Sick burn: Temple’s perception on television

The ESPN+ replay never showed fans in the background like this shot here. (Photos courtesy Zamani Feelings).

Had to bail on my good friends from the beautiful town of Palmerton at halftime on Saturday.

This is the background most fans see on TV.

I was having such a good time watching the game and talking that I didn’t realize the sun on that side of the field was eating me up until I looked down at my arms in the concourse.

Found a nice shady place in the second half to watch the game and avoided what would have even been a more painful Sunday.

Then I came home and rewatched the game on TV and saw what the kids today would call another sick burn.

The relatively decent crowd on the Temple side was never shown because the TV pointed to my side of the field, which is now the “visiting side.” They showed the crew from Palmerton and a few other Temple fans who decided to keep their seats in 121, 122 and 123 from a couple of years ago but never the more populated side of the field which once was the visiting side and is now the home one. There were about 10,000 times the amount of fans on the home side but that’s not what the nation saw. (Or whatever part of the nation is watching a TU-UMass game on ESPN+.)

That led to some of these snide comments on the internet. We will post one from the UConn board but there were similar comments on both the UMass and Rutgers boards.

You know what?

It did look like a dozen fans because the TV cameras are situated on the other side and shooting at what is now the visiting side.

Since the home side was moved a couple of years ago, the optics have been terrible. The Owls have taken an attendance hit since 2015, going from No. 1 in the AAC in attendance to now ninth with 25,864 over two games. They average roughly the same as SMU (26,509) and are well ahead of Tulsa (19,712) and Tulane (14,501) but nobody writes they are watching the SMU, Tulsa and Tulane games “in front of 12 fans.”

That’s what a 70K stadium combined with shooting the empty side will do to your national perception.

The TV cameras are permanent and can’t be moved yet there is a permanent solution to the problem that can be solved next year with the stroke of a pen in the AD’s office.

Move the fans back to the spots they had under Matt Rhule, Steve Addazio, Al Golden and the now-fired Geoff Collins. It was Golden’s idea to have the cameras shoot at the home side and AD Bill Bradshaw agreed. The other coaches inherited a good plan. Then he who shall remain nameless wanted the home team on the other side and Pat Kraft caved to his fellow Indiana grad.

With the challenges Temple has filling a 70K-seat stadium (most other teams in the same league don’t even approach filling 30K stadiums), why exacerbate the problem when you don’t have to? Shooting cameras at an empty visiting side gives the impression that Temple football is a failed product, at least from a ticket-selling perspective. In reality, Temple usually (during winning seasons) is in the upper half of the conference in tickets sold per game. It just looks empty in a 70K-seat stadium. When Temple decided to build a 35K stadium in 2016 (apparently dead now), the official mission statement from the university included this explanation.

From Temple’s own “project overview” explaining why it wanted a new stadium.

Why make it look worse?

Watching from the, err, Rutgers’ side a week ago I was very proud that Temple fans doubled RU fans in numbers and tripled them from a decibel level perspective. Temple has its fan challenges on days other than Homecoming and it is only going to get worse when teams like UAB, North Texas, Rice and others are added to the league. They don’t bring fans like Cincy and UCF do. (Heck, even Houston doesn’t bring people to Philly.)

Avoiding TV showing only the empty side of the field over the next few years is a sick burn Temple can cure without even a drop of sunscreen.

Friday: TU-Memphis Preview (taking off the gloves)

Expect Mr. Whipple to Squeeze The Charmin

The next time anyone tells you that a first-year coach cannot succeed with “other people’s players” and “it’s only his first year” offer them the example of UMass head coach Mark Whipple. (Steve Addazio’s debut also gave Temple its first bowl win in over 30 years with Al Golden talent, but that’s a story for another day.)

Mr. Whipple probably has
watched enough film to figure
out that the Temple linebackers
are the “Charmin soft” underbelly
of an otherwise pretty stout
defense so expect a lot of passes
to the tight end and crossing
routes underneath designed
to confuse that young group

In 1998, with “other people’s players” Whipple, who came over from Brown University, won a national championship at UMass. It was a FCS (then Division IAA) championship, but it was a championship nonetheless. That endeared him so much with the UMass faithful that they have given him two stints as a head coach, including the current one taking him to Lincoln Financial Field (7 p.m.) for a Friday night date against the Temple Owls.

Mr. Whipple is on the hot seat now, not necessarily for his coaching deficiencies but more due to the fact that it is impossible for an Independent not named Notre Dame to compete in the world of FBS football now. That doesn’t mean Temple should relax on Friday night because this is a guy who has always been good with his X’s and O’s going up against a rookie staff.

On December 19, 1998, Whipple’s Minutemen beat the then No. 1 FCS team in the country, Georgia Southern, 55-43, on ESPN for the national title.

That makes Whipple part of a very small club, a guy who is still coaching who has won a national title,


Mark Whipple displays the ‘][‘ upside down.

so beware of opposing head coaches smart enough to win it all.

Mr. Whipple probably has watched enough film to figure out that the Temple linebackers are the “Charmin soft” underbelly of an otherwise pretty stout defense so expect a lot of passes to the tight end and crossing routes underneath designed to confuse that young group.

It’s up to Temple DC Taver Johnson to anticipate that mode of attack and be prepared for it, but based on the first two games, there is no evidence that he’s up to that task. That’s where Geoff Collins, who is qualified in that area, has to step in and become interim DC, at least on a defacto basis, until the problems on that side of the ball get cleaned up.

On the other side of the ball, Mr. Whipple is smart enough to know that Temple’s supposedly innovative new offensive coordinator, Dave Patenaude, has run essentially only four plays and they are these (not necessarily in order): 1) Sideline passes to wide receivers; 2) Fullback dive to Nick Sharga; 3) A wide toss to Ryquell Armstead; 4) An occasional pass to the tight end, which is always dropped.

So much for innovation.

No reverses, no shovel passes, no halfback passes, and, in the last game, two touches for perhaps the most dynamic player this team has on offense (Isaiah Wright). Only two touches for Wright is coaching malfeasance at best and borderline criminal at worst.

Surely, Mr. Whipple has seen that and will react accordingly to stop those four plays. How much Temple improvises and adjusts on both offense and defense could very well be the difference between an embarrassing defeat and a blowout win.

If the former happens, Temple’s going to need a shipment of Charmin because this season will be headed for the toilet.

Saturday: Game Analysis 

On a Weekend without TU, Irish vs. UMass Will Have to Do

Umass at Notre Dame, NBC 10, Saturday, 3:30

Umass at Notre Dame, PHL 17, Saturday, 3:30

There’s a football coach named Kelly who is an innovator, known for his game day skills and has done spectacular jobs in more than one college football locale.

His first name is not Chip.

Here’s the third false
narrative floating around:
Umass might be better than
we thought and we should
have been prepared to be
in a game the entire day.
UMass stinks.
You can boldface that,
underline it, italicize it.

We will soon find out if Temple’s curious offensive game plan at Massachusetts on Saturday was the right approach because, right now, Brian Kelly is formulating his own game plan. Just a guess, but we’re figuring he will be borrowing a lot more from Colorado head coach Mike McIntryre—curiously enough, a former Temple assistant—than the current Temple brain trust.

Just another guess: Notre Dame will have a lot closer to the 390 rushing yards than the 67 Temple was able to put up against the Minutemen.

One of the false narratives floating around out there is that, because UMass was stacking eight in the box, Temple had no choice but to throw the ball and that was the reason the Owls were able to get 390 passing yards and also the reason they had no chance at 390 running yards. Well, does anyone really believe that UMass did not stack the box with eight once Colorado proved it could gouge the Minutemen? A careful review of the Colorado-UMass game tape showed that the Minutemen did the same thing to Colorado but the Buffaloes stuck with their plan of running the ball. McIntyre knew that running the ball accomplishes two things—scoring points and killing clock, keeping Blake Frohnapfel off the field.

Another false narrative floating around is that Temple eschewed the run because its offensive line isn’t as good as Colorado’s. Well, Colorado lost to Hawaii and the Temple offensive line was good enough to run on both Penn State and Cincinnati—far more formidable opponents than Hawaii. The Owls could have and should have bashed UMass, too. That game is over, but hopefully the commitment to the run the Owls showed in the first two games is not. In order to win out until ND, the Owls must go back to establishing the run.

Here’s the third false narrative floating around: Umass might be better than we thought and we should have been prepared to be in a game the entire day. UMass stinks. You can boldface that, underline it, italicize it. A mediocre Colorado team proved that two weeks ago and Notre Dame will prove it again on Saturday. Temple should have put this game away at 14-0 by going up 21-0.

One of the interesting story lines of Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m., NBC 10) will be how Kelly approaches this game plan. Does he throw the ball all over the lot or make a commitment to the run, no matter what Mark Whipple does? Without Temple football, it will be the next most compelling game to watch.

Heck, the Owls might find a few tricks they can use against Notre Dame that lead to some treats on Halloween.

Tomorrow: Five Other Bye Week Games

Thursday: Fifteen Perfect Plays

Lessons Learned From Dodging A Bullet

At the height of his popularity and veneer of invincibility, Muhammad Ali granted a pug boxer from Bayonne, N.J. a shot.

In order to sweeten the storyline, Ali noted that Chuck Wepner had a bleeding problem and promised that he could win with all body blows and to never touch Wepner’s face.

Saturday’s Temple at UMass game was a little like that fight, with the Temple game plan being remarkably similar to Ali’s.  The Minutemen were coming off a game where their run defense bled for 390 yards in a 48-14 loss to Colorado and allowed two 100-yard rushers. Temple had the nation’s third-leading rusher, Jahad Thomas.

Football is not rocket science, but everybody at the E-0 seemingly wants to be Wernher Von Freaking Braun.

If any team was set up to be punched in the face, it was Massachusetts but, the Owls, like so many other times in the last three years, outsmarted  themselves by throwing the ball on their first 2d and five situation of the game and then again on their first 2d and three opportunity, which came early in the second half. Even if that play fails, you are more likely than not facing a third and 1 or a third and 2 on the next one. Then you go Temple Tuff again and punch them in the mouth.

Punching them in the face with a run on 2d and five probably would have been the better call here.

Punching them in the face with a run on 2d and five probably would have been the better call here.

Sometimes, the game plan is there right in front of your face for the entire world to see but, for some reason, Temple chose not to see it. A game that should not have been that close was and there were a number of reasons for that, but chief among them was not taking a page out of Colorado’s book.

Being Temple Tuff means a lot of things, but what it should mean is punching a team in the face with a history of face bleeding and the Owls got away from that mantra. Being Temple smart means a lot of things, but it should mean not being too proud to borrow a game plan that worked against the same opponent a week earlier.

Middle Tennessee State scored 74 points on Charlotte yesterday. Hopefully, the Owls are not too proud to break that film down and borrow what worked for the Blue Raiders and, just maybe, score 75.

Otherwise, another pug fighter who doesn’t deserve it will be given a chance to go 15 rounds with a much superior foe.


What Were They Thinking?

As long as the Owls don't let the hype get to their heads, this game should be over by halftime.

As long as the Owls don’t let the hype get to their heads, this game should be over by halftime.

Sometimes, quoting a Deity sums everything up in a nice tight box with a ribbon on top: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Or, at least in this case, write.

Under the “what were they thinking” comes this little prediction from a University of Massachusetts’ fan named Daniel Malone disguised as a journalist: “I think the fan turnout at Gillette will be strong, helping UMass earn its first home win of the year.”

First off, even though the article was written a month ago, going off what he knew from last year it doesn’t make any sense. UMass was 3-9 last year in a weaker conference. Temple was 6-6 and a “strong” fan turnout at Gillette is about 12,000 spaced out in a 70,000-seat stadium. That faux “crowd” didn’t figure to intimidate anyone even then.

Knowing what we know now, though,  it will hardly would phase a Temple team that played in front of a near-capacity bandbox of nearly 40,000 fans in Cincinnati a week ago.

Not very much thought went into this pick, obviously.

Not very much thought went into this pick, obviously.

Secondly, much has changed in the first two weeks. The Owls have pummeled a Big 10 team, Penn State, that many had winning 10 games before the season started. Then they had a 34-12 lead into the fourth quarter over a Cincinnati team that was the consensus preseason favorite to win the AAC. As a point of reference, last year, a 6-6 Penn State team beat UMass, 48-7.  Other than Penn State, the two teams had one common opponent a year ago, Vanderbilt. The Owls handled Vandy, 37-7. UMass lost to Vandy, 34-31.The Minutemen lost to Boston College (30-7), the fake Miami (42-41), Akron (30-6) and Buffalo (41-21).

UMass lost its only game of this season to Colorado, 48-14.

Yes, a strong fan turnout will be the difference in this one.


Tomorrow: A one-word game plan.

Saturday: ESPN Gameday and Depth Charts

Sunday: Game Analysis

Monday: Photo Essay

Time Travel, Temple Style


Time travel is supposed to be impossible, something only Rod Taylor and Alan Young did in the great H.G. Wells’ inspired movie, The Time Machine.

Well, for any Temple fan motivated to make the six-hour trip to Foxboro, it will be like sitting in that time machine and punching the coordinates for 2005 or maybe 2006. The University of Massachusetts’ football program now is where Temple’s was then in more ways than one. The Minutemen are 10 years behind Temple, and it’s not just on the field of play.

In 2005, Temple football made regular appearances in bottom 25 (and 10) polls; now UMass does.

In 2005, Temple football made regular appearances in bottom 25 (and 10) polls; now UMass does.

UMass will have a nice little tailgate thing going on, with maybe a couple of thousand hardcore fans but nothing like the 30,000 fans Temple gets these days for tailgating. Once inside the stadium, about 15,000 UMass fans will look like a couple of hundred in the cavernous Gillette Stadium and the home field advantage will be pretty much negligible. It will be nothing like the 12,500 Temple students and 25,000 more Temple alumni that gave the Owls a solid home field advantage in a packed Lincoln Financial Field on opening day against Penn State.

UMass as a program will be coming off a bottom-feeder year in a bottom-feeder league, the MAC, and not a bowl-eligible year in a big-market league like Temple did. Now, Temple is knocking on the door of the real top 25, while UMass is firmly entrenched in the bottom 25, like Temple was back then.

A typical UMass crowd these days.

A typical UMass crowd these days.

UMass fans have a similar bond with Temple fans of a decade ago based on the road experience, too. Ten years ago, Temple fans had to sit in front of their computers—some with dial-up connections—to watch road games flicker on and off on the MAC access network. Now, all Temple road games are on real television. The only exception to that rule is this week at UMass.

In other words, the experience will be Temple football, circa 2005.

Or, in just one word, Hell.

College football Hell, the same Hell the Owls escaped from with a 2012 invitation to the then Big East. Time and circumstances allowed the Owls to hit the forward button on the time machine, but those same ingredients are working against upward mobility for the Minutemen. The MAC only accepted UMass as a travel partner for Temple. When Temple left for the Big East, the MAC had no need for UMass. The school and the MAC parted ways by “mutual agreement” but the MAC had all of the leverage here and now UMass is left out in the cold of independence, an almost certain death sentence.

When you are rejected by the MAC, there is no place to go but down.

Maybe there is hope for UMass in the next round of major conference expansion. There is no room in the AAC Inn now. Once Temple or UConn or Cincy is, say, promoted to the ACC or the Big 12, something in the AAC might open for the Minutemen but, right now, it looks like they are stuck in football Hell.

There’s no forward button on this Time Machine for the Minutemen but, once the Owls escape Gillette, they can safely return to 2015 with UMass still stuck in 2005.

If anyone can understand where UMass is now, it is the Temple fans who will make the trip on Saturday. If they experience a strong feeling of de ja vu, they will know why.

Tomorrow: What Were They Thinking