NCAA

'Genius' Urschel steps up to line for Penn State

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'Genius' Urschel steps up to line for Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- John Urschel has been labeled many things by the Penn State Nittany Lions. Some call him a genius with a mean streak. Others simply know him as a burly offensive lineman working on a second master's degree in math.

And now, maybe more important to the team overall, the soft-spoken guard has emerged as an unlikely -- but ideal -- leader in Happy Valley as Penn State opens preseason camp.

All in a day's work.

"He's a very, grounded young man, levelheaded. He's certainly prioritized his life right," offensive line coach Mac McWhorter said. "He's not a guy who craves a lot of flattery ... His idea of relaxing is much different (from everybody else)."

The big guys up front usually don't attract the notoriety that players like wideout Allen Robinson do. Robinson, an affable junior, led the Big Ten in receiving last season. But when it came time to taking players to conference media days in Chicago last month, Urschel was the only offensive player to go for Penn State.

"I think everybody knows by now he's a genius," Robinson said during a charity event in the offseason. And left tackle Donovan Smith even jokingly refers to Urschel, who boasts a perfect 4.0 GPA, as "Einstein."

Either way, it was back to work Monday after second-year coach Bill O'Brien whistled the first preseason practice into session at dawn. The top priority is to settle on a starting quarterback between junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and touted freshman Christian Hackenberg.

Keeping the team healthy and conditioned is also especially important with O'Brien coping with a downsized scholarship roster approaching 65 -- the limit mandated by the NCAA by 2014 for four seasons as part of sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. That means more reliance on walk-on players to fill depth, such as the perilously-thin linebacker corps.

Up front, beyond the transition to a new center, the team appears to be in relatively good shape this preseason with experienced players returning led by Urschel, a fifth-year senior.

The 6-foot-4 Urschel had dropped about seven pounds in the offseason from his 2012 listed weight of 307. McWhorter likes his flexibility and calls him one of the strongest players on the team -- a nice combination to have for guards who must pull on running plays and hold up against blitzes.

"He's not that vocal, but I say he definitely has leadership inside the huddle," Robinson said. "He's looked at a lot by players by how he studies film and the fire he brings to practice."

That attitude was evident during an outdoor conditioning workout during a cold early morning in February. The workout ended with strength coach Craig Fitzgerald pitting offensive against defensive players in a one-on-one, tug of war-type contest. The winner was the first player to pull the makeshift contraption -- and his opponent -- to a respective finish line about 10 yards away.

"OK, I want the biggest, baddest" player on each side, yelled Fitzgerald, using colorful language. Before Fitzgerald could finish his sentence, Urschel emerged from the offensive pack and stomped to the middle of the circle with a crazed look as if a gladiator ready to do battle. He easily beat his defensive opponent.

"That epitomizes his leadership ... John is not a rah-rah guy," McWhorter said in a recent interview. "His forte is leadership by example."

"When someone asks `Who wants to rep the offense?' Boom, John's out there."

Smith remembers first meeting Urschel in downtown State College while on a recruiting visit. He called the chance encounter "pretty awkward" at first.

"He just figured I was just a big guy on campus and figured out I was a recruit. He stopped and talked to me, and basically just told me what I had to do before I came in," Smith said. "Not a lot of people will just walk up to you like that ... They say first impressions are key."

Urschel is so respected he was asked to deliver an address on behalf of Big Ten players two weeks ago at the conference's luncheon. It was an honor that went to well-known quarterbacks the previous two seasons.

"I'm not nearly as eloquent as (Michigan State's) Kirk Cousins, nor as charismatic as (Michigan's) Denard Robinson, but I'll do my best. I took a course in public speaking my sophomore year, but unfortunately for me it was online," said a smiling Urschel, looking knowingly at the approving audience as if a comedian seeking applause.

Wearing a dark suit, the bearded Urschel appeared as if he could easily slip out to talk at a calculus conference. During the spring, he taught a section of a trigonometry-and-analytic geometry class three days a week. His bio lists him as doing research on "multigrid methods" and computational mathematics.

He told the audience that players should have four goals: To master the craft of being a football player; to get involved with the community; to help younger players; and to prepare for life after the game.

"Because our football careers are so short, and our lives hopefully long, planning and preparing for a life without football is the most important of these four goals," he said, "but also the easiest to neglect."

Urschel plans to pursue a doctorate and teach when he's done on the field.

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

Temple-UConn observations: Despite valiant effort from Marchi, Owls lose 1st homecoming game since 2008

BOX SCORE

That’s why football is a week-to-week game. Forget about momentum.

Temple found that out the hard way. After coming alive in a big road win over East Carolina last week, the Owls were humbled when a fourth-quarter rally fell short Saturday in a 28-24 homecoming loss to Connecticut at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Owls had one final shot at the victory with a drive in the final minute, but a Logan Marchi heave to the end zone was broken up.

The loss dropped Temple back under .500 at 3-4 (1-3 American Athletic Conference). UConn moved to 2-5 (2-2) with the victory.

• Say what you want about Temple quarterback Marchi (and you surely will after this game), but the guy is a fighter. Whether things are going his way or not, he continues to try to search for his receivers and attempt to squeeze the ball into those windows on the field. He made it two consecutive games with 300-plus yards passing as he was 33 of 54 for 356 yards with one touchdown and one interception Saturday.

• The game marked Temple’s first homecoming loss in nearly a decade. TU hadn’t suffered a homecoming defeat since a 7-3 loss to Western Michigan on Sept. 27, 2008. On that day, former Eagles DB Jaiquawn Jarrett was beaten in coverage on a double move in the third quarter for the game’s lone touchdown. Coming into Saturday, the Owls had won eight straight homecoming matchups by an average margin of 19.3 points.

• There was a rare sighting for Temple at the Linc: a rushing touchdown from a tailback. In fact, there were two. David Hood, who became the first Owls tailback to score on a run this season in last week’s rout of East Carolina, punched it in from one yard out to open the scoring in the first quarter. Ryquell Armstead weaved his way into the end zone for a 10-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter.

• Delvon Randall is simply a playmaker. The Owls’ leading tackler, Randall added another five stops in Saturday’s win. The junior DB also made a beautiful play along the sideline in the first quarter when he undercut an out route for an interception. It marked Randall’s third straight game with a pick. The Owls only have four interceptions this season and Randall has three of them.

• My colleague Greg Paone touched on college football’s targeting rule a couple of weeks ago (see story)We agree on pretty much all of the nuts and bolts of the rule. I’m glad it’s in place to protect players from violent and unnecessary hits. However, the more I see it called each week — and it seems like there is at least one in every game now — the more I’m starting to dislike the implementation. Temple defensive lineman Sharif Finch was ejected for targeting on Saturday when he went high on Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs on a third-quarter touchdown pass. Shirreffs sold the hit by jerking his head back as he fell to the ground, but it was definitely worthy of a penalty. Was it a late hit? Yes. A bone-headed hit? Absolutely. But one worthy of Temple losing a top defensive player for the remainder of the game? I don’t think so.

• Speaking of Shirreffs, it’s easy to see why the Huskies have the best passing offense in the AAC. He didn’t show it with yardage in this tilt (just 105), but he was able to connect on three touchdowns through the air. He also added 39 yards on the ground, including a key run up the middle late in the fourth quarter.

• The Owls simply aren’t a good enough team to overcome 12 penalties for 117 yards.

• Like any other major college football game around the country, Saturday’s matchup at the Linc had scouts from NFL teams listed to attend. Of course, the Eagles were listed for several scouts in their home stadium. While the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers were also among those expected to have representatives at the game, there was only one other team labeled for more than one scout besides the Eagles — the New York Giants. At 0-5, they can certainly use all the help they can get right now.

• Temple will look to rebound when the Owls travel to play their final non-conference opponent in Army at 12 p.m. next Saturday.

Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

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Temple eyes streak, Penn looks to dethrone Columbia, Villanova on the road

Temple (3-3, 1-2 American) vs. UConn (1-4, 0-3 American)
Lincoln Financial Field, ESPNews
Noon Saturday

Last time out
Temple beat East Carolina, 34-10, last Saturday.

UConn lost to Memphis, 70-31, last Saturday.

Scouting report
Last week, quarterback Logan Marchi finally got on track with his first 300-yard game of the season against East Carolina. This week, the redshirt sophomore will face UConn, the team he initially committed to in high school under former coach Paul Pasqualoni. Marchi was then denied after a coaching change was made. The Huskies have the worst passing defense in the AAC, giving up 399.8 passing yards per game, and have allowed 19 touchdowns through the air in 2017. If Marchi can play well for a second week in a row, look for Temple’s offense to put up some points. 

Another matchup to look at is UConn’s passing attack against Temple’s defense. The Huskies’ boast the best passing offense in terms of yards in the AAC, averaging 325.8 yards per game, but have only scored nine touchdowns this year. Temple, on the other hand, allows the eighth-most passing yards in the conference (253 yards per game), but is ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 26 points per game. Connecticut must convert drives into touchdowns against this Owls defense if it wants to compete.

What it means
Temple’s hopes to reach the AAC championship game might not be realistic anymore but its bowl hopes are still alive. A win against UConn would put the Owls just two victories away from becoming bowl-eligible, which after their start would be good for Owl fans.

Series history
Temple holds the 12-5 series advantage over Connecticut, and is currently on a three-game win streak.

What’s next?
Temple travels to Army.

UConn hosts Tulsa. 

Penn (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) at Columbia (4-0, 1-0 Ivy)
Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium
1:30 p.m. Saturday


Last time out
Penn lost at Central Connecticut State, 42-21, Saturday.

Columbia defeated Marist, 41-17, Saturday.

Scouting report
Penn’s strength is its rushing attack. They rank second in the Ivy League averaging 204 yards per game on the ground. Karekin Brooks has 543 yards rushing and five touchdowns so far this season. Getting the ground game going will be key for the Quakers this week.

Columbia defense has been strong so far this season. The Lions rank second in the Ivy League in total defense only allowing 316 yards per game and are third in the Ivy in pass defense. The Lions allow 194.8 yards per game through the air.

Series history
This is the 96th meeting between the teams. The Quakers hold a 73-21-1 advantage and have won the last 19 editions.

What’s next?
Penn hosts Yale.

Columbia is at Dartmouth.

Villanova (4-2, 2-1 CAA) at James Madison (5-0, 2-0 CAA)
Bridgeforth Stadium
6 p.m. Saturday


Last time out

Villanova defeated Maine, 31-0, Saturday.

James Madison beat Delaware, 20-10, Saturday.

Scouting report
Villanova has allowed just 1.6 yards per carry and 52 rushing yards per game this season. The Wildcats boast a strong scoring defense as well, the best in the Colonial allowing only nine points per game.

James Madison boasts the second-best rushing offense in the CAA averaging 223 yards per game and is second in scoring defense. The Dukes allow just 10 points per game to opposing offenses. Look for this game to be defensive showdown.

Series history
This is the 26th meeting between the teams. James Madison leads the series 14-11 and won 20-7 last season.

What’s next?
Villanova hosts Elon next Saturday.

James Madison travels to William & Mary next Saturday.