyone who doubts that is a fan of the wrong sport.

Friday: 5 Things To Look for On Cherry and White Day

Spring (Practice) Is In the Air

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This is what will be on the ground for the first day of spring practice

Like last year’s Temple football team for instance, the last month of weather has been a tease. Those back-to-back 77-degree days of late February have been replaced by some brutal cold since. Since last year ended OK (not great), we’ll say by Cherry and White Day it will be nice and warm.

We think.

The calendar says the Owls start spring practice tomorrow, but it won’t look that way. Spring practice is in the air. Spring, on the other hand, seems a long way away.

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At least the new indoor facility is the equal to anything a P5 team has.

Either way, the Temple Owls’ football team will have to deal with the 1-3 inches on the ground or move the first practices of the “spring” a couple of blocks away to the spectacular new $50 million Aramark Star Facility at 15th and Montgomery.

That’s a call for head coach Geoff Collins to make, though.

Bruce Arians used to come to Geasey Field on spring practice days—there was no indoor facility back then—and open with “get your work done” in that Southern accent he developed while a player at Virginia Tech, even though he was from York, Pa.

Either in rain, sleet or snow, the Owls have a lot of work to do to address these questions (in no particular order):

What will Trad Beatty’s role be?

The super quarterback recruit from South Carolina obviously is a Dave Patenaude favorite but, in the entire history of Group of Five football, no true freshman starter has led his team to a G5 league championship. That factor has to be weighed in the development of Beatty and the goal of the Owls to win the 2018 AAC title, just like they did the 2016 one. In Frank Nutile, they have a bowl-winning quarterback and a guy who has the best passing stats in the nation against a rush. Juice will be awfully tough to beat out.

Who are the defensive backfield replacements?

The Owls lose three of their four starters at the key positions of cornerback and safety. The only returner is first-team AAC safety Delvon Randall. They will have to plug around the edges. The speedy Linwood Crump Jr. has the inside track on the left corner spot, while the right corner spot will probably be occupied by Rock Ya-Sin, a first-team All Big South performer who had more interceptions against Wake Forest (one) in 2016 than the whole Temple AAC championship team did.

Other than Ya-Sin, who starts immediately?

My money is on Nickolas Madourie, an incoming junior college transfer from Dakota College at Bottineau in North Dakota. Shortly after former Central Florida coach Scott Frost took the same position at the University of Nebraska earlier this month, Madourie rescinded his verbal commitment from the Knights. Madourie had 45 tackles during his recently completed sophomore season, including 17.5 sacks. If the Owls go three wides on offense, look for true freshman Sean Ryan from NYC to join Isaiah Wright and Ventell Bryant. Me, I hope they scrap the three wides, use a tight end (Kenny Yeboah) and a fullback (Rob “Nitro” Ritrovato).

We should find out the answers to those questions by April 14.

Hopefully, by then, spring will have already arrived.

Wednesday: The Greatest Cherry and White Ever

Fizzy’s Corner: Then Broad And (Now) Ridge

Editor’s Note: Now that Mack Brown says Temple has ditched the spread and gone back to the “Temple TUFF” offense it was known for the last two years, Dave “Fizzy” Weinraub has some nice things to say about Dave Patenaude. No nicknames for Patenaude quite yet, though.

By Dave (Fizzy) Weinraub

 Can you believe it?  For the first time, a bootleg at the goal line for a TD, and Frankie could have stopped off for a hot dog.  Then, some razzle – dazzle, where Frankie pitched to Wright, who then threw (finally) back to Frankie for a two point conversion.  There were even play-action passes on first down, (instead of drop-backs) and after turnovers, and even the second jet sweep of the year.

 

Don’t get me wrong, there were still up-the-guts at the wrong time, especially at first and goal, where we were still not efficient. It’s on first down, at first and goal when you have to show imagination.  But all-in-all, a remarkable turn around from the junior high offense we’ve been running all year.  There was so much improvement, I’m forced to upgrade the name of the offense from “Broad Street,” to the Ridge Avenue Offense.  Where Broad Street runs straight, Ridge Avenue twists and turns and curls.  Has Dave Patenaude seen the light?

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However, I’m still pissed.  If we’d been running this type of offense all year, we certainly would have at least two more wins.  Also, Frank Nutile has been simply terrific.  His only two interceptions were passes that bounced off the receivers hands.  When given time, his passing has been phenomenal.  So my question is, why wasn’t he the starter from the beginning of the season?

The defense which had been mostly exceptional against the run, was only okay.  It allowed some sustained running plays for a time, but then righted itself.  It’s still the pass defense, especially against the two-minute offense that’s been terrible all year.  I just don’t understand why we can’t do the same thing the Eagles do in that situation. They rush four  and play a five across zone at about 12 yards, with a deep safety on each side. Then the defenders can see the QB and the ball, instead of running with their backs turned.  Even the announcer Friday night said, “no one knows where the ball is.”  We’ve given up an awful lot of TD’s in the right corner of the end-zone all year, and that’s because number ten (Jones), can’t see the ball.  To stop Central Florida, we have to defend the pass.

Wednesday: Geoff Collins Unplugged

Friday: Our Annual Tribute to the Seniors

Sunday: UCF Game Analysis 

Can We Now Finally Say The “S” Word?

Can we now finally say the “S” word when it comes to Temple football?

(No, we don’t mean the first letter in the last name of the hero of the Pravda crowd who was finally and justifiably kicked off the Temple Fan Facebook page today. Expect more to follow in future weeks if they follow that guy’s smug and sarcastic lead.)

For weeks we’ve been avoiding it because this coaching staff could not be trusted and was not following the simple but tried and true principles of winning at Temple that have been outlined in this space for the last five years: Run the ball, control the clock, play defense, great plays on special teams, explosive plays in the play-action passing game.

The “S” word we’re talking about here is Sweep.

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Not having this kid starting from the jump a huge coaching error.

Yes, it’s just two games in the regular season and a game in the post-season but a sweep would turn this disaster of a Temple football season into another S word: Success.

Embracing the principles outlined here after year two made Matt Rhule a multi-millionaire and it seems, off a 35-24 win at Cincinnati on Friday night, Geoff Collins has moved a step closer to cashing in on his fortune.

There was more running the ball, more play-action, and more good plays on special teams in this one game than we have seen all season.

Let’s face it: Central Florida is going to win the AAC title whether it beats Temple or not next Saturday at noon. However, it will be another “S” word if the Owls become the lone team to hand the Knights a loss:

Sweet.

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Went 3-0-1 as all these underdogs won comfortably and the BC game was a push. Now 10-1-1 on the season against the spread. Key is waiting until late in the season.

It could happen.

Florida teams do about as well in the cold as Temple teams have done in Florida in September and October historically.

The Cincinnati team that Temple dominated on Friday night lost in overtime to an SMU team that gave UCF a great game in the warm-weather state of Texas last week.

Forget the fact that the coaching staff failed Frank Nutile (and their own kids and fans) by not starting him from the jump, all that can be done now is think about the future.

The future with Frank and the staff embracing these tried and true Temple football winning principles can be describe with another “S” word:

Satisfying.

One week at a time and an 8-5 season is now not the longshot it appeared to be two weeks ago.

Monday: Fizzy’s Corner

Wednesday: Geoff Collins Unplugged

Friday: Our Annual Tribute To The Seniors

Sunday: UCF Game Analysis

 

Blind Squirrel Acorn Night

On a night devoted to honoring the greatest Temple football coach in history, Wayne Hardin, the real find was the acorn the blind squirrel found.

The blind squirrel in this case was offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude and the acorn he found was quarterback Frank Nutile, who completed 22 of 30 passes for four touchdowns in a 34-26 win.

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Frank Nutile on the day he signed with Temple four years ago.

 

After Nutile (pronounced NEW TILE), performed admirably in a loss at Army, Patenaude wasn’t ready to anoint Nutile as a starter even though just about every Temple fan felt Frank was a huge improvement over the guy,  Logan Marchi, who started the first seven games.

Now, no matter what Patenaude says in the coach’s conference room, there’s no way head coach Geoff Collins is going back to Marchi now. Patenaude’s past history with Marchi–he recruited him for Coastal Carolina when Marchi was at St. Paul’s (Conn.) High–might have clouded his thinking and cost Temple at least a couple of wins given Nutile’s performances.

At the very least, a Nutile who would have started the Notre Dame game might have developed the kind of confidence needed to beat UConn and Army later on in the season.

Hindsight is 20/20, but the Owls are already behind the eight ball now having to win two of their final three games against league opponents. Patenaude still does some crazy things, like leaving the best fullback in the country on the sidelines when the Owls could have used him to jump-start the running game with 24-6 and 34-13 leads, but this was his best game as OC and that’s not saying much.

It did not have to be this hard and the acorn they were looking for all season did not have to be found in the ninth game but, better late than never.

Sunday: Fizzy’s Corner

Tuesday: Be All You Can Be

Thursday: Cincy Throwback

Friday: Cincinnati Preview

Saturday: Game Analysis

QB Casting Call

The Temperors held the first of two closed scrimmages on Saturday as even the Temple fans are getting ready. This should be on the Jumbotron pregame for Villanova (our suggestion).

If hint-dropping is taken into account, Frank Nutile would be under center when the Owls travel to Notre Dame on 9/2/17.

Hint 1: Nutile has been taking MOST of the snaps with the first team during camp so far. When Keith Kirkwood, Adonis Jennings and Ventell Bryant are all on the field at the same time, it has been Nutile throwing the ball to them.

Hint 2: On Media Day, Collins said “the team seems to move the ball better with him in there” and “guys tend to gravitate to him when he’s in the room.” That was all on a question about how he got the nickname of Frankie Juice.

Of course, Collins could be throwing us all for a loop and saying these things to throw the speculation one way and then call a play that goes the other. He does not strike me as that kind of guy, though. He did have his first of two closed scrimmages on Saturday night and the word was that “all four” quarterbacks looked equally good.

What Collins does have is not unlike a director looking for a lead man. He has four distinct types.

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FRANK NUTILE_ Much more of a “Jim Plunkett” type than the other four quarterbacks. Not very mobile or flashy, but gets the throws where they need to be. Plunkett won a Heisman Trophy and two Super Bowls, so the strong silent type could be what Collins is looking for right now.

ANTHONY RUSSO_ Definitely more flashy than Nutile and called “the light who brightens up a room” by no less a quarterback authority than Trent Dilfer. Russo has been compared to the Atlanta Falcons’ Matty Ryan, because he is a similar “type” quarterback with functional mobility (the ability to get out of trouble in the pocket to make a throw downfield). Ryan, like Russo, is from one of the three Philadelphia City Leagues (Inter-AC, Catholic, Public) and Russo had the better high school stats against better competition. Getting Russo to stay home at Temple was, as Joe Biden might say, a big f’ing deal and Russo’s success with the Owls might have a Pied Piper effect. Temple tried to recruit two players from the Catholic and Inter-Ac Leagues before, one was Ryan and the other was Rich Gannon. Both became NFL MVPs. Russo had a more outstanding Philadelphia scholastic career than those two and his getting on the field sooner than later might to out to be a big benefit for the Owls.

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LOGAN MARCHI _ When a group of Temple fans first saw Marchi’s high school film, they pretty much agreed that they were watching Johnny Manziel. The then Texas A&M quarterback used to duck out of trouble, like Marchi did in those clips, and make something happen with his feet—like a big gain in the run game or an explosive play in the passing game, even if the pass was thrown off the back feet. Marchi threw a couple of those back-feet passes in the spring game and was intercepted. Maybe it was more of an aberration than the norm, but he’s had to catch up since.

TODD CENTEIO _ Reminds me particularly of the guy they are trying so hard to replace, Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Phillip “P.J.” Walker. Like Marchi, he has more than functional mobility in the sense that he can get out of the pocket and make a big gain in both the running and the passing game. Walker looked to run a lot in his first two seasons, but enjoyed more success when he became a pocket passer in his final two seasons. Now the Owls are desperately seeking a guy like him and may be forced to burn a redshirt to get another version of Walker.

The first scrimmage, or reading, is in the books. It may take a second casting call before all the characters in this movie are aligned.

Wednesday: Ringing In The New Year

Friday: Perception Versus Reality

 

 

Collins Brings The Juice to Media Day

Marc Narducci talks Sean Chandler in this Media Day report.

Sometimes the most revealing answers come from the most innocuous questions.

Someone asked Geoff Collins a Media Day query about how Frank Nutile got his nickname and Collins all but named him the starting quarterback for the Sept 2. Opener at Notre Dame.

After Collins went to great lengths to NOT name a starter, even mentioning that all four quarterbacks will get simultaneous snaps in practice Tuesday, his answer gave at least a clue in what direction he was headed:

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“The offense kind of moves and plays better with him out there,” Collins said of “Frankie Juice” Nutile. “If you are just standing in a room, Frankie Nutile is just standing in a room with this group of guys and that group of guys and he’s just a guy that people gravitate to and one day I was out there and said it (Frankie Juice) and I can’t stop saying it, obviously.”

Collins did not single out any of the other three quarterbacks for praise, in all fairness he was only asked about Nutile. OC Dave Patenaude will have a say in this all-important decision, Collins will be the guy who pulls the trigger and, on Media Day at least, he was thinking Nutile.

There are a couple of reasons why Nutile might be considered a “safe” pick over, say, the other three. One, Patenaude made the comment about Todd Centeio questioning whether he would perform before “72,000 people” on opening day. (Does Patenaude expect 8,000 no-shows in the 80,000-seat stadium?) Two, if Nutile has less-than-stellar performance, it’s easier to go to Anthony Russo or Logan Marchi for the Villanova game. Then there is a third option. Nutile can go 24-33 with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 35-21 win, but he showed no signs of that kind of performance in the Cherry and White game.

Other revealing Media Day answers:

Leon Johnson Taking Snaps on Defense

This is a little surprising in the sense that the Owls have plenty of high-end talent on the defensive line and they probably need Johnson to prop up an area of weakness in the offensive line.

Nick Sharga At Defensive End

Collins said that the holdover coaches said Sharga would “give Dion (Dawkins) fits” as a one-on-one scout team rusher at defensive end. I hope those same coaches told him about Sharga being the best linebacker on the field, Tyler Matakevich included, in a “real” game, a 34-12 win over a Memphis team that beat Ole Miss in 2015.

Shaun Bradley at Fullback

If the above clue about Nutile potentially starting was not enough, Collins offered that he made the switch of Shaun Bradley’s jersey number from 18 to 23 because Bradley, one of the team’s best linebackers, is also working at fullback and “he and Frankie Nutile have the same number and can’t be on the field at the same time.” If Bradley and Nutile were fourth-team fullback and quarterback, this would not be a big issue. If they are pushing for first-team time, it is.

Friday: Where Are They Now, Recruit Edition

Summer Practice: Picking Up That Can

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As a matter of comparison, what has happened at the quarterback position since the departure of P.J. Walker has been simply a case of kicking the can down the road.

More precisely, four cans.

This summer’s practice isn’t all about picking up the can with the best ingredients but it will be the most intriguing development.

Collins, correctly, postponed the decision on starter until the summer practice that begins in a couple of weeks.

It probably won’t be announced on the first or second week, but probably settled on by the third or fourth week. No one would be surprised if it was revealed a few days before the Sept. 2 game at Notre Dame. Game notes being what they are, and a national television audience being what it is, the crew of the game probably would want to do their homework on the Temple starter on something other than the morning of the game. So don’t expect a game day surprise.

As it sits now, I cannot tell you who will start.

Collins probably couldn’t either.

That’s because no one really has separated themselves from the other in the four weeks of spring practice. Will it happen in the summer? Possibly, but it’s also possible that the talent level will be so close other factors have to be considered.

In Toddy Centeio, the true freshman from Florida, the Owls have a high upside guy. Maybe the highest. Still, when was the last time a true freshman led a team to a P5 or a G5 title? That’s probably the best reason for a redshirt year that includes time leading the scout team, building up muscles in the weight room and loading the head with modern offensive concepts in the film room.

That leaves Anthony Russo, Logan Marchi and Frank Nutile.

In Russo, the Owls not only have their highest-ranked quarterback recruit since Ron Dickerson was able to convince Kevin Harvey to take his Parade All-American certificate to Temple, but one of the top three recruits of any school from one of the three big Philadelphia City Leagues. Russo has a better pedigree that even a couple of NFL MVPs, Rich Gannon (St. Joseph’s Prep, Delaware) and Matty Ryan (Penn Charter, Boston College). Both Gannon and Ryan had 20 touchdown passes in their final year of high school play; Russo had 35. Same level of competition.

The Owls could go to Nutile, a game manager type who was nowhere near as effective a high school quarterback as Russo.

The appeal of Marchi is that he has the mobility none of the other three have and he’s a year farther along than Russo. Given offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s stated fondness for a dual threat quarterback, Marchi might be the slight clubhouse leader at this point.

Collins and Patenaude will kick these cans down the interstate as long as they can, but somewhere between here and South Bend they will have to settle on one. Right now, they would prefer one of the guys to be so much better than the other three that the player, not the coach, decides.

That’s what summer practice is for but it’s also to make the tough coaching calls if a player doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

Friday: Class Warfare

Monday: House Money