Temple Owls

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.”

Fran Dunphy enjoys return to Palestra

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Fran Dunphy enjoys return to Palestra

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Considering how much he loves Fran Dunphy, Steve Donahue may be a biased source.

But the Penn head coach made a bold prediction about Dunphy’s Temple squad after the Owls showed a ton of grit in a 60-51 win over the host Quakers Saturday afternoon at the Palestra (see observations).

“I think they’re an NCAA team,” Donahue said. “They just have to try to figure out consistency. When they play well, that’s as good a team as there is. They got better today and they figured out a way to win.”

Temple players agreed that Saturday’s victory — in which the Owls blew a 12-point lead, fell behind by three, and then scored the game’s final 12 points to prevail — could prove to be an important milestone in an up-and-down season.

“Big 5 games are always gonna be tough,” said senior Obi Enechionyia, who scored 10 of his team-high 15 points in the second half. “But we wanted it more, I think. And it showed in the end.”

Enechionyia admitted he didn’t think the 2017-18 campaign would go as it has for the Owls (10-9), who began the season with huge wins over Top 25 teams Auburn and Clemson before starting to sputter and losing six of their last eight heading into Saturday’s contest.

But the senior forward compared this team to the 2015-16 squad, which also hovered around the .500 mark before ending the season strong and making the NCAA Tournament as a 21-win squad.

“I see nothing different from this team,” Enechionyia said.

“I think we all thought it would be better than this. But after struggling a little bit, we have to get back to how we played in the beginning. We have a lot of games to go and I think we can show we’re the same team we were in the beginning of the season.”

It will certainly be an uphill climb for the Owls, who hit the road to face No. 12 Cincinnati on Wednesday and still have two games on the schedule against No. 7 Wichita State. But if the Owls can go 8-3 or 9-2 the rest of the way, that could at least put them onto the bubble heading into the American Athletic Conference tournament.

If nothing else, they’ll be a seasoned team in February and March, as almost all of their recent games have come down to the final minute — Saturday’s win proving to be no exception.

“It’s just who we are,” Enechionyia said. “For some reason, we let teams back, which we shouldn’t do. But at the end of the day, a win is a win. I’m happy with how we played, even though we let them back in.”

Along with Enechionyia, fellow upperclassmen Shizz Alston and Josh Brown also made big plays down the stretch with Alston kickstarting the 12-0 run to end the game with a game-tying three pointer and Brown hitting a big three of his own in between that shot and a tough runner from freshman J.P. Moorman III.

Afterwards, Alston, a Philadelphia native, said he felt like he “needed to make a play.”

“It was amazing,” Alston said. “Every time there’s a game here, it feels like something special happens. Today was no different.”

Indeed, Saturday’s game was a nice place for Temple to show its character as the Palestra was filled even in the corners, with fans from both teams evenly represented.

The size of the crowd and the atmosphere was not lost on Dunphy, who spent 17 seasons in the historic building as Penn’s head coach and has lost only one game to the Quakers since leaving Penn for Temple in 2006.

“It’s different today [coming back] than it was 12 years ago — 12 years ago it was surreal, daunting, crazy,” Dunphy said. “It gets easier every year. It’s still a special place, special university. And while you can change the lighting or the floor, it’s always gonna be the Palestra. It’s still a spectacular place.”

Did it feel as loud as Big 5 games used to be?

“It was today,” Dunphy said. “It was loud as hell. We were in the huddle one time and someone made a halfcourt shot or something? Pretty cool. I’d like to see film of that.”

In addition to a Penn student making a halfcourt shot during one break in the action, the Penn Band played the Eagles fight song at on point with more than 7,000 fans then breaking into an E-A-G-L-E-S chant a day before the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Just like Dunphy noticed the student halfcourt shot, Donahue noticed that chant reverberating around the gym.

“This is a unique city,” said Donahue, who previously coached at Cornell and Boston College after Dunphy gave him his college start as a Penn assistant throughout the 1990s. “That doesn’t happen, this much interest. College basketball in this city is passionate, it’s huge, it’s a fun place to coach.

“You get an Eagles chant in the middle of the game, which gets you all fired up. They’re not doing that in Boston for the Patriots, trust me.”

Temple beats Penn for 11th straight time

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Temple beats Penn for 11th straight time

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Fran Dunphy got the better of his old team once again.

On Saturday afternoon at a packed-to-the-rafters Palestra, Temple scored the game’s final 12 points to beat Penn, 60-51, in a taut Big 5 affair. 

Obi Enechionyia and Shizz Alston led the Owls (10-9, 2-2 Big 5) with 15 and 14 points, respectively, as Temple won its 11 straight game vs. the Quakers, where Temple head coach Dunphy coached for 17 years.

Sophomores AJ Brodeur and Ryan Betley scored 12 points apiece for the Quakers (12-6, 0-3), who had won three straight and seven of their last eight coming into the game for the program’s best start in 15 years.

• Josh Brown made sure he wouldn’t leave Temple with a loss to Penn on his résumé, hitting a tough three with under a minute to go to put the Owls ahead 56-51. It was a big-time play from a big-time senior. 

• Enechionyia, the key to so much for Temple, was quiet in the first half but hit three seconds into the second half and then another one a couple of minutes later to put the Owls ahead 33-26 with 17 minutes left. It was a critical stretch after Temple fell behind 25-24 at halftime.

• After an athletic play from Temple’s Nate Pierre-Louis put the Owls up 38-26, the Quakers began to claw their way back into the game, pulling within 46-41 on a Brodeur three-pointer and then within 46-45 on a Betley layup with 6:30 left.

• When Caleb Wood hit a contested three-pointer with just under five minutes left, the two teams were tied at 48-48 and the building, very nearly filled to capacity, got loud. It got even louder when Brodeur put them in front, 51-48, with a three-pointer of his own on the next possession, and then again when Temple’s Shizz Alston tied it up on another three. The Palestra was probably split pretty evenly between Temple fans and Penn fans. 

• Betley is clearly an excellent Ivy League player but also showed flashes of high-level athleticism with a great open-court block on Brown in transition early in the contest.

• Interestingly, Penn coach Steve Donahue made some big changes with his rotation, giving seldom-used reserves Jake Silpe and Jakub Mijakowski a lot of time off the bench. Mijakowski looked nervous and missed a bunch of shots but Silpe made a couple of nice plays in the first half, including an around-the-back dribble that nearly set up a Betley halftime buzzer beater. 

• Silpe also had a nice first-half assist to Betley, who drained a three just after missing from the same spot. That’s the kind of confidence Donahue likes in his standout sophomore, even on a day when Betley shot 5 for 14 from the field. As a team, the Quakers shot just 28.3 percent and 25.8 from behind the arc.

• As Big 5 contests often are, it was a slog of a game with both teams struggling to score for much of the day — except for one stretch in which Temple’s Alani Moore scored five points in just a few seconds after hitting a tough layup, getting fouled, missing the free throw, and then drilling a three after the Owls corralled an offensive rebound.

• The Quakers’ last win over Temple came in 2007 when Fran Dunphy, a former Penn coaching legend, made his first trip to the Palestra as a visiting coach and the Quakers won a thriller on a pair of late Mark Zoller free throws.

• Quakers head coach Steve Donahue — Dunphy’s assistant at Penn from 1991 to 2000, a stretch in which Penn won six Ivy League titles — has won only one game in 16 tries vs. his mentor. His only victory came in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, when Donahue’s Cornell team upset Temple in the first round.

• Coming into Saturday’s game, ten of Temple’s 18 games had been decided by five or fewer points.

• For the third time this season, a Penn student hit a half-court shot during an in-game promotion.

• Some Penn students might need a history lesson. One of the rollouts coming from their section read: “Greatness doesn’t quit but Done-phy should.” Dunphy, of course, won 10 Ivy League championships and 310 games at Penn and was inducted into the Penn Athletics Hall of Fame last year.