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’s sinkhole problem

With each and every passing snowstorm, thoughts of pulling up stakes in Philadelphia and downsizing to Florida seem more appealing every year.

At least to me. If I never see another snowflake, that would be just fine.

There are advantages and disadvantages to said solution. One is sinkholes. From my preliminary investigation, they are everywhere down there. There is no “sinkhole proof” area and, if your house is the unlucky one, you are out a huge deductable even with the best insurance.

Temple football has its own sinkhole problem and it has nothing to do with the ground underneath the E-O Complex.

Too much talent is eroding from the building and the talent brought in to replace it does nothing to address the depth problem underneath. Simply put, the Owls are in a situation where the starters have to stay healthy or the underpinnings of the program fall apart. Starters have replaced starters and even some top Temple reserves have joined the portal and nothing has been done to address that depth issue. Temple needed to address the starters leaving the building and, for the most part, it has. Depleted depth caused by key backups leaving? Not so much.

That’s true every year but moreso this one.

Two tackles came in to replace Dan Archibong and Ifeanyi Maijeh but Khris Banks, who provided depth at that position, is off to Boston College.

The Owls’ linebacker corps is largely untested in real games and, with the exit of Christian Braswell, better hope and pray that Ty Mason and Freddie Johnson make it healthy through what is hoped to be a 12-game season because there is not much experience behind them, at least experience playing for a winning Temple program.

In the above video, coach Rod Carey is excited for the season but presumably he was excited for last season as well. He can be “super excited” all he wants but the proof is winning more than losing. I’d rather have Carey dreading the offseason and finishing 6-1 than being “super excited” and finishing 1-6.

The offensive line should be pretty good but recent departures of top subs has loosened the soil undereath the starters. Iverson Clement and Ra’Von Bonner might find plenty of holes behind the No. 1 group but what happens should two or three go down? Those holes close up right away.

In the sinkhole industry, that might be a good thing. In football, where injuries are a part of the business, the whole house goes under.

Monday: Top 5 Portal Targets

Temple football: The Known and Unknown

Whatever happens in the 2021 football season, we already know something about it.

The paradigm is about to shift for Temple football and that’s out of necessity: From the Known to the Unknown.

Lancine Turay

When John Chaney was the legendary Hall of Fame coach of the basketball, he liked to talk about the known and the unknown. He tailored his game plans to the known.

They were pretty simple. On defense, he shifted his famed 2-3 matchup zone to overplay the bad guy’s best one or two players and took his chances on lesser talented players to hurt him.

On offense, I sat behind him in a game where Temple’s three best players were Rick Brunson, Eddie Jones and Aaron McKie. He called time out and yelled at the other guys on the team when they were missing shots: “From now on, I only want Brunson, Eddie and McKie to shoot the ball. Everybody else pass.”

There were a few expletives deleted from that conversation, but you get the idea.

If Chaney lost, he lost knowing that he had what for him was a good plan.

Now, by necessity, Temple head coach Rod Carey will have to develop his own plan.

Getting four-star players in from Power 5 schools might work for Temple football now but, what is known, that approach has not worked so far. In fairness, it’s never been tried at 10th and Diamond before.

The Temple football paradigm pretty much for the last decade has been to recruit as many two- and three-star players and coach them up into five stars. Haason Reddick, Tyler Matakevich, Muhammed Wilkerson and Matt Hennessey pretty much fit that profile because by the time they left, were coached up into five stars. Matakevich was the consensus national defensive player of the year in 2015 and Wilkerson and Reddick were first-round NFL picks. Hennessey was a second-rounder but you rarely find centers drafted into the first round.

North Carolina sent Temple 2 players last week.

The formula worked. Prior to the Memphis game of the 2020 season, Temple had more regular-season AAC wins than any team of the league’s championship era. After that loss, Memphis caught up to Temple (31-11).

It’s been downhill ever since.

Portal departures necessitated the paradigm shift from the known to unknown.

The marquee get of 2021 so is Florida running back transfer Iverson Clement, who was a four-star out of Rancocas Valley. They already added Illinois transfer Ra’Von Bonner at that position in December to go along with quarterback Duece Mathis. If Clement and Mathis start, it will be the first time in Temple history that the Owls will start two four-stars in the offensive backfield. It’s worth noting that it will mean something only if they play like four stars. Let’s see. Penn State quarterback transfer Kevin Newsome was the last four-star to come to Temple. He never saw the field.

The tradeoff is simply this: Temple is bringing in more four-star talent than ever before with the recent additions of two defensive linemen from North Carolina (Xach Gill, a 6-5, 290-pound tackle and Lancine Turay, who is 6-6, 280). Turay is a little more versatile since he can play inside or outside and you’ve got to like a 6-6 pass rusher with a decent vertical leap.

In my gameday program of the Dec. 27, 2019 Military Bowl, Gill was listed as senior Jason Strowbridge’s backup in the 55-13 win over Temple. He had one solo tackle to Strowbridge’s three but both underperformed the best name on that team, Storm Duck, who had five tackles, four solos and two for losses.

It appears that the Owls have at least offset the losses on the line of tackles, Khris Banks, Ifeanyi Meijeh (portal) and Dan Archibong (NFL draft) and are hoping Will Rodgers and Manny Walker emerge as effective edge rushers now that Arnold Ebiketie has transferred to Penn State.

Still, there is more work to do.

The Owls need at least one starting-level offensive lineman to replace Vince Picozzi (Colorado State) and another top linebacker to replace Isaiah Graham-Mobley (Boston College). Two of each would be nice, but let’s not get greedy here.

Or maybe do get greedy.

The good news is that there are plenty still available in the portal who, at least on paper, are just as good as those two. Since it’s a buyer’s market this year (and won’t be next), the sooner Temple adds those type of players the better, because other teams with similar needs are scouring those same lists.