Todd Centeio

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

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

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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.”

Temple shaping up for transition year with Geoff Collins at helm

Temple shaping up for transition year with Geoff Collins at helm

A season of change is upon North Broad Street.

The new era of Temple football starts its engines this Saturday as new head coach Geoff Collins and the Owls head to Notre Dame for a nationally televised showdown with the Fighting Irish (3:30 p.m./NBC10).

Before Saturday afternoon’s kick off, CSNPhilly.com reporter Greg Paone breaks down the defending AAC champion Owls from every angle.

Offense
To say the most important position on the field is unsettled would be quite the understatement. Redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo and true freshman Todd Centeio are all gunning for the starter’s crown. Yes, you read that correctly. Just hours before the Owls’ season opener, Collins has yet to publicly announce his starting quarterback against Notre Dame (see story).

He said earlier this week he knows who will get the first snap, but won’t say another word about it. Don’t be surprised to see a multi-QB system, at least as things shake out to start the season, as Nutile and Russo bring a pro-style game while Marchi and Centeio are much more mobile and can wreak havoc with their legs. Collins could well choose to use different QBs in different situations on the field. Either way, no matter who has the ball in his hands to fill the cleats of four-year starter and school record-breaker Phillip Walker, the inexperience will be there as the four current Temple QBs have combined for five completions, 69 yards and a touchdown in their collegiate careers.

Things are much more settled at running back, where junior Ryquell Armstead is the clear cowbell back. The 5-foot-11, 205 pounder is a versatile back who can power his way through the line of scrimmage and tackles, but can also slash to make opponents miss and then display breakaway speed that made him a track star at South Jersey’s Millville High School. Armstead racked up 919 yards on the ground last season, including a career-high 210 yards in a win over USF, and led the Owls with 14 rushing TDs last season. Behind him is junior speedster Jager Gardner, who owns the program record for the longest touchdown run with a 94-yard scamper vs. SMU in 2015.  He had just 111 yards and two TDs last season on the ground, but his opportunity to see the field more has arrived now that star Jahad Thomas has graduated.

Temple should have no problems on the outside, where the three-headed monster of seniors Keith Kirkwood and Adonis Jennings and junior Ventell Bryant reigns supreme. The trio last season combined for 2,017 yards on 123 receptions, 12 of which were for touchdowns. Bryant led the way with 54 grabs and 895 yards. They each hauled in four scores apiece. There is talent, skill, speed, athleticism and everything in between when it comes to these three. There’s also no lack of confidence. “I believe, in my eyes, we're the best receiving corps in this country," Kirkwood said recently (see story). Having this experienced group will be an invaluable asset to the Owls’ green QBs as these three wideouts have the ability to correct mistakes when the ball is in the air.

Defense
The steep challenge here for Temple is replacing seven starters, including defensive end Haason Reddick — who was the 13th overall pick in this past April’s NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals — from a unit that ranked third in the nation in total defense (282.5 yards allowed per game), third in passing defense (151.2 yards per game), 11th in scoring defense (18.4 points allowed per game) and 25th in rushing defense (130.7 yards per game) last season.

Let’s start in the defensive backfield, where star senior safety Sean Chandler is now the unquestioned leader of the defense (see story). An uber-talented, versatile safety with the ability to both cover wideouts and patrol the field, Chandler is a four-year starter. Collins has already praised him among the best players he’s ever coached. Chandler has recorded 185 tackles, seven interceptions, three sacks and three forced fumbles in his Temple career. Keep an eye on his safety partner, hard-hitting junior Delvon Randall, whom Chandler has been mentoring. On the outside, redshirt sophomore Artrel Foster and senior transfer Mike Jones are expected to start at corner.

The landscape at linebacker is still fluid as the Owls have to replace all three starters from last year. Collins even admitted earlier this week that his thoughts on who could start at linebacker at Notre Dame could change in the days and hours leading up to kickoff. That said, expect redshirt sophomore Chappelle Russell and sophomore Shaun Bradley, both of whom are incredibly athletic, to see plenty of snaps as they look to cement themselves as the next great Temple linebacker. Here’s a change from last season: not one of the five LBs listed on Temple’s first “Above the Line” chart (Collins’ version of a depth chart) is shorter than 6-foot.

The defensive line features a solid mix of veteran experience and youth. Redshirt senior Sharif Finch and true senior Jacob Martin will lead the way on the outside at defensive end.  On the inside at defensive tackle is where youth will be served, as redshirt juniors Michael Dogbe and Freddie Booth-Lloyd and sophomore Karamo Dioubate will all have their time to shine.

Special teams
There’s an interesting kicking battle going on and, much like the QB situation, there may not be a clear-cut answer for a little while.

Senior Austin Jones is back from a torn ACL suffered while covering a kickoff in the loss at Memphis last October. Jones was kicking well, too, prior to the injury, as he was 10 for 12 on the year before going on the shelf. Collins recently said Temple’s strength coaches and trainers told him Jones’ leg is now even stronger than it was before the injury. But in his career, Jones is only 8 for 13 from the 40 to 49-yard range.

A former walk-on, sophomore Aaron Boumerhi stepped in and was a revelation as freshman last season, going 15 for 17, including 5 for 5 from the 40 to 49-yard range.

Again, much like with the QBs, Collins’ kicker of choice could well come down to the situation on the field.

Coaching
Shortly after the Matt Rhule era reached its apex with last season’s AAC crown and then abruptly ended with his departure for Baylor, the Collins era began. The 46-year-old takes the reigns of the Owls after two seasons as defensive coordinator at Florida and four seasons as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State prior to that. Dubbed the “Minister of Mayhem,” Collins is a defensive guru known for his aggressive schemes and an energetic personality to match. He coached Eagles superstar Fletcher Cox while at MSU. He also coached NFL first-round picks safety Keanu Neal (Atlanta Falcons, 2016), corner Vernon Hargreaves (Tampa Bay Bucs, 2016) and linebacker Jarrad Davis (Detroit Lions, 2017) while with the Gators.

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude comes to Temple after five seasons in the same role at FCS Coastal Carolina. In his time with the Chanticleers, Patenaude’s spread offenses were known to kick the tempo up and score in bunches. In five years at Coastal Carolina, Patenaude’s offenses averaged 34.5 points per game. And he likes to establish the run, as his teams averaged 189.7 yards on the ground per game in those five seasons. It will be intriguing all season long to see what he comes up with to utilize the weapons on offense the Owls possess.

Taver Johnson is a first-time defensive coordinator charged with revamping the historically stout Temple defense that lost so much after last season. While this is Johnson’s first coordinator gig, he has plenty of big-time college football experience as he has coached defensive backs at Ohio State, Arkansas and most recently Purdue, where he spent the last three seasons. While at Ohio State, he coached and mentored current Eagles star safety Malcolm Jenkins. Johnson has talent to work with at Temple, but it is youthful talent that still needs some seasoning.

Players to watch
Offense: Sophomore WR Isaiah Wright
Don’t let the wide receiver moniker fool you. Sophomore Isaiah Wright is a true playmaker with the ability to break off huge gains in a variety of ways. As a true freshman last season, he forced his way onto the field as a receiver, running back and punt and kickoff return specialist. But where he did most of his damage was out of the backfield in the wildcat formation, as he rushed 42 times for 232 yards and his first collegiate touchdown. He also snatched eight passes for 81 yards. It doesn’t matter how stacked Temple could be at wideout this season, Wright is too talented to keep off the field. Look for Patenaude and crew to continue to use Wright in a variety of ways.

Defense: Redshirt junior DT Freddie Booth-Lloyd
Even if you don’t know just who exactly Booth-Lloyd is, odds are you’ve seen him before. Booth-Lloyd was the star of this viral video from a few years back that showed him, an incredibly agile man of large size, blowing past track and field competition. Now, the 6-foot-1, 325-pound defensive tackle has the chance to use that incredible athleticism and agility to clog the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback as he will see plenty of playing time this season. If he can channel all that athleticism, agility and raw power he possesses, he could be a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line.

Game to watch
Sept. 21 at South Florida
The easy, cop-out answer here would be Saturday at Notre Dame. But even with the hype and attention that comes with playing the Fighting Irish, the fact of the matter is it’s still the first game of a new season for a new coaching staff. It’s still a game where the Owls will have to get their footing under them and get a feel for things. But by the time Temple hits South Florida on Sept. 21, it'll have three games — two of which are against very beatable opponents in Villanova and UMass — under its belt to smooth any bumps in the road. And they’ll need to smooth out any bumps to hang with new head coach Charlie Strong’s Bulls, who are ranked No. 19 in the AP Preseason Top 25. They return dynamic QB Quinton Flowers to head a formidable attack. They’re the sexy pick among many to represent the Group of 5 in the New Year’s Six bowls this season. Want to know where this Temple team stands? The measuring stick comes early.

Prediction
There are no doubts that this is a transition year for the Temple program. With the new coaching staff, new quarterback(s) and all the new starters on defense, how could it not be? It’s a tough team to put a finger on the pulse of right now before seeing something out on the field. The QB situation does give significant pause, though. That’s an issue that needs an answer. The prediction here is 7-5 and no three-peat as AAC East champs. The Owls will still go bowling, though.

Temple, still without QB, gets set 'live' 2 weeks before Notre Dame

Temple, still without QB, gets set 'live' 2 weeks before Notre Dame

As far as Temple head coach Geoff Collins was concerned, Saturday was game day for he and his Owls.

They stayed at a hotel Friday night. They woke up Saturday morning and had a team breakfast. They went through team walkthroughs and drills before gearing up and stepping on to the turf. They went “live” with everything they did.

But the reality is that Saturday was only the Owls’ final intrasquad scrimmage before the end of camp and that the season opener at Notre Dame is still exactly two weeks away.

“It was just so that when we get ready to play a game, we’ve already done all of it,” Collins, Temple’s first-year leader, said after the scrimmage at historic and toasty Franklin Field. “And the young guys who’ve never made a trip for us, they were there. They got to go through the whole process, so it was an unbelievable day.”

But the reality also is that Temple still doesn’t have a starting quarterback just two weeks ahead of traveling to South Bend.

Three weeks of camp and an offseason of preparation have settled nothing in the four-pronged race for the starter’s crown. Redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo and true freshman Todd Centeio again all split reps up and down the depth chart Saturday.

Collins just knew reporters couldn’t wait to ask the question.

“The big thing the last couple weeks is that every day one of the guys who’s pulled apart and then someone else has pulled apart,” Collins said of his team’s ongoing quarterback battle. “It’s going to be exciting watching the tape of this scrimmage because last scrimmage, it felt like there was a little separation with two guys. Today, I think it might have been a little bit more.”

So rather than waiting for reporters to ask the next logical question, Collins just went ahead unprompted and answered it for everyone with a recorder or phone or microphone or camera in sight.

“Hopefully by the end of this week, we’ll have some guys who we can say are above the line.”

“Above the line” is Collins-speak for the first team, second team and so on and so forth. He doesn’t believe in actual depth charts or the philosophies behind them.

And that “some guys” comment is interesting. With four players in fierce competition with one another and apparently not separating themselves enough, could a multi-QB system actually be realistic?

The QBs have different builds and styles. Nutile and Russo each check in at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and are certainly more pro-style, pocket passers. They can scamper if need be, but standing tall in the pocket and seeing the whole field is how they excel. Marchi and Centeio each check in at 6-foot. Centeio weighs in at 201 pounds while Marchi weighs in at 192 pounds. Both guys are known for their ability to scramble and create havoc when the pocket breaks down.

“I believe in the guys who are ready to play at a high level for a top-25 championship program,” Collins said.

The fact of the matter is that whoever grabs the brass starter’s ring(s) will be thrown into the nationally televised fire with bundles of inexperience or no experience at all.

Russo and Centeio have never even suited up for a college game. Nutile and Marchi have combined to go 5 for 9 for 69 yards and a touchdown since 2015. Of course, having prolific program record-breaker Phillip Walker ahead of them played a pretty big role in that.

But still, big shoes need to be filled on a big stage. And all that inexperience will have to evaporate quickly for the Owls to have a chance not only on Sept. 2 in South Bend but also moving forward.

And the Owls who’ve played with and against all four QBs every day this summer are confident that whoever has the ball in his hands can lead the way.

“Every quarterback is different,” said senior Adonis Jennings, who, along with senior Keith Kirkwood and junior Ventell Bryant make up a deep and talented wideout corps the QB(s) will be throwing to.

“So whatever style or type of offense we’re going to run, whoever fits that best is going to be the quarterback. I like all four of them and we’ll see what happens.”

“It’s good, honestly, because we’ve got guys who can run and we’ve got guys who can pocket pass and things like that,” senior safety Sean Chandler said of the QBs he goes up against every day in practice. “I feel like they’re all very precise and they make good decisions. Those are things that we need.”

Jennings admitted, though, there is work to do when it comes to preparing with four different quarterbacks.

“You just have to adjust to each quarterback’s playing style,” he said. “You have to build a connection with all four of them just to get things right with them so that they can know the offense and get connected with the receivers, the tight ends, the linemen, the running backs and the whole offense in general.”

Only two more weeks to adjust.
 
Special teams update
Temple also has a less-heralded battle going on at kicker between senior Austin Jones and sophomore Aaron Boumehri.

Jones started 2016 as the Owls’ kicker and went 10 for 12 before tearing his left ACL in a loss at Memphis on Oct. 6. Boumehri, a former walk-on, took over and impressed with a booming leg that connected on 15 of 17 attempts.

Now with Jones back healthy, the two are locked in a heated competition for kicking duties.

Collins noted both have excelled during camp and even said that strength coaches told him Jones’ leg is stronger now than it was before the injury.

Just like with the QB decision, two weeks left to make a final call.