geoff collins

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

BOX SCORE

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

BOX SCORE

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.”

Sluggish start dooms Temple, but was an offensive identity discovered?

Sluggish start dooms Temple, but was an offensive identity discovered?

BOX SCORE

The whole “tale of two halves” idiom has existed in football since even before the days of the forward pass.
 
It’s an old cliché that can be bandied about easily to describe the flow of the game and even the ultimate ending.
 
Sometimes that ending is a happy one with jubilant players jumping into each other’s arms on the sideline. Other times, it’s a somber ending that sees dejected players walk off the field with their heads down in disappointment at a lost opportunity.
 
And there was a time late Saturday afternoon when Temple, after clawing back, looked like it would write a final chapter flush with jubilation. But not all stories have happy endings.
 
Instead, when the ink dried, the final chapter of Saturday’s game against Houston was filled with the dejection and disappointment of falling short and downed heads walking to the locker room.
 
After falling behind 20-0 in large part to a miserable offensive first half, Temple’s second-half surge fell short in a 20-13 loss to Houston at seasonably brisk Lincoln Financial Field (see observations).
 
Temple fell to 2-3 on the season and dug itself a 0-2 hole in conference play. Houston improved to 3-1 on the year and 1-0 in the AAC.
 
After getting outgained 232 yards to 114 in the first half, including 130-21 in the first quarter alone, the Owls finally found a running game and offensive rhythm and outgained the Cougars by a 210-156 margin in the second half. But it was too little, too late.
 
“That team that played in the second half is really, really good,” Temple head coach Geoff Collins said of his Owls. “That first half, I thought we had some self-inflicted penalties. We were moving the ball and something would happen. We just have to make sure to clean those things up.
 
“We cannot hurt ourselves. When you’re playing a quality opponent like Houston, who’s one of the top teams in this league, you’ve got to make sure you’re executing everything cleanly, playing as hard as you can and you can’t beat yourselves. They’re too good and we beat ourselves on some silly things.”
 
That first half included nine penalties for 68 yards, two Logan Marchi interceptions and a mind-boggling series that saw Temple have a 1st-and-goal at the Houston 7-yard line only to wind up punting from the Houston 36 on 4th-and-goal after a run that was stuffed for a five-yard loss, an incomplete pass and a third-down play that saw Marchi run for his life backward and take an inconceivable intentional grounding penalty.
 
“I was initially just trying to make a play there,” Marchi, said of his costly intentional grounding decision that made sure the Owls didn’t open the scoring. “I just tried to make a play with my feet and, toward the end, just tried to throw the ball away. It’s not the best decision. You’re in field-goal range. Take the field goal, take the sack if you have to and get the points.”
 
It was another disjointed effort for redshirt sophomore Marchi, who finished the afternoon 20 for 41 for 182 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, the last of which came on a Hail Mary at the end of the game. Afterward, he lamented on his poor start, which saw him go 13 of 23 for 122 yards and those two picks in the first half.
 
“I was slow,” said Marchi, sporting the battle scar of a black left eye. “It’s obviously not how I wanted to start the game. … First half, we have to start off fast.”
 
“The intensity was there to start the game,” said Temple sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Wright, who finished the day as the Owls’ leading receiver with five grabs for 53 yards. “But you have certain plays that kind of happen that go the way you don’t expect them to. And it takes away from the momentum.”
 
For as poorly as the Owls played in the first half and for as much as they continued to woefully miss an offensive identity, they were still within striking distance, down just 13-0 at the break. But Houston scored on a nine-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kyle Postma to wideout Linell Bonner to make it a 20-0 game on the first drive of the third quarter.
 
That’s when the Owls decided to punch back, fueled by a power run game headed by Ryquell Armstead’s team-high 63 yards on 14 carries and the willingness to stick to it and trust in it.
 
With offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude observing upstairs in the booth for the first time this season, the Owls adjusted in the second half and decided to run it right at the Cougars, who were without superstar All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who injured his left knee in the first quarter and did not return.
 
After rushing for just three yards in the first half, the Owls scooted through the Cougars’ defense for 150 rushing yards in the second half.
 
“It all came together in the second half for us in the run game,” Collins said. “Some of the IDs were just a little cleaner. They just willed themselves. We said we’re going to pound the run.”
 
Down 20-3 heading into the fourth, Temple started the quarter with a one-yard TD pitch pass to running back David Hood to pull within 20-10 and liven a pulse. Then with 8:47 left, Aaron Boumerhi drilled his second field goal of the game and the Owls were suddenly alive and kicking.
 
With 5:15 left, Marchi and the Owls started at their own 8-yard line and slowly but surely pushed the ball almost to midfield with just under two minutes left. A questionable rush with Hood on 3rd-and-10 from the Temple 42 went nowhere, setting up the decisive fourth down. But a Marchi pass sailed over Armstead’s head on fourth down, sending Temple’s comeback chances away in the South Philly breeze.
 
Temple did get the ball back with 30 seconds left and no timeouts, but a Hail Mary from its own 30 fell way short and didn’t receive an answer from the football heavens.
 
The Owls don’t believe in moral victories. A loss is a loss and it hurts, but was something found in the second half?
 
“First half, we didn’t move the ball the way we wanted to. Second half, we picked up the running game and we executed the way we wanted to,” Marchi said. “We run the ball well, we throw the ball well and that’s our offense. That second half — that’s how we're going to look.”
 
Hello, much-needed offensive identity?
 
Notes
Temple starting middle linebacker sophomore Shaun Bradley was ejected late in the first quarter for a questionable targeting penalty when he hit Bonner high as Bonner crouched during an incompletion. It was a tough play as Bradley, the Owls’ fourth-leading tackler on the year entering the game, went in for a form tackle but hit Bonner high because of the receiver’s positioning. Officials reviewed the play and still deemed it to be targeting, leading to Bradley’s ejection. Fellow sophomore William Kwenkeu took over for Bradley and finished with a team-high eight tackles.
 
Temple junior running back Jager Gardner (knee) and senior kicker Austin Jones (knee issues stemming from last season’s torn ACL) are expected to miss the rest of the season.