Frank Nutile

Temple's bowl eligibility hangs in balance after deflating loss to No. 15 UCF

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Temple's bowl eligibility hangs in balance after deflating loss to No. 15 UCF

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The deflated tone of Geoff Collins voice and the stone-cold look on his face dimly painted the darkened picture of what his Temple team had just endured for most of the previous three hours.

A cherry-and-white Senior Day underdog story just had its fruitful initial chapters dissected and jammed into the paper shredder by an overwhelming force of football nature.

“That was a tough loss and we didn’t send the seniors out the way we wanted to,” Collins said.

“Tough” is just one way to describe the shellacking Temple absorbed at the hands at No. 15 and conference powerhouse UCF, as a 10-7 second-quarter lead evaporated into an ugly 45-19 defeat at cloud-covered Lincoln Financial Field (see observations).

The loss dropped the Owls to 5-6 on the season and leaves bowl eligibility hanging in the balance during next week’s trip to Tulsa.

UCF, on the other hand, improved to a perfect 10-0 on the season and tightened its grip on the “Group of 5” berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

“That was just a tough loss against a really good football team,” Collins said. “You can’t turn the ball over five times and expect to win games, especially against a team that is that good and very talented offensively, obviously. “

The Knights came into South Philly sporting the highest-scoring offense in the entire nation with an average of 48.6 points, presenting a challenge the Owls knew would be formidable.

But for the first 18:35 of the contest, the Owls answered every bell. They had a 10-7 advantage thanks to a nifty scramble by redshirt junior quarterback Frank Nutile, who found space and floated a perfect ball to senior wideout Keith Kirkwood in the back of the end zone.

But from there, the Temple upset wagon plummeted off the cliff as the Knights and their turbo-charged offense caught fire.

Thanks in large part to three Temple turnovers — two Nutile picks and a Ryquell Armstead fumble — deep in Owls territory, the Knights reeled off 24 points in a span of 9:11 to take a commanding 31-10 lead that silenced Temple’s pulse.

Nutile’s two picks in that span were ugly, especially the second one, which was thrown into triple coverage and easily picked off by UCF’s linebacker Kyle Gibson.

Nutile, who would go on to throw two more picks in the second half and four total in the game, was extremely hard on himself afterward as Temple’s overwhelming theme of mediocre QB play throughout the season lingered on.

“I just think I made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions with the ball. It’s very uncharacteristic of me,” said Nutile, who took over as the starter two weeks ago against Navy and entered Saturday’s contest with just three interceptions on 103 attempts as compared to six TDs.

“Obviously, I put the team in a bad situation. I put the defense in a bad situation. I didn’t play great today. It’s hard to win a game when the quarterback throws four interceptions. … I take that loss totally on me.

“I’d rather die than let those seniors down like that again.”

Nutile’s mistakes set Temple’s defense on a platter for UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and crew.

Milton whitewashed the Owls for 208 yards on 16 completions and four touchdowns. He also ran for 23 yards and another score for a combined five TDs on the day. Not that it was put in the best situations, but the overwhelmed Temple defense just didn’t have an answer.

While Nutile professed his apologies to the team in the locker room, Collins lamented on the fatefully miserable second quarter that saw Temple get outgained 122 yards to 57 yards when asked if it was the turning point.

“I think that’s pretty easy to say, yeah,” Collins said.

“Looking into [the seniors’] eyes before the game, how much hope and how much excitement they had and then conversely at the end, the hurt and the pain — I just told them to take their time. No one should be in a rush to get out of that locker room.”

As painful as Saturday may have been, there is still a glimmer of sunshine as the Owls can gain the bowl eligibility they’ve been yearning for with a win next week at 2-9 Tulsa. The Owls could still be selected for a bowl game with only five wins, but a bowl is more likely to select a five-win team with more of a pedigree and from a bigger conference.

Of course, there is a chance even a sixth win could get the Owls nowhere. Remember the 6-6 team from 2014 that was left heartbroken with no bowl invite?

Despite a 2-9 record, Tulsa is no gimmie for Temple. The Golden Hurricanes feature senior running back D’Angelo Brewer, the conference’s leader in rush yards for a tailback with 126.2 yards per game and 1,262 total rushing yards. And Tulsa just hung tough at South Florida last week, losing only by a 27-20 decision.

The Owls say the page has already been turned to Tulsa and they know what’s at stake.

“We just want to go out on a good note,” senior safety Sean Chandler said.  “We definitely want to get to a bowl game.

“This week is going to be my last game. But most importantly, we want to get to the bowl game and send each other out on a good note.”

“Every week, we talk about going 1-0 every week. That never changes,” Collins said.

“I think everybody knows what’s on the line for next Saturday. So we aren’t trying to make it bigger than that. “

Seniors say goodbye
Saturday marked the last home game for a studded senior class that includes Chandler, DE Sharif Finch, DB Artrel Foster, WR Adonis Jennings, WR Keith Kirkwood, DL Jacob Martin, FB Nick Sharga and DL Julian Taylor.

One more win will give this group of seniors 32 wins, which would be the most for a class in school history.

One-handed wonder
UCF star linebacker Shaqueem Griffin is an incredible story of perseverance and triumph.

Born with a painful defect that left burning sensations shooting through his left hand, Griffin had that hand amputated when he was 4 years old. But he never gave up on his football dream and overcame all obstacles to become one of the premier defensive players in the nation.

He starred on Saturday with three tackles, a forced fumble and a beautiful over-the-shoulder interception.

An amazing talent and story.

Frank Nutile gives Temple what's been missing to spearhead best win of season

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Frank Nutile gives Temple what's been missing to spearhead best win of season

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It took nine games, desperation for the senior class and an injury before the much-talked-about preseason quarterback battle rose to the level of controversy on North Broad Street, and after Thursday night, it’s hard to suggest anything else.

With Logan Marchi out again with a foot injury — Marchi did handle holding duties for field goals and extra points — Frank Nutile earned his second straight start Thursday.

Nutile didn’t disappoint, either. The redshirt junior turned in another impressive performance, leading Temple to a 34-26 win over Navy at Lincoln Financial Field (see observations). The win snapped a two-game losing streak for Temple and kept its bowl-game dreams alive.

“We knew what a competitor he was, how smart he was,” Temple head coach Geoff Collins said, “but just the command he had over the offense … I’m really proud of him.”

In his second career start, Nutile completed 22 of 30 passes for 289 yards, four touchdowns and one fourth-quarter interception that didn’t haunt the Owls. Nutile showed poise in the pocket and aggressively attacked the Navy defense.

Nutile had TD passes of 34 and 40 yards to Adonis Jennings, as well as another 33-yard connection with Jennings that put the Owls on the 1-yard line. Nutile would later connect with Jake Robinson for a TD that made it 31-13 late in the third quarter.

Big plays were a key part of the Temple offense, and with Nutile, the Owls looked far less conservative than they have in the past with Marchi under center. Nutile also had 19-yard and 24-yard hookups with wide receiver Keith Kirkwood. But on third downs, Nutile looked most comfortable. After failing on their first third down, the Owls rung off eight straight conversions and much of that credit goes to Nutile.

“The thing about Frank is that he’s just very consistent, very diligent," Temple offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. "He knows where to go with the football. He plays with a calmness of an older player. I’m not sure how much better he could have played.”

Nutile deflected questions about if he believed he earned the starting job afterward. “I'm not too sure about that,” he said, adding it’s the coaches’ decision. Collins completely ignored the question when asked about his starting quarterback.

Patenaude, however, didn’t avoid the question.

It wasn’t a ringing endorsement for Nutile.

“I’m going to go back and evaluate the film,” Patenaude said. “Can’t take anything away from him — he’s done a great job. … It’s a good situation for us to have.”

Nutile, in his two starts, has completed 71.2 percent of his passes for 579 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. The Temple offense appears more dangerous with him at quarterback. Nutile’s deep ball opens up the playbook, too.

On Thursday night, Nutile threaded the needle on a few bombs. His 40-yard TD throw to Jennings was perfectly placed, as was the 34-yarder and the 33-yarder to Jennings.

“The biggest thing with those 1-on-1 balls,” Patenaude said of Nutile’s deep ball, “is to be able to keep the ball on the field. I think he did a really good job with that.”

Jennings and Kirkwood had instant chemistry with Nutile against the Midshipmen. Jennings became the Owls’ first 100-yard receiver this season with a five-catch, 127-yard game and Kirkwood wasn’t far behind with seven catches for 87 yards and a TD.

“He’s a leader. I like him in the huddle,” Jennings said of Nutile. “He demands things. He makes the right reads, the right checks. I’m really comfortable with Frank out there.”

Temple improved to 4-5 overall and 2-3 in the American Athletic Conference. The win moves the Owls two games closer to becoming bowl eligible with three games remaining — next Friday at Cincinnati, Nov. 18 against No. 18 UCF and Nov. 25 at Tulsa. Reaching the six-win mark doesn’t guarantee a bowl game, though.

It’s been a transition season for the Owls in Collins’ first year as head coach. The five losses are already the most Temple has had since 2014, and at times, Temple hasn’t nearly resembled the team that Matt Rhule fielded for the past few seasons.

That much was expected. Temple lost seven starters on defense and fielded a young team under a new head coach, new everything. It was a rough start, but beating a Navy team that was ranked earlier this season was a positive. Winning out and getting a bowl game would be a major win for Temple football.

“Everyone’s really locked in, really focused,” Nutile said. “The seniors, guys like Jacob Martin, Cole Boozer, Sharif Finch … you can go down the line — those guys, they build this program. We just have a sense of urgency to send those guys out the right way.”

Temple-Navy observations: Quarterback Frank Nutile airs it out

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Temple-Navy observations: Quarterback Frank Nutile airs it out

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This time, Temple football didn't look like a sideshow in prime time.

The Owls on Thursday night snapped a two-game losing streak with an almost flawless effort in a 34-26 win over the Navy Midshipmen at Lincoln Financial Field.

In an ESPN Thursday night game Sept. 21, the Owls were embarrassed in a 43-7 loss to then-No. 21 South Florida. Tonight, Temple had its biggest win of the season.

Temple improved to 4-5 overall and 2-3 in the American Athletic Conference. Navy has now lost three straight games and dropped to 5-3 and 3-3 in conference.

• The triple-option has given Temple fits in the past, but the Owls essentially had three weeks to prepare for Navy with their last game against Army and a bye week.

Temple won this game in the second quarter by holding the Midshipmen to three points on a 19-play, 68-yard, nine-minute and 35-second drive to close out the second quarter.

It allowed Temple to take a 17-6 lead into halftime, which was huge since Navy got the ball to start the second half. Holding Navy to a field goal on its first drive was equally as big, especially after a 58-yard kick return, but the second-quarter stop was bigger.

Allow the Midshipmen a touchdown there and it's a 17-13 game. Whole different ballgame.

• Credit goes to Temple’s front seven, who didn’t get pushed around much at all in this game. But also credit the coaching staff for preparing this team for it. It certainly helps to have a dual-threat quarterback like true freshman Todd Centeio on the roster.

Temple held Navy to 136 yards on 52 carries — a lot of volume but not much damage. The Midshipmen averaged just 2.6 yards per carry. The Temple D held strong.

• Frank Nutile made his second straight start and the second of his Temple career with Logan Marchi (foot) still not healthy enough to play. Marchi did handle holding duties for field goals and extra points, however. Nutile was in control.

Nutile threaded the needle perfectly on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Adonis Jennings in the first quarter. He completed 13 of his first 16 passes for 164 yards and two TDs. Nutile and Jennings hooked up for another big TD in the third quarter, a 34-yarder. Nutile finished 22 of 30 for 289 yards, four TDs and one interception.

In two starts, Nutile has now completed 42 of 59 passes for 579 yards, five TDs and one INT. It will be hard to go back to Marchi after what Nutile has shown.

• A major reason the Owls won was third downs. Temple finished 8 of 13 on third downs. After failing to convert on its first drive, TU converted eight straight.

Converting on third downs are huge against the triple-option because it beats down defenses. It's important to move the chains when you have the ball. Temple did just that.

• The Temple offense was much less conservative with Nutile. Both of Jennings' TDs were big-yardage plays — 34 and 40 yards — and Keith Kirkwood had catches of 19 and 24 yards.

It was an excellent game plan by Temple offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude. The Owls weren't afraid to attack the Midshipmen, and they did so aggressively.

• One more note on big plays and third downs. What a gutsy play call on a 3rd-and-8 on the Navy 34-yard line with 1:50 left in the third when Nutile delivered a strike. The 33-yard hookup with Jennings put the Owls on the 1-yard line and sealed the win.

• With the victory, Temple needs two wins with three games remaining — next Friday at Cincinnati, Nov. 18 against No. 18 UCF and Nov. 25 at Tulsa — to become bowl eligible. Two wins doesn't guarantee a bowl game. Winning out would give TU a much stronger case.