geoff collins

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.

Temple-Houston observations: Owls' offense gets off to sluggish start in loss

Temple-Houston observations: Owls' offense gets off to sluggish start in loss

BOX SCORE

In the end, it was just too little, too late for Temple.

Despite a second-half surge, a 20-point hole was too deep to dig out of for Geoff Collins’ Owls as Houston quarterback Kyle Postma went 25 of 36 for 226 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 81 more yards as the Cougars left Lincoln Financial Field Saturday afternoon with a 20-13 victory.

Temple dropped to 2-3 on the season and 0-2 in AAC conference play. Houston improved to 3-1 on the year and 1-0 in the conference.

The Temple offense was sluggish yet again, especially early on, which played a big role in the 20-point deficit they faced. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi had another uneven showing, going 20 for 41 for 182 yards, a touchdown and a three picks. And he could have thrown more picks if tipped balls went other directions.

Ryquell Armstead led the charge on the ground with 63 yards on 14 carries.

But still, with all the issues, the Owls were in a position to strike late and tie the game in the waning minutes after a second-half comeback that included a pair of Aaron Boumerhi field goals and a 1-yard David Hood TD reception on 4th-and-goal.

Temple took over at its own 8-yard line with 5:15 left and slowly but surely pushed the ball to midfield and faced a 3rd-and-10 with just under two minutes left. A very questionable pitch call that went nowhere left Temple with 4th-and-10 and the game on the line. Marchi’s pass sailed over the head of Armstead and so, too, did Temple’s chance at pulling the victory cheese away from the Cougars’ claws.

• Let’s get this straight: Could Marchi be better? Yeah, a lot better. But this Temple offense woefully lacks an identity right now. Is it power running up the gut? Is it stretching the field horizontally with jet sweeps and screens? Is it throwing it down the field? Is it uptempo? There’s no answer, and that’s not a good thing. It’s all over the place. Stick to something, at least for a little bit and let your team know what it is. While Marchi could be better, he isn’t necessarily being put in a position to succeed and he’s not getting much help. That said, the running game started to establish itself some in the second half, which led to digging out of the 20-point hole.

• The opening drive of the game was a microcosm of everything that ails the Temple offense right now. It’s all so disjointed. Forward movement washed away unforced mistakes. Marchi hit Isaiah Wright for 17 yards on an out route to get the Owls in business at the Houston 7-yard line. A stuffed run for a five-yard loss, an incomplete pass and a completely unnecessary intentional grounding where Marchi had all the time in the world to throw the ball away later and the Owls were out of field-goal range at the Houston 36. Let’s break this down: 1st-and-goal at the 7-yard-line to a 4th-and-goal punt at the Houston 36. One step forward, so many steps backward. It’s the theme that anchors this Temple offense.

• Ten penalties for 83 yards for Temple sure as heck isn’t helping the cause, now is it?

• I get the point behind college football’s targeting rule. And, for the most part, do I think it’s a rule that works? Yes, I do. But I’m not sold at all on the one called at the end of the first quarter on Temple LB Shaun Bradley, who entered the game with four sacks and 23 tackles on the year, fourth-most on the team. Houston WR Linell Bonner crouched down across the middle to catch a low pass from Postma. As he crouched and dropped the ball, Bradley came across and hit him high in that split second. Yes, it was a high hit. No doubt. But Bradley came in for a form tackle and it was impossible for him to shift his body in that split second. Thus the high hit. There was no intentional target and the hit was high because of the positioning of the receiver. Tough call that cost the Owls one of their leading tacklers for the rest of the afternoon.

• Two series of plays perfectly illustrated just how tough a day at the office it was for Temple. In the first, Owls corner Mike Jones picked off a Postma past in the end zone, giving Temple a touchback and the ball. But not so fast as he was flagged for a very ticky-tack pass interference call where both players were jockeying for the ball and position. On the next play, Houston’s D’Eriq King took a reverse 13 yards for the game’s opening TD. Momentum taken away and sent the other way. In the second, Temple’s Keith Kirkwood made a great adjustment and hauled in a 30-yard pass while falling down near the sideline at the Houston 6-yard line. After a review, it was ruled Kirkwood’s knee was on the sideline as he caught the ball and thus the pass was ruled incomplete. On the next play, Marchi was obliterated on a blitz while throwing and the ball was picked by Houston’s Garrett Davis. More momentum was taken away and sent the other way. But, hey, the good teams make and earn their own breaks, right?

• Shame we didn’t get to see much of Houston superstar All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver on Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound sophomore left the game in the first quarter with an injury and did not return to the contest. He was seen on the Houston sideline with ice wrapped around his left knee. Get used to hearing that guy’s name in the coming year. Hello, top of the 2019 NFL draft.

• Temple returns to the unfriendly road next week for a noon kickoff at East Carolina. The Pirates are not a great team, but the same can be said right now for Temple, which obviously still has plenty of knots to unravel in the coming week.

Temple sneaks past UMass behind Quincy Roche's monster breakout game

Temple sneaks past UMass behind Quincy Roche's monster breakout game

BOX SCORE

In the beginning of the week, as Temple began its preparations for Friday’s game against UMass, Quincy Roche had an inkling this was his chance to break out. That after watching Haason Reddick and Praise Martin-Oguike torture quarterbacks last season, he was ready to introduce himself as the next potential great Temple pass rusher.

Roche didn’t keep quiet, either, about his intentions. As the redshirt freshman became more acclimated, he assured junior safety Delvon Randall that this was his week.

“He told me that they weren’t going to be able to block him,” Randall said, “and he came out and proved it. … He came out, he was balling. He was a different breed today.”

On Friday night, Roche announced his presence to the Minutemen with a commanding performance as the Owls escaped Lincoln Financial Field with a sometimes sloppy 29-21 win (see observations). It was Temple’s second straight win and second of the Geoff Collins era.

Roche didn’t waste any time tormenting UMass quarterback Andrew Ford. He sacked Ford twice and recorded three tackles for loss in the first quarter. That alone was impressive, but the night had just started for the Randallstown, Maryland, native.

After the Owls regained the lead at 10-7 with 1:04 remaining in the second quarter, Roche blew up the UMass offensive line, strip-sacked Ford and then recovered his own fumble. That turnover sprung the Owls to another quick touchdown before halftime.

When Roche went into the locker room at halftime, he had three sacks and four tackles for loss but no single play had a bigger impact on the outcome than the forced fumble.

“That was huge for us,” Collins said of Roche’s strip-sack. “That sparked the offense right before the first half [ended] and gave us some life going into halftime.”

With his three sacks Friday, Roche became the first Temple player since Tyler Matakevich against Cincinnati in 2015 to have a three-sack game. He finished with eight tackles and four tackles for loss, one shy of the American Athletic Conference record.

Collins described Roche as a “dynamic pass rusher,” and believes Roche is developing into an every-down player. While the sacks will put Roche on the map, it was the defensive end’s play on first and second down, Collins said, that impressed him most.

One play, in particular, stood out to Collins, when Roche broke up a UMass jet sweep, which the first-year head coach said was just as big of a play as the strip-sack.

Temple prepared for UMass to throw, Roche said, and the Minutemen did. Ford tossed 37 passes against the Temple secondary, which allowed 382 yards to Villanova last week, and came away with 377 yards, but the Owls’ pressure proved too much.

While Roche led the charge, the Owls sacked Ford nine times. Sharif Finch and Sam Franklin each had two, while Jacob Martin and Isaiah Graham-Mobley each had one.

“Quincy is a tremendous player but that performance today,” Temple cornerback Mike Jones said, “it shocked me. He makes a lot of plays in practice, but that was a big-time stage for him and for him to make all those players, that was tremendous.

“It helped us a lot. But I think the D-backs, the secondary, we were holding onto our coverages. We were both helping each other out.”

The Owls introduced a few new wrinkles into the offensive game plan, as true freshman Todd Centeio saw his first collegiate action on the first drive of the second quarter. Centeio replaced redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, who made his third start and injected life into an offense that had another slow start.

Centeio completed two passes for 20 yards and picked up a first down, but as the Owls reached the red zone, Marchi came back in. Temple failed to convert on a 3rd-and-3, and then had a 43-yard field goal attempt blocked. Collins said they had a specific package for Centeio, but they exhausted it by the time they reached the red zone. 

“We knew all along that Toddy was going to get in this week,” Collins said, “and we were prepping him and we finally felt he was game-ready and he provided a spark.”

Marchi had a stagnant start against UMass, but he eventually settled in. He heated up in the second quarter and finished the first half on a high note. He hit Adonis Jennings for a 30-yard touchdown with a well-placed ball after rolling out right, and then an 11-yarder to Keith Kirkwood with 10 seconds left in the half. He finished the game 22 of 37 for 248 yards and three touchdowns. Marchi has yet to throw an interception, and through three games, Temple’s offense, which has looked inept at times, has just one fumble lost.

With Marchi, Temple began to showcase his athleticism more than it did in the first two games. The Owls ran several options with Marchi under center and he ran the ball seven times for 13 yards. While the options didn't hit paydirt, it wasn't something the Owls previously showed.

“We talked about all week using the quarterback run game a little bit more,” Collins said, “because Logan is ridiculously athletic. We want to make sure we use those things, use that package, use that skill set. He made some really nice plays on the run.”

Temple has another short week ahead, but perhaps its stiffest challenge of the season lies ahead Thursday night in Tampa against conference favorite, No. 22 South Florida, which has scored at least 30 points in its last 20 games, the longest streak in the nation.

The nine-sack performance against UMass was a result of Temple being able to rotate, Collins said, and going forward, it’ll be key as the Owls enter conference play.

“We have to continue that going forward,” Collins said, “especially as we get in our league with the dynamic offenses that we are going to have to face each week.

"Especially the one coming up here on Thursday night on ESPN. We have to be ready to rotate those guys and keep them fresh.”