Temple Owls

Despite change and new look, Temple now built for Notre Dame-type challenge in opener

Despite change and new look, Temple now built for Notre Dame-type challenge in opener

Geoff Collins stood behind the podium Tuesday, cloaked in Temple University getup with a white ballcap on, knowing what everyone wants to know four days out of the season opener. He sees the headlines. He’s aware of the tweets. He’s appreciative of it all.

He didn’t budge. He didn’t say a word. But reading his body language, the smile on his face, that of an affirming smirk, he knows who his starting quarterback will be Saturday in South Bend, Indiana, when the Owls kick off their 2017 campaign against Notre Dame.

When pressed about the topic again later in his first weekly press conference as a head coach, this time whether the quarterback knows, Collins went silent, smiled and paused.

Then, as he moved on to the next question, he leaned back and …

“Yes,” he said abruptly.

Temple released Monday its first “above the line” depth chart, and it featured all four quarterbacks — Todd Centeio, Logan Marchi, Frank Nutile and Anthony Russo — “ATL.” It’s believed the four-horse QB competition is down to Nutile, a redshirt junior, and Marchi, a redshirt sophomore, though it’s possible three could see action against ND.

Collins told The Temple News last week three quarterbacks could play against the Fighting Irish, and on Tuesday, he reiterated the rotation will be situational. Having four capable quarterbacks, Collins said, is a “very big challenge” for defensive coordinators.

Neither Marchi nor Nutile said they’re discouraged or surprised by the situation, and all four have pushed each other throughout the summer and camp. While Collins tipped his hand that the quarterbacks know who will start Saturday, Marchi said they haven’t been told.

"We got a good group of guys around us," Marchi said. "The decision was on the coaches and we just go out and do what we do as players. We got a good group of guys around us. No matter what quarterback goes in, there's going to be a good group."

There is more to Saturday’s season opener at Notre Dame than who will be the starting quarterback, or how many quarterbacks will be deployed against the Fighting Irish.

It will be the first game since 2012 that doesn’t feature Matt Rhule walking the Temple sidelines, and, ironically, Collins’ debut comes in the same stadium Rhule made his.

The first-year head coach’s résumé consists of defensive coaching positions. He comes from the University of Florida, where he served as the Gators’ defensive coordinator.

As a defensive coach in the past, Collins didn’t get a chance to build relationships with offensive players, which was something he said Tuesday was one of his favorite parts of his current post. He’s spread out more, forming connections with all of his players.

“I’ve had surface relationships that were really good at other places with offensive players,” he said, “but now, having meaningful relationships with those guys has been a really cool experience. Just being able to interact with them a bit has been a blast.”

There was once a time in Temple football, not too long ago, when a season opener against Notre Dame in South Bend would be an intimidating task. Too big for the program, too daunting to even consider the Owls having a fighting chance to win.

Al Golden began the culture change, and Rhule put Temple on the map. Notre Dame is coming off an eight-loss season, and its head coach, Brian Kelly, enters 2017 on the hot seat. The Irish, too, have a new starting quarterback after DeShone Kizer left for the NFL.

Brandon Wimbush will be under center for Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon, while the Irish have a new offensive coordinator (Chip Long), defensive coordinator (Mike Elko) and specials teams coordinator (Brian Polian). There are a lot of unknowns with ND.

Yet, Notre Dame enters as a 17.5-point favorite over TU. A lot of that has to do with the Irish being a power program with premium talent and the Owls having many questions themselves with a new coach, quarterback and having to replace stars on both sides.

“We know we have nothing to lose,” cornerback Kareem Ali said of Temple’s mentality. “We’re going to go hard, we’re going to kick their ass. We’re ready for it. There’s no pressure. We’ve been in this situation before. We’re going to do what we do.”

This will be the third-ever meeting between the two programs. Notre Dame has won the previous two matchups, but the last time these two schools met, it was on national TV.

The then-No. 9 Irish squeaked out a 24-20 win over the No. 21 Owls on Oct. 31, 2015, in perhaps the biggest game in Temple football history — at least of the last three decades.

“I still distinctly remember watching,” Collins said. “But the team’s different. A lot of the guys who played in that game aren’t here. Probably very few who played are here. It’s a new group, but I’m excited about the guys we have. It’s going to be a new challenge.”

Temple has an infusion of young talent jumping into bigger roles on defense. It has a new linebacking group, a couple new starters in the secondary. Offensively, the QB situation is still fluid. Ryquell Armstead takes over as the lead back after Jahad Thomas graduated. The wide receiver corps is a strength led by upperclassmen.

Still, the Owls are a confident bunch. Sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley said the players treat “every opponent the same.” Senior D-lineman Jacob Martin said Saturday is “nothing that we can’t handle, nothing that we haven’t seen at Temple University.”

“We don't back down from anybody or any situation or any challenge,” Collins said. “That’s a testament to what the players have done here for the last 10 years.

“Establishing that culture of physicality and toughness. Anybody, anywhere, anytime.”

Temple holds off Drexel in 1st matchup in 10 years

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Temple holds off Drexel in 1st matchup in 10 years

BOX SCORE 

Shizz Alston Jr. scored 12 points and Temple got a big contribution from its bench in beating Drexel 63-60 on Saturday.

Temple reserves Damion Moore, De'Vondre Perry and Alani Moore II combined to score 19 of the Owls' 38 points in the first half. Temple (7-3) led 38-29 at halftime after Quinton Rose's 3-pointer.

The Dragons (5-6) opened the second half on a 7-0 run and Austin Williams' dunk tied it at 53 with 5:32 left. Temple regained the lead on a Rose jumper, but Sammy Mojica sank a 3-pointer and Drexel led 56-55 with 2:42 to go. It was the Dragons' first lead since 6-4.

Alston rebounded his own missed shot and scored and Rose fed Aflakpui for a layup and a 61-57 Temple lead. Kurk Lee cut the deficit to a point with a long 3-pointer with 15 seconds left, but Enechionyia hit a pair of free throws and Lee missed a 3 at the buzzer.

Demir led Drexel with 16 points, Williams scored 15 with 10 rebounds and Mojica scored 11.

Enechionyia was one of five Owls who finished with eight points and he added nine rebounds and five blocked shots.

Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose lead Temple over St. Joe's in Big 5 battle

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Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose lead Temple over St. Joe's in Big 5 battle

BOX SCORE

With five minutes and 22 seconds left in the first half and Temple trailing St. Joe’s, 26-24, De’Vondre Perry took a three-pointer that hit the back iron and missed long.

Out of nowhere, Quinton Rose streaked down the center of the free throw lane, leaped above everyone on the floor, corralled the offensive rebound and completed the two-handed slam to tie the game, prompting an eruption from the Liacouras Center crowd.

“That’s just how [Quinton] plays,” Shizz Alston Jr. said. “When guys start jawing at him he just turns it up a notch. I think some of their players were talking to him and he just got juiced up off of that.”

The play energized the Owls after a slow start, highlighting a 17-3 run to end the half and leading to an 81-78 Temple victory (see observations). Alston Jr. led all scorers with 20 points, including five three-pointers, and Rose added a 15 point, 11 rebound double-double for the squad.

At the start of the game, St. Joe’s came out hot, hitting on three of their first five three-point attempts and jumping out to a 17-8 lead early in the game. After a Fran Dunphy timeout with just less than 13 minutes left in the half, the Owls seemed to tighten up defensively.

“He just told us we had to pick it up,” Rose said. “It’s simple as that.

"I think we had a lack of communication and the biggest thing is we don’t finish our possessions with rebounds. We give up a lot of second-chance points. We just have to straighten that up and I think we’ll be good.”

Obi Enechionyia and Rose came up with big blocks and Temple started forcing turnovers. This helped the offense get going, in particular, Alston, whose 15 first-half points kept Temple in the ball game despite the hot shooting start by St. Joe's.

Perry, a true freshman, provided a spark off the bench for the Owls, contributing nine points in the first half, including two threes and a tough finish at the rim.

“He showed a lot of toughness,” Rose said. “I mean he’s young, but he showed a lot of toughness on the defensive end and rebounding. He made some big shots for us too.”

Perry attributed a lot of the open looks he got to his teammates.

“My teammates opened it up for me,” Perry said. “Either driving or kicking or just doing what they do best by penetrating and giving me the ball.”

Temple’s star big man, Enechionyia, struggled throughout the game, going 1 for 8 from the field and finishing with four points while being limited to 23 minutes because of foul trouble. Center Ernest Aflakpui came up big in his absence, putting up 12 points on 5 for 6 from the field and adding six rebounds.

“If we can count on a dozen points from Ern every game, that would be spectacular,” Dunphy said. “It’s obviously not his forte, but he did a terrific job. I thought he was poised at the rim and didn’t rush himself.”

In the last five minutes, the Hawks rallied from 16 down and cut the lead to four, but five clutch free throws from fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown sealed Temple’s first Big 5 and Atlantic-10 win of the year.

“I thought Josh Brown saved us at the foul line,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “I thought he played great again. He played great against Wisconsin and played great again. I’m very, very proud of him.”

The Owls, now 6-2 on the season, will host the No. 4-ranked Villanova Wildcats, who could jump to No. 1 in the country after Duke’s loss Saturday, in another Big 5 showdown this Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.

“It’s a really big opportunity,” Rose said. “I hope they are No. 1 so we can knock them off.”