Navy football

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.

Temple, Matt Rhule deliver AAC championship with win over Navy

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Temple, Matt Rhule deliver AAC championship with win over Navy

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The genesis came nearly four years ago when Matt Rhule walked down the cheerleader and band-lined hallway at the Liacouras Center, greeting fans and shaking the hands of those who took the time to come as he made his way to the to the podium for his introductory press conference. In previous days, he was named Temple’s head coach after leaving the previous regime at Temple for a one-year stint on Tom Coughlin’s staff with the New York Giants.
 
When Rhule spoke that cold December day in 2012, he promised he would bring Temple a championship. Any type of championship. Hardware that the long-suffering program, its players, its fans and its alumni could be proud of.
 
Along the way, there were bumps in the road that brought ridicule to that promise.
 
There was the 2-10 season from hell in 2013 that included losses to Idaho and Fordham. There was the 6-6 season of frustration in 2014 when Rhule had to tell his players, notably his heartbroken seniors, that no bowl wanted anything to do with them even though they were eligible to play in one. There was the hoopla of a dream 2015 season that ended with the nightmare of losses to Houston in the conference title game and Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl. And then there was earlier this season when the Owls seemed without a sense of direction after a painful 3-3 start.
 
But through all of the muck and grime, Rhule kept his players believing in his promise.
 
And on Saturday afternoon, nearly four years to the day he made that promise, he and his players delivered, at the Naval Academy, of all places.
 
Phillip Walker, the four-year starter at quarterback who’s been with Rhule the entire way, was stellar with 16 completions for 199 yards and two touchdown passes and Temple’s defense shut down No. 19 Navy’s vaunted rushing attack as the Owls won the American Athletic Conference title game on Saturday with a 34-10 victory at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium (see Instant Replay).
 
The triumph pushed the Owls’ record to 10-3 and marks just the second conference title in Temple football history and first since the Owls brought home a Middle Atlantic Conference championship in 1967.
 
“For me, it means the promise has been fulfilled,” Temple’s victorious head coach said after the game. “[Athletics officials] were sitting there with me there in the locker after we lost to Fordham our first year. And to bring it full circle, so that to me, is almost a relief of a job well done.
 
“But the true thing for me about this is just to have these players to be able to call themselves champions. That’s the way they live their lives. When you win this conference, you’ve done something special. This a fantastic conference with great teams from top to bottom.
 
“For us to say we did it, that’s the accomplishment. … The competitors we have on our team, the men we have on our team – they were ready to take one more step. And that’s what they did. ”
 
It’s fitting that the seniors who’ve been with Rhule the last several years led the Temple charge from the moment the ball was kicked into the windy air on Saturday.
 
Walker took command on the game’s opening drive with five completions, including a huge 4th-and-7 throw to Keith Kirkwood after Kirkwood dropped an easy catch on the previous play. Walker and Kirkwood later admitted the Owls ran the same play again on fourth down. One play later, Jahad Thomas, another senior, scampered into the corner of the end zone from 15 yards out to open the scoring.
 
On the Owls’ next drive, Walker hit Ventell Bryant on an out route for a 22-yard touchdown that made the score 14-0 in favor of Temple.
 
As time wound down in the first, Temple junior safety Sean Chandler made a touchdown-saving tackle on Navy’s Dishan Romine at the Temple 25-yard line after a 34-yard catch. On the next play, Chandler stripped Navy’s Darryl Bonner after a screen pass and the Owls recovered at their own 30.
 
On the ensuing drive, Walker threw a lovely deep ball with perfect touch to a wide-open Kirkwood, who glided into the end zone and put Temple up 21-0 just over a minute into the second quarter.
 
You could have started polishing the trophy then and there because the rout was on.
 
“This means a lot to the program,” Walker, the namesake of numerous Temple quarterback records, including touchdown passes (72), completions (802) and passing yards (10, 272) said of Temple’s win on Saturday afternoon. “I told Coach Rhule before I got here that this was going to happen. That was the process of me just trusting and keep doing what I’ve been doing. I go out there every day and bring my effort and my energy every day. And hopefully everyone else around me will follow.
 
“Going in there every day and playing and competing at a high level, it shows that we had a really good team that was capable of doing a lot of good things.”
 
Thomas and Walker were teammate’s at North Jersey’s Elizabeth High School before coming to Temple four years ago. Their high school careers followed the same story arc of their college careers – misery as freshmen, improved mediocrity as sophomores, falling just short as juniors and championship glory as seniors.
 
“You definitely hit lows coming from an 11-0 season in high school to a program that was known for losing,” Thomas said before he boarded the team bus Saturday evening. “But we know with all the young guys we had coming in that we had an opportunity to be something special as we got older.
 
“So we just worked and worked in the offseason and continued to get better. We continued to buy in to Coach Rhule’s process. And now, as seniors, we won.”
 
Needless to say, Temple’s defense did more than its fair share against a Navy team that entered second in the nation with 342 rushing yards a game and dropped 75 points on SMU last week.
 
Facing that potent Navy attack and the mental roadblock of the 328 yards a similar-style Army team ran for in a season-opening 28-13 defeat at The Linc, Temple stuffed Navy to the tune of 168 yards on the ground.
 
Navy senior quarterback Will Worth, who entered Saturday leading the nation with 25 rushing touchdowns, injured his ankle in the second quarter and did not return. He was replaced by sophomore Zach Abey. But still, quite the impressive showing from Temple’s defense nonetheless. Or a “good ole fashioned butt whipping,” as Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo put it.
 
“We just made it simple. Just don’t overthink it,” Temple senior defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike said of the Owls’ Saturday performance against Navy’s triple option. “It’s football at the end of the day.  Everybody did their job, just like coach was saying.
 
“This is a program that has never won. So to actually see it happen is just unbelievable with how far we’ve come. There’s a lot of people involved in that. Not just us, but the previous years before us. And it’s incredible to see this happen.”
 
While the Owls will soak in the feeling of championship glory Saturday night, they’ll find out their postseason fate on Sunday afternoon when the bowl selections are announced.
 
And that’s where things get interesting.
 
As a conference champion, Temple is eligible for the New Year’s Six at-large bowl bid to the Cotton Bowl. And the Owls should be in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s rankings after stomping the No. 19 team in the country on its home turf.
 
But No. 17 Western Michigan of the MAC completed its season with a spotless 13-0 record after holding on for dear life against Ohio in Friday’s conference title game in Detroit.
 
So now it’s up to the committee to weigh the resumes of 10-3 Temple and 13-0 WMU for that Cotton Bowl berth. And not to get too far ahead, but that berth could well mean a meeting with Penn State if the Nittany Lions don’t represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.
 
WMU’s signature wins this year are victories at Northwestern (6-6) and at Illinois (3-9), both of the Big Ten.
 
The Owls’ top wins are at home against then-No. 24 South Florida (10-2) and Saturday’s triumph at No. 19 Navy (9-3). There was also September’s seven-point defeat at No. 7 Penn State mixed in there as well, if you want to discuss strength of schedule.
 
While logic with the records says the odds may not be in the Owls’ favor, Rhule left his message for the committee on Saturday evening.
 
“I think we can say we’re one of the top teams in college football right now based on the way we’ve played,” Rhule said.
 
“I’ll never talk down about another team. And I think any team that goes undefeated, I wish them all the best. But we are the sixth power conference. If you win this league, you should go to a New Year’s Six Bowl. That’s neither here nor there. And when you’ve seen what [AAC] teams have done in New Year’s Six Bowls, you should want to have us there.
 
“Over the last half of the year, I would say we’re as hot as any team in the country. Again, I’m not saying anything negative about anyone else, but we should be playing in a New Year’s Six Bowl."