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.”