Temple football: New Beginning, Part II

Watching Temple coach Stan Drayton interact with former Owls has been an educational experience and the best lessons have been off the field.

Go to events like Cherry and White Day, some road trips, and season-ticket holder day and it’s evident that Drayton has an appreciation for past Temple players that many of the recent Temple coaches haven’t had.

“I went to a practice and he just came up to me and introduced himself and said how you doing,” said Matt McArdle, a starting safety for the 1978 team. “He asked me who I was. I’m a nobody and he makes you feel like the most important guy there. It really makes you feel good.”

If he makes those players feel good, you can imagine how he interacts with his current players. It seems to be working because Drayton has stopped the transfer portal bleeding. Under the past guy, the portal players leaving were starters. So far, only backups have left under Drayton and we’re crossing our fingers and toes and hoping that pattern continues.

Watch this video. What a terrific job narrated by the one and only John Facenda. Great comments from Arians and former Temple President and Chancellor Pete Liacouras (RIP). Also a good look at the greatest uniforms any college team ever wore.

Drayton has a special connection to the Bruce Arians’ players, who came a little after McArdle. At the Cherry and White tailgate, Drayton took the microphone from disc jockey Kevin Jones (a great offensive tackle for Arians) and said, “We’re going to get this thing back to the way you guys are used to seeing it.”

You could tell Drayton meant it.

Then he gave the mic back to Jones and Drayton watched his wife line-dancing to the tunes and had a big smile.

As one of the three white guys in that spot on that day, I stood back and watched in awe and took in the general positive vibe with my friends from many years.

He made a commitment to them and he intends to keep it. He made a commitment to all of Temple.

If it sounded familiar to those guys–in their 50s now–it should. At one time, a charismatic new Temple coach named Bruce Arians made the same kind of commitment to those guys when they were teens and a lot of folks think that Arians worked miracles here.

Although he had “only” two winning seasons, both were against top-10 schedules and, given that background, an argument can be made that Arians did just as good a job as Wayne Hardin. Neither coach has the facilities Drayton does now. In all fairness, Temple doesn’t have to play that murderous schedule now that it did then. In the last five years, the Temple schedules were ranked 97th, 73d, 86th, 91st and 99th in that order.

With Temple’s recruiting base–46 percent of the nation’s population within a six-hour drive of the stadium–it’s reasonable to set occasional G5 league championships and bowl games every season as a baseline goal.

It’s still a tough job but the expectations aren’t out of whack. Nobody is asking to get Temple back into the Sugar Bowl, which is what Pete Liacouras asked of Arians. Winning the new AAC is a much more reasonable goal to achieve than consistently winning seasons against top-10 schedules.

They always say you show the most improvement every year from Game One to Game Two. That goes for seasons as well. This past season was about changing the culture.

Mission Accomplished.

It’s all about the wins from now on and the number on the left has to be higher than the number on the right.

Monday: Greener and Bluer

Stan Drayton’s first-year grade: A solid B

From this seat, it was never a case of love at first sight with Stan Drayton.

There were too many red flags associated with so many past negative Temple major sports hirings.

When a new AD comes in and conducts a so-called “national search” and picks his old buddy, it seldom works out.

Bill Bradshaw proved that when the former LaSalle shortstop flipped the ball to his college teammate second baseman, Fran Dunphy, to succeed the legendary John Chaney. In baseball terms, that was an E6.

Pat Kraft got burned so bad by Manny Diaz that his Neosporin ointment was a fellow offensive lineman at Indiana University named Rod Carey. That was comfort food after a bad breakup and hiring Carey was Kraft’s way of eating a bucket of ice cream at midnight while lamenting the girl who left him for the better-looking guy.

One hiring was bad. The next was a disaster.

So your first hope was that new AD Arthur Johnson would conduct a national search and his socks would be so blown off by a candidate he never knew let alone worked with.

When former Texas Football Director of operations Johnson hired a Texas football running backs coach he worked closely with at his prior job, the cringe factor was off the charts.

Particularly given past Temple hiring history.

While I disagreed with that hiring, my hopes were that it would work out just like my hopes were with Dunphy and Carey.

In those cases, hope didn’t get me sustained success in March Madness or multiple bowl games.

From a Temple football perspective, I knew at the end of the first year it would not work out with Carey and we wrote as much in this space after the 55-13 loss to North Carolina in the Miltary Bowl. No winning Temple football team I ever knew had losses as embarrassing as Carey’s, and that was a huge red flag. He got a D in his first year.

Drayton, though, has grown on me and has earned a solid B.

Yes, he had a head-scratching 70-13 loss to UCF but his team was way more competitive in most games than Carey’s team was in his first year. He gets As for improving the culture, stopping the transfer portal bleeding, recruiting, and overall CEO leadership.

What would have made the overall grade an A?

The D in game management dropped the overall grade to a B and that’s from a generous marker.

Drayton doesn’t deserve blame for the Navy loss. Everett Withers does. To me, it’s a no-brainer when you get a first-and-goal at the Navy 5 in the last minute of regulation, the logical play call is to fake a run, roll E.J. Warner right away from the pressure and, have him toss the throwback pass to tight end David Martin-Robinson who probably would have been wide open for six and the win. First-and-goal at the 5 the “illogical” play is a handoff to Edward Saydee who is just not a good goal-line back. You can’t settle for a field goal there.

Drayton doesn’t deserve blame for a freak-tipped ball interception that resulted in a loss to Rutgers. Just a great play by the RU guy.

What he does deserve blame for are questionable in-game decisions at Houston and against East Carolina. Better clock management on Temple’s penultimate drive at Houston would have resulted in a Zae Baines’ touchdown catch not with 1:22 left but with 25 or fewer seconds left and a signature Temple win. Milk that clock and make Dana Holgorsen use not one but two timeouts.

Bringing in Quincy Patterson, a 6-4, 252-pound backup quarterback for a sneak, would have “likely” secured the first down on a third-and-1 play at midfield against East Carolina and a win. A third-and-one pass is never a good idea unless you decide to go for it on fourth-and-one.

The kids were responsible for just one of the above four mistakes. The adults in the room were responsible for the other three.

Add it all up and it’s the difference between 3-9 and 7-5. That would have made the grade an A+. Hell, just three of the four would have pushed it up to an A.

Chalk it up to a rookie head coach making rookie mistakes. He seems to me like a guy who can learn from his mistakes and get the Owls where they need to go.

Winning AAC championships.

There are exceptions to every rule and if Drayton brings home another trophy to the E-O to sit alongside the Matt Rhule one, this hire will be the first win for the buddy system in Temple history.

Friday: A New Beginning

Monday: Greener Grass and Blue Players

Friday (12/9): Priorities

Monday: (12/12): Targets

An unnecessary heartbreaking loss

Walking through the concourse on my way to my Lincoln Financial Field season seats (yeah, I bought two even though I need only one), I peeked through the opening and saw that the Temple football Owls were wearing black.

Again.

Not a good sign.

The first person I see was a Dallas Cowboys’ and Temple football friend of mine named Jay and I shook my head.

“Not a good sign, they are wearing black,” I said.

We both know what that usually means.

Then I walked down and saw the Victory Engineer Family, long-time friends from Central Bucks East, and said the same.

Black wasn’t the reason Temple lost, 49-46, to East Carolina on Saturday but it certainly didn’t help. When God gives your school the best color combination in college football (Cherry with White), you don’t piss him off by wearing anything else.

A black cloud hovered over Temple all day in the form of a matador defense and a ridiculous play call at the most crucial point of the game.

Facing a third-and-1 with three minutes left, the Owls passed instead of running. They were up, 46-42. Had they plowed ahead for the first down there, they could have run out the clock and taken the momentum of a huge win into the offseason.

Instead, if they are really good at self-evaluation, they are kicking themselves right now.

After throwing an incomplete pass on that third-down situation, they came out with the intent to go for it on fourth-down. That was the correct call. The key call was the third-down pass, not the fourth-down punt. That third down should have been a run but Temple had a chance for a course correction on the next play and blew it.

Then East Carolina called a timeout and during the timeout, Temple head coach Stan Drayton changed his mind and punted.

Not good when your defense had a hard time stopping ECU all day.

Mike Houston’s timeout forced the rookie coach into a mistake.

Overthinking in my mind.

Stan should have trusted his instincts. If you can’t get a yard in two tries at midfield, you don’t deserve to win. The saddest thing is that Temple has just the personnel package for those kinds of situations and never used it.

To me, the sequence was a no-brainer.

You bring your 6-4, 252-pound backup quarterback, Quincy Patterson, into the game and you tell him to plow ahead for the yard. Then you give the ball back to brilliant starter E.J. Warner and tell him to run the clock out, win the game and get his teammates together to sing “T For Temple U.”

Kurt loves the fact that E.J is playing in the “Eagles’ Stadium.”

If Patterson gets two feet instead of three, you give the ball back to him and give him another shot. Two Patterson runs would have at worst killed 60 seconds of precious clock and, at best, given the Owls the ball to take a knee three times in the last minute.

You don’t punt it back to a team you haven’t stopped all day (except for one fourth-quarter sack).

Sad, because E.J. Warner has become a force to be reckoned with over the next three years at Temple with another 500-yard, 5TD performance. His dad indicated that E.J. will be here for a long time in a tweet Saturday night.

It’s a shame because winning really is everything and the Owls could have had everything on Saturday. Hard to settle for second place after Warner posted a day like this.

Maybe the Warners have enough clout with the powers who pick the colors.

We can only hope.

Monday: Season Recap

Friday: A New Beginning

Some other unsustainable Temple numbers

Photo in post below courtesy of Zamani Feelings

While looking for another team that was minus-4 in the all-important turnover battles, another group of figures stood out as even more troubling for the Temple football program.

Yes, the Owls were the only team in the nation minus-4 in turnovers but, checking through the boxscore, another figure stood out.

Twenty-one percent.

Only two of the 131-FBS teams in the nation hosted a game in a stadium where a figure as low as 21 percent of capacity was attained.

Temple was one. UTEP was the other.

Temple did better than UTEP but not by much this weekend. In raw numbers, tickets scanned by LFF personnel, Temple had 14,673 pass through the gates on Saturday. Assuming UTEP has that same technology, 10,758 passed through the gates to have a more enjoyable experience of watching a win.

Both UTEP and Temple played home games at 21 percent capacity. Every other home game this past weekend had at least 30 percent capacity.

Temple fans have an excuse. UTEP fans do not.

Being one of 80 teams competing for a bowl game among 131 teams is an incredibly low bar and it’s one the Owls have not only not cleared, but can’t even approach.

At least it’s been that way since 2019.

Texas El Paso fans at least have one more chance at clearing that bar next week.

It’s been the last decade since Temple was competing for a bowl on the final week of the season.

For both schools, you’ve got to wonder how long these numbers are sustainable.

There are a couple of unique problems here.

One, the two schools are playing in stadiums with capacities far outstretching their fan bases

Temple tried to address that problem when the Board of Trustees approved building a new stadium at 15th and Norris. When 20 or so neighbors screamed bloody murder, Temple became the only large school in memory to abandon plans to build a stadium on its own property due to objections from people living outside that property.

The other problem is the larger one.

A bad hire of a head coach can set any program back a number of years and it appears Pat Kraft’s hiring of fellow Indiana University grad Rod Carey did that to Temple. After getting blown out in a bowl game, Carey “led” Temple to 1-6 and 3-9 records. His utter contempt for recruiting and his “my-way-or-the-highway” approach hemorrhaged players out the door. That set back Temple years.

How many years?

It better not be more than this one. You can’t give fans who suffered through almost 20-straight losing seasons from 1990 through 2009 a taste of averaging at least eight wins a game for the next decade and tell them they have to go back to Hell after a decade in Heaven. Texas A&M fans are experiencing the same Heaven/Hell malady now and they are having none of it.

Another 3-9 appears likely this year although progress can be seen in the way the Owls have been competitive. Close, though, counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades, especially to a fan base beaten down by three years of losing.

Compare that to some other league games this weekend. UCF had 100 percent capacity (44,813 in a stadium that seats 44,206) for its loss to Navy. East Carolina drew 85 percent capacity (42,475) for its 42-3 loss to Houston.

At least we’re not Texas A&M

Winning that Homecoming Rutgers game probably would have boosted attendance by 10K per game the rest of the year because that’s a game where a lot of soft-core fans make a decision to come back based on enjoying a win. Grabbing a win at Navy and holding on at Houston probably would have meant a few more thousand against Cincy but that was not to be.

People make decisions to attend based on wins. Close losses don’t put fannies in the seats.

Season-ticket holders like myself got an email from Arthur Johnson asking to renew. Hard core people like me probably will write the check but the soft-core fans have been beaten down and should not be blamed for finding other things to do on Saturdays.

Temple is in Philadelphia, not Missouri, but a significant portion of this city is now in a “show me” mode when it comes to the football Owls. Win, and they are in. Lose, and they are out and the numbers over the last three years have reflected that.

You’ve got to wonder how long those numbers are sustainable.

Friday: ECU Preview

Temple-Cincy: Turnovers Don’t Add Up

Even Carl Friedrich Gauss, the 16th-century mathematician considered by many the greatest ever in his field, might be crossed up by some of the numbers in AAC football this season.

Particularly when it comes to Temple.

The Owls, a team that took Navy to overtime, lost 70-13 to UCF. Navy beat UCF on Saturday, 17-14, on the road. The Owls, who had gone two weeks without punting in putting up a 45-point average, punted the first two times of the game in a 23-3 loss to Cincinnati.

They should have been the first sign it wasn’t going to be their day.

Want more?

East Carolina, which visits Temple next week, beat UCF, 34-13, but lost, 42-3 on Saturday to a Houston team the Owls had beaten until 1:22 remained in the game a week ago. In hindsight, the Owls probably needed to run off a couple of more plays before E.J. Warner hit Zae Baines for the go-ahead score at Houston.

That was last’s week’s problem, though.

Gauss might have had the answer to this week’s one, though, because he was famous for citing variables to solve mathematical equations.

For Temple, what didn’t add up on Saturday was the turnover margin.

The Owls were able to avoid turnovers at Houston.

They were unable to against Cincinnati.

Temple lost two fumbles and had two interceptions.

Game, set and match.

When a team recruits as well as Cincinnati has (four-straight top AAC classes as ranked by either Scout.com or Rivals.com), the only way to beat a more talented team by the less talented one is to win the turnover battle.

When the more talented team forces turnovers–really, from Temple’s perspective they were unforced errors–the less talented team has no chance.

That pretty much sums up what happened to the Owls on Saturday. The Owls had two reviewed fumbles (initially called down) overturned, a run by Edward Saydee and a reception by Zae Baines. One of the interceptions was a perfectly threaded pass from E.J. Warner to D’Wan Mathis but the ball went off Mathis’ hands and into the Bearcats in the end zone. Mathis wouldn’t have even been in there had not Amad Anderson been suspended for a game and he was missed. The fact that it was only a one-game suspension probably means it wasn’t anything too serious.

Still, along with the turnovers, losing players like Anderson and top pass-rusher Darian Varner (injury) really hurt. Temple can’t afford to lose good players like that.

Cincinnati wasn’t able to beat any league foe by more than 10 until it arrived in Philadelphia simply because it was not able to go plus four in the turnover margin in its prior 10 games.

It was on Saturday. That was not because of their talent but because Temple couldn’t protect the rock. Tugging on Superman’s Cherry Cape didn’t help. With the loss, dating back to the 2012 debut of Matt Rhule, Temple is 2-17 wearing black uniforms against FBS opponents (wins over only Tulsa in the Geoff Collins Era and this year’s win over UMass).

The unis were the tugging on Karma. The turnovers were spitting into the wind.

Now an ECU team that has beaten up Temple the last two years knows the way to beat the Owls is to win the turnover margin.

That shouldn’t be a secret because that’s a tried and true football axiom.

On its end, Temple knows it has to protect the football like it’s the Hope Diamond in order to go into the offseason with some momentum.

The Owls should have known that before the Cincy game but this embarrassing loss illustrates that the focus this week should be on protecting the football. Even Stan Drayton pleaded with his team earlier this week to “eliminate the things that are slowing us down.”

Against Cincy, they didn’t listen.

Maybe in seven days they will.

Logically, the Owls should be able to beat a team that lost, 42-3, at home to a team the Owls lost to 43-36 a week ago. Lose the turnover battle, though, and all logic goes out the window.

Even the brightest minds in history know that.

Monday: Some Other Numbers

Cincy: Temple’s Super Bowl

Everyone please give this video a thumbs up and subscribe. These are three good dudes.

One of the nation’s best prognosticators, Kyle Hunter, of Kyle Hunter’s picks, had this reaction when I told him Temple hasn’t punted in the last two weeks.

“That’s a fantastic stat, Mike, love it,” Hunter said. “E.J. Warner. You can’t stop him. You can only hope to contain him, apparently.”

Temple had gone 134 years punting at least once in every game. The only exception was the 110-0 win over Blue Ridge in 1927. A lot of the credit for this little bit of significant Temple football history goes to a true freshman quarterback, E.J. Warner.

“You can’t stop him. You can only hope to contain him.”

Yeah, I know it’s a line borrowed from Michael Jordan’s days with the Chicago Bulls, but it has applied for the last two weeks.

Suppose it does so again tomorrow (4 p.m. start, ESPN U) against Cincinnati. In that case, Temple will have officially returned to relevance on the national college football scene because it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Owls don’t punt and lose to the Bearcats.

That’s because the Bearcats don’t generate much offense on their end and, in six AAC games, haven’t been able to get the kind of separation from league foes that teams like Memphis (37-13 over Navy), ECU (34-13 over UCF), SMU (77-63 over Houston) and Houston (38-20 over Navy) have done.

Even though the Bearcats are still in contention for the AAC title, their largest margin of victory was by 10 against Tulsa and Navy. They toughed out a 28-24 win over a USF team that Temple hung a 54-burger on in a 54-28 win. To their credit, they were able to beat a Navy team, 20-10, at home after the Owls lost to the same team on the road in overtime.

Considering all that, a 17-point predicted spread seems a little high and most of the smart money agrees.

On a cold, blustery day that doesn’t figure to get out of the 30s, Temple has a puncher’s chance. Cincinnati quarterback Ben Bryant is no more than a game manager and his downfield passing is suspect. Last week, he was only 1 for 8 in passes over 15 yards. He doesn’t have the mobility of Houston’s Clayton Tune and he’s the kind of stationary pocket passer the Owls’ defense thrives against.

On offense, no one expects the Owls to go puntless but just by moving the ball, they can certainly stay in this one. They have to prove that after a month of producing only around 10 points a game their 54- and 36-point outbursts of the last two weeks represent the lightbulb going on over the offensive coaching staff’s heads and not consecutive outliers bulking a season-long trend.

Defensively, they will have to do a much better job against the running game than they did in their last home game, a 27-16 loss to Tulsa. They will have to get to Bryant, put him on his backside, strip him of the ball or force tipped interceptions. Relentless pressure is Job One.

Head coach Stan Drayton stood in front of the team earlier this week and told them they will be champions. Not this year, but soon. Temple can either let the close losses to Navy, Houston and Rutgers that kept it out of a bowl game fester or it can push forward to let the rest of the world know Drayton was right in his hunch.

That’s because, unlike Temple, Cincinnati will be in a bowl game this year and Temple has a chance to show by winning it can beat a bowl team now, not later. So this is the Owls’ Super Bowl.

Drayton asked the Owls to eliminate the things “that are slowing us down” earlier this week.

The team responded, “yes, sir.” Words are nice. Deeds are nicer. The Owls have a very good chance of turning those words into deeds by no later than 7 p.m. tomorrow.

If they do, they will send a clear message to the rest of the college football world that Temple football is back now instead of some sort of theoretical championship future their head coach envisions.

Late Saturday Night: Game Analysis

Temple’s football No. 1 Lesson: Prime-time guys need help

Over in Munich, Germany, the old saying “Temple Owls are Everywhere” was on display in a hotel room a couple of days ago.

We can now say that both Kurt and Brenda Warner are by association Temple Owls, along with their son, E.J. Both were probably the only people in that 600-room hotel that were watching the Temple game that kicked off at 3 p.m., Philadelphia time, 2 p.m. Houston time and 9 p.m. Munich time.

That’s prime time and E.J.’s numbers were worthy of the Munich hour, passing for 486 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

Maybe we will see Kurt and Brenda at a Temple tailgate soon but until then we can only thank them from afar for sending their son our way.

When it comes to prime-time players, E.J. has proven to be one. On offense, both Adonicas Sanders and David Martin-Robinson qualify. Maybe you can throw in Edward Saydee off his last two weeks. Amad Anderson is trending that way and so is DMR’s tight-end buddy Jordan Smith. On the line, Adam Klein, Victor Stoffel, and Isaac Moore might not be prime time but certainly solid afternoon performers.

On defense, end Darian Varner is prime time. So are linebackers Layton Jordan, Jordan Magee and cornerback Jalen McMurray.

If Temple needs to do something to break through as an AAC title contender next season–and that should be the goal–those guys need help.

Owls will certainly need to add a bookend pass rusher with Varner’s skills, somebody who can cover receivers on the other side with McMurray-level talent and interior line pieces to stop the run and get off the field. Next year, there can be no more teams who score 43 and 70 points on the Owls.

Make that 486, not 436 (typo no doubt).

Offensively, while Saydee is improving it would be nice if the Owls could add someone with the ability to bounce off that first tackler like Alcorn State running back Jarveon Howard, listed as a senior but still has a year of eligibility left after this as a grad player. The former Syracuse recruit has 1,174 yards, 11 touchdowns, and a 5.2 yards per carry average. Before you think Temple has no chance at him, just remember that head coach Stan Drayton is considered a running back guru, and NFL players like Ezekial Elliott can pick up the phone and recruit Howard for him. The pitch could be that Drayton’s tutelage is the best route to a high NFL draft pick.

The “Cherry Rhino” … I like that nickname

Saydee had one good game but could use the competition. He might become a prime-time player down the road, but Howard is that now. The Owls haven’t had a running back strike consistent fear in the opposition since Ryquell Armstead, Jahad Thomas, Bernard Pierce, and Montel Harris, just to name a few. Howard would certainly do that on Day One as a Prime Time Player.

So are Warner, Varner, and a few others named above. They could use a good kick returner, too. They haven’t had one since Matty Brown but current Harrisburg High recruit Kyle Williams could be that player.

To break through and hold that championship trophy next season, Temple needs to add a few of those types of players. It doesn’t have to be a whole team of transfers, just one plugging in some holes and areas of need. The good news is they won’t have to wait on high school players. There is immediate help in the portal and how well Temple uses it is probably the difference between a 6-6 year next season or a 9-3 one.

Or better.

Friday: Cincinnati Preview

TU-Houston Football: Tune and Fine Tune

Anyone who has watched Houston football the last couple of years knows Clayton Tune is an NFL quarterback biding his time in college football.

Nobody who throws 30 touchdown passes–as Tune did last year–escapes the notice of NFL scouts. Tune has the size (6-3), arm and escapability that the NFL is looking for but he was outplayed in a statistical sense by someone who is going to be a very good college quarterback and might never get a sniff from the NFL.

Yet Saturday’s 43-36 win by Houston over Temple showed the difference between a very good college quarterback and an NFL one. E.J. Warner, whose size will keep him out of the NFL, outdid Tune in every area but the most important one.

The scoreboard.

Tune almost single-handedly led his team to the win and hit on a clutch touchdown pass that won it with 42 seconds left in regulation.

That was the story from the Houston side.

From Temple one, this game showed that the Owls have a lot of “fine-tuning” to do before the Owls can get the signature win that has escaped them so far in the Stan Drayton Era.

I was confident Temple would cover the 20-point spread (see my exchange with “College Football Picks” above). I wasn’t as confident the Owls could take this across the finish line. I was right both times but would have gladly accepted being half-right if the Owls could have avoided the loss.

After taking a 36-35 lead with 1:22 left in the game, Job One for the defense is to keep everything in front of you. How the Owls let a guy beat their defense by 10 yards for the game-winning touchdown was a real head-scratcher.

Had that guy caught a pass over the middle, broken a couple of tackles, and made his way into the end zone would have been one thing. Letting him get behind the defense cannot happen.

Period, end of story. Can’t happen. Shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.

Drayton called it a “misfit” and we have not heard that word since the run-game defense was torched for 300 yards in the 27-16 loss to Tulsa, It’s not just the kids. It’s the coaches. Some terrible play-calling on a first-and-goal from the Navy 5 cost Temple a win two weeks ago.

Another “coaching misfit” came on Saturday when the Owls, up 7-0 and driving, decided to call a bomb on a 4th-and-2.

Why?

You need two lousy stinking yards to move the sticks. That’s a simple pass-and-catch from E.J. Warner to Adonicas Sanders. If the Owls call that, they might go up 14-0 and put themselves in a better position to win than going down 14-7.

Before this, there were a lot of “misfits.” There were at least a couple in other areas at Houston. You can’t fumble a kickoff, which the Owls did. You can’t miss an extra point, which the Owls did. You can’t go for two early in the game, which the Owls did. You can’t do it and expect a win that would send a message to the nation that Temple football is back.

All those things can’t happen going forward and it’s one of the things that Temple is going to have to fine-tune before it can register a signature win.

There are two opportunities left to achieve that goal.

The next one is Cincinnati.

Eliminate the turnovers and the coaching and player “misfits” and that’s just the kind of fine-tuning that will finally put Temple back on the national football map. Cincinnati is good but, like Houston, beatable.

Tune won the last game. Fine-tune and Temple could win the next one.

So close.

By Saturday, we should know how far away.

Monday: One Priority

There is a small pathway for Temple to beat Houston

In my lifetime, I have watched only a very few masters in their crafts.

Wayne Hardin coaching a football game certainly is one. Leonard Bernstein conducting a philharmonic orchestra is another. Carl Sagan talking about the planets and Stephen Hawking discussing physics certainly were other examples.

This week I was again drawn to Steve Kornacki talking about politics in general and vote counting in particular. As late as 11 p.m. Thursday night, Kornacki said there is a small pathway for both the major political parties to control each chamber of the Legislative branch. Kornacki breaks down political races every bit as well as Hardin coached football, Bernstein waved the baton, and Sagan and Hawking had a handle on their respective fields.

Kornacki must have been reading my mind because that was exactly my thinking about this Saturday’s Temple at Houston college football game (3 p.m., ESPN+). It has been all week.

There is a pathway, albeit a small one, where I can envision the Temple Owls pulling off an upset as a 20-point underdog.

First, Temple will have to prove Saturday’s 54-28 win over USF last Saturday was not a one-off. That is, after a month of hovering around producing 10 points a game, the Owls figured something out and now can play what head coach Stan Drayton calls “complementary football.” Meaning the offense will need to contribute at least a third, with the defense a third and the special teams a third.

That’s been out of whack until now.

My theory is that it isn’t a one-off because the offense showed signs of being a representative outfit for the entire second half against Navy. Give them at least as much credit for that because the Owls were able to move the ball effectively against a defense that played well enough to beat a very good East Carolina team and “hold” SMU to 37 points fewer than Houston did.

That’s important because the Houston defense is the weak spot of that team. It allowed USF 27 points and SMU 77 points and, if indeed the Temple offense is a “1 1/2 off” and not a one-off, the Owls have a puncher’s chance. If the Temple defense was porous, it wouldn’t make a difference but the Temple defense has been consistently good for eight of nine games. It doesn’t need to play out of its mind to beat Houston. It just has to avoid playing like it did at UCF. Houston has been good, but not overwhelming. It “only” beat Rice, 34-27 and Rice lost 56-23 to a 2-8 Charlotte team. It beat USF (42-27) by a less impressive score than Temple did. In a 77-63 loss to SMU last week, it lost three more starters to injury on top of the three starters it did in the game before. That has to take its toll. Maybe the loss of available bodies will finally hurt a Temple opponent. Temple, on the other hand, is relatively healthy.

The outcome won’t be determined by the Houston team that shows up as much as the Temple one. Is the 54 points more a reflection on Temple or USF?

There are some clues. The 54 points came after a nice second half at Navy by the Temple offense.

So, on offense, one game is an anomaly. More than one game is something else and, three games–if the Owls can keep trending upward–could mean something special and send a message to the rest of the college football world that Temple is back.

Those precincts have yet to report but from what I’m seeing, there is a lot of Cherry on that map. Votes for the Owls have not been counted but will by 6:15 or so tomorrow night.

If the good guys have one more than the bad guys when all the points are counted, that’s all that matters.

Late Saturday: Game Analysis

Our Picks This Week: Only four games stood out to us as “mistakes” by Vegas. Indiana (a team that beat a very good Western Kentucky team) getting 40 points at Ohio State is way too much. At most, I see this as a 48-14 OSU win. Fresno State has improved from its one-point loss to UConn and UMass is playing out the string for Don Brown this year like Temple did for Rod Carey last year so both Fresno and Arkansas State should cover hefty spreads. San Jose State is a sneaky good team and should beat San Diego State closer to 24-17 than the 2.5 spread.

Record this year: 22-17 ATS.

The reaction: Admiration but not respect (yet)

 Regarding visual artistry, no one quite matches Temple University’s official team photographer, Zamani Feelings. The guy shoots from different angles and gets shots no one else does that are pretty breathtaking.

Telling a story, though, the champion is a fan in the stands and former Temple player Mike Edwards.

When the entire fan base was wondering if junior running back Bernard “The Franchise” Pierce would be coming back for his senior season (which would have been in 2012), a shot Edwards took captured the moment and removed all doubt.

The pre-game discussion about Pierce in the tailgates was split. Half of the guys thought had he come back for his senior year at Temple he would earn first-round money the next season. The other half said Pierce needed the third-round money now. Nobody thought he’d be higher than a third-round pick if he left after his junior year so we were looking at keys to his intentions and we got it later that day.

Pierce went over to then-head coach Steve Addazio and hugged him as if to say his Temple home career was over. Daz wasn’t happy and went out and convinced ACC Preseason Player of the Year Montel Harris to transfer to Temple in an attempt to replace the production of an NFL third-round choice.

Harris was the last Temple player to do what Edward Saydee did in a 54-28 win over USF: Gain almost a quarter of a mile on the ground. In 2012 at Army, Harris went for a school-record 351 yards and seven touchdowns in a 63-32 win.

Saydee didn’t reach that number, but getting 265 and three touchdowns was pretty darn good. On Saturday, Edwards captured the pretty neat photo at the top of this post.

So many stories in that one photo. 1) Saydee leaving both teams in the dust; 2) Adonicas Sanders way in the back with his finger in the air; 3) Isaac Moore celebrating a job well done with a block; 4) Stan Drayton reliving his All-American running back past by running for the touchdown, too; 5) A vertically challenged person holding what looks like a medical bag on the sideline (presumably oxygen for Saydee); 6) the smiles of the Temple players on the sideline.

That pretty much seems up the Temple reaction in one snapshot. As Henrik Ibsen first said, a picture is worth a thousand words.

The outside reaction, though, was somewhat less impressive. One UCF fan offered his congratulations and said he “admired” the Owls because they tried hard in a 70-13 loss.

Vegas, though, has not shown respect just yet.

If you thought the win over USF might bring down the point spread for Saturday’s game at Houston to low double digits (which I did before I checked), you’d be mistaken. Houston opened as a 20-point favorite despite having a defense that gave up 77 points on the same day Temple dropped a 54-burger on USF.

The message was loud and clear. The nation does not respect Temple quite yet and the Owls are going to have to go out and get it.

Just like Daz got Montel Harris.

Friday: Houston Preview