Temple Owls

Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

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Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

When fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown tore his Achilles tendon in late May 2016, it dealt a huge blow to the Owls’ 2017 NCAA Tournament chances.

Brown, who led the AAC with 36.2 minutes per game as Temple’s primary ball handler in 2015-16, underwent surgery on May 25 and came back for five games early in the year. But after a 78-57 loss at Villanova in mid-December, Brown was ruled out for the rest of the season.

The loss of the Owls’ backcourt leader put their young guards in a tough position, thrusting them into the spotlight without much experience. Although they acquitted themselves well, Temple had a disappointing season, finishing 16-16 and losing in the first round of the AAC Tournament to East Carolina.

The Owls did not advance to a postseason tournament and missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

However, with Brown returning for his fifth year after being granted a medical redshirt, the Owls' glaring weakness from last year is now their greatest strength.

“The [guard] rotation is going to be interesting for us,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’ll probably play four guards a number of times because we have an abundance of guys that want to be out there and need to be out there on the court. We have a bunch of guys that are ready to go. Again, as our preseason stuff has been working, it’s been the competitiveness that has been terrific.”

Junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. will be a big part of that rotation. After Brown was lost for the season in 2016-17, Alston became Temple’s primary ball handler as a sophomore with little experience.

He had to average 36.4 minutes per game and responded well, leading the team with 13.9 points and 4.1 assists per game.

“His mindset is totally different,” Brown said about Alston. “Going from his freshman year to his sophomore year, he was thrown into the fire and I thought he did a pretty good job, you know. Now, with all that experience he has on the court, I think he’s ready to take that next step and be a consistent scorer and a be a consistent guy on defense and be a consistent guy that we can all lean on.”

Sophomores Quinton Rose and Alani Moore had to make up for the absence of Brown, as well, averaging 24.8 and 25.8 minutes per game last year, respectively. Moore, a starter in his freshman year, likely will come off the bench this season, which is a true testament to the amount of depth the Owls have in the backcourt.

Moore’s offensive versatility, which allows him to bring the ball up in certain situations and play on the wing, as well, will be very important if the Owls want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

“You can let other guys bring it up and have others guys do other things on the court, so it helps out a great deal,” Brown said. “It opens up everybody’s game. Like Alani Moore, he’s a point guard, but he’s also a great shooter, so he can spot up from time to time and things like that.”

“Alani and Q aren’t your average sophomores,” Alston added. “We played almost the same amount of minutes [last year] and I’m a junior, so they’re very veteran guys already.”

Players have also been raving about the talent and competitiveness that freshmen guards/wings Nate Pierre-Louis, J.P. Moorman and De’vondre Perry have shown throughout the offseason and preseason.

“It’s amazing, I’ve never seen freshmen this ready to play,” Alston said. “J.P. can bring the ball up, ‘Dre can bring the ball up, even Nate sometimes, so it’ll help us a lot.”

When you factor Trey Lowe, a redshirt sophomore guard who missed all of last season as he has been recovering from a February 2016 car accident and could return later this season, into the equation, the Owls have an incredibly deep and versatile backcourt.

The last time the Owls made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament was in 2001 when they lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. According to Alston, immediately after the Owls were bounced from the AAC Tournament last year, they talked about their potential to make a run.

“We see teams like South Carolina go all the way, teams similar to ourselves that are not the big blood teams like Kentucky or Duke,” Alston said. “We think we can make it to the second round, third round or as far as we want.”

If they’re going to do it, their veteran backcourt will be the reason why.

Temple's bowl eligibility hangs in balance after deflating loss to No. 15 UCF

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Temple's bowl eligibility hangs in balance after deflating loss to No. 15 UCF

BOX SCORE

The deflated tone of Geoff Collins voice and the stone-cold look on his face dimly painted the darkened picture of what his Temple team had just endured for most of the previous three hours.

A cherry-and-white Senior Day underdog story just had its fruitful initial chapters dissected and jammed into the paper shredder by an overwhelming force of football nature.

“That was a tough loss and we didn’t send the seniors out the way we wanted to,” Collins said.

“Tough” is just one way to describe the shellacking Temple absorbed at the hands at No. 15 and conference powerhouse UCF, as a 10-7 second-quarter lead evaporated into an ugly 45-19 defeat at cloud-covered Lincoln Financial Field (see observations).

The loss dropped the Owls to 5-6 on the season and leaves bowl eligibility hanging in the balance during next week’s trip to Tulsa.

UCF, on the other hand, improved to a perfect 10-0 on the season and tightened its grip on the “Group of 5” berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

“That was just a tough loss against a really good football team,” Collins said. “You can’t turn the ball over five times and expect to win games, especially against a team that is that good and very talented offensively, obviously. “

The Knights came into South Philly sporting the highest-scoring offense in the entire nation with an average of 48.6 points, presenting a challenge the Owls knew would be formidable.

But for the first 18:35 of the contest, the Owls answered every bell. They had a 10-7 advantage thanks to a nifty scramble by redshirt junior quarterback Frank Nutile, who found space and floated a perfect ball to senior wideout Keith Kirkwood in the back of the end zone.

But from there, the Temple upset wagon plummeted off the cliff as the Knights and their turbo-charged offense caught fire.

Thanks in large part to three Temple turnovers — two Nutile picks and a Ryquell Armstead fumble — deep in Owls territory, the Knights reeled off 24 points in a span of 9:11 to take a commanding 31-10 lead that silenced Temple’s pulse.

Nutile’s two picks in that span were ugly, especially the second one, which was thrown into triple coverage and easily picked off by UCF’s linebacker Kyle Gibson.

Nutile, who would go on to throw two more picks in the second half and four total in the game, was extremely hard on himself afterward as Temple’s overwhelming theme of mediocre QB play throughout the season lingered on.

“I just think I made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions with the ball. It’s very uncharacteristic of me,” said Nutile, who took over as the starter two weeks ago against Navy and entered Saturday’s contest with just three interceptions on 103 attempts as compared to six TDs.

“Obviously, I put the team in a bad situation. I put the defense in a bad situation. I didn’t play great today. It’s hard to win a game when the quarterback throws four interceptions. … I take that loss totally on me.

“I’d rather die than let those seniors down like that again.”

Nutile’s mistakes set Temple’s defense on a platter for UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and crew.

Milton whitewashed the Owls for 208 yards on 16 completions and four touchdowns. He also ran for 23 yards and another score for a combined five TDs on the day. Not that it was put in the best situations, but the overwhelmed Temple defense just didn’t have an answer.

While Nutile professed his apologies to the team in the locker room, Collins lamented on the fatefully miserable second quarter that saw Temple get outgained 122 yards to 57 yards when asked if it was the turning point.

“I think that’s pretty easy to say, yeah,” Collins said.

“Looking into [the seniors’] eyes before the game, how much hope and how much excitement they had and then conversely at the end, the hurt and the pain — I just told them to take their time. No one should be in a rush to get out of that locker room.”

As painful as Saturday may have been, there is still a glimmer of sunshine as the Owls can gain the bowl eligibility they’ve been yearning for with a win next week at 2-9 Tulsa. The Owls could still be selected for a bowl game with only five wins, but a bowl is more likely to select a five-win team with more of a pedigree and from a bigger conference.

Of course, there is a chance even a sixth win could get the Owls nowhere. Remember the 6-6 team from 2014 that was left heartbroken with no bowl invite?

Despite a 2-9 record, Tulsa is no gimmie for Temple. The Golden Hurricanes feature senior running back D’Angelo Brewer, the conference’s leader in rush yards for a tailback with 126.2 yards per game and 1,262 total rushing yards. And Tulsa just hung tough at South Florida last week, losing only by a 27-20 decision.

The Owls say the page has already been turned to Tulsa and they know what’s at stake.

“We just want to go out on a good note,” senior safety Sean Chandler said.  “We definitely want to get to a bowl game.

“This week is going to be my last game. But most importantly, we want to get to the bowl game and send each other out on a good note.”

“Every week, we talk about going 1-0 every week. That never changes,” Collins said.

“I think everybody knows what’s on the line for next Saturday. So we aren’t trying to make it bigger than that. “

Seniors say goodbye
Saturday marked the last home game for a studded senior class that includes Chandler, DE Sharif Finch, DB Artrel Foster, WR Adonis Jennings, WR Keith Kirkwood, DL Jacob Martin, FB Nick Sharga and DL Julian Taylor.

One more win will give this group of seniors 32 wins, which would be the most for a class in school history.

One-handed wonder
UCF star linebacker Shaqueem Griffin is an incredible story of perseverance and triumph.

Born with a painful defect that left burning sensations shooting through his left hand, Griffin had that hand amputated when he was 4 years old. But he never gave up on his football dream and overcame all obstacles to become one of the premier defensive players in the nation.

Temple-No. 15 UCF observations: Owls crushed by visiting Knights

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Temple-No. 15 UCF observations: Owls crushed by visiting Knights

BOX SCORE

For the first 18:35 of Saturday afternoon’s Senior Day game at the cloud-covered Lincoln Financial Field, Temple had a pulse that was beating proudly. Here were the underdog Owls, leading UCF, the No. 15 team in the nation, 10-7, and punching away at the Knights’ undefeated record.
 
Then the highest-scoring offense in the entire country caught fire and flatlined any pulse the Owls had.
 
UCF, which came into the contest averaging 48.6 points, reeled off 24 straight points at the end of the first-half and proceeded to blow away the Owls, 45-19.
 
The loss dropped Temple to 5-6 on the season and leaves bowl eligibility hanging in the balance with next week’s game at Tulsa. While bowls can select teams with less than six wins, they may be more inclined to select teams with more prominent names and from more prominent conferences.
 
Conference-leading UCF is now 10-0 on the season and has lined itself up as the likely “Group of 5” participant in this year’s New Year’s Six bowls.
 
And UCF asserted dominance quickly and surgically Saturday at Temple’s expense.
 
• The overwhelming theme of Temple’s lackluster season has been mediocre (some may say that’s even too polite a term) quarterback play. It started with redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, who had his moments, but ultimately couldn’t keep the job. The reins went to redshirt junior Frank Nutile, who stabilized the position for two weeks in wins over Navy and Cincinnati.

UCF crumpled up that stability and chucked it out onto I-95 Saturday. Nutile endured an ugly afternoon that saw him go 17 for 40 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. His two first-half picks deep in his own territory were backbreakers that enabled the high-powered Knights offense to get on the fast lane to the end zone against an overmatched Temple defense. His second-quarter pick into triple coverage to UCF’s Kyle Gibson was just ugly. There was nothing but white jerseys around.
 
Combine those picks with Ryquell Armstead’s fumble deep in his own territory in the first half and it was a recipe for disaster that buried Temple’s upset chances. You can’t turn the ball over three times that deep against the No. 15 team in the land and hope the defense can hold the levee together.
 
If the Owls wanted any chance of pulling the upset Saturday, they had to play as pristine a game as possible. Instead, the stains were aplenty. Hence the final score.

• UCF star linebacker Shaqueem Griffin is a fantastic player and an even more amazing story of human perseverance.

Born with a birth defect that caused severe, burning pain in his left hand, Griffin had that hand amputated when he was 4 years old. But his dream of playing football never wavered and he’s worked his way to being one of the premier defensive players in the country.

The 2016 AAC Defensive Player of the Year, Griffin was all over the field Saturday with three tackles, a forced fumble and his second career interception. The pick would have been an excellent play for someone with two hands, let alone a one-handed player as Griffin tracked a Temple receiver down the field and made an over-the-shoulder snag and then returned it for 22 yards.

Next stop: the NFL. What a story. What a player.

• While Temple’s offensive effort was ugly, the Owls’ defense, while having its back against the wall more often than it should have, didn’t have many answers Saturday.

Sure, it’s always going to be a monumental task against the most powerful offense in the country. But the Owls’ defense was battered by UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and crew. Milton went 16 for 23 for 208 yards and four TDs. He also rushed for 23 yards and a TD. At one point in the second quarter, Milton rushed untouched up the gut for 15 yards on 3rd-and-13. It signified the issues with the Owls’ defense as not a single Owl was in Milton’s zip code.  Milton dazzled while the Temple defense fizzled.

• Random take of the day: Temple’s black helmets, black jerseys and cherry pants look are sharp. Really sharp. Sorry, traditionalists.

• There were two bright spots for Temple on a figuratively and literally dark day.

Senior Adonis Jennings hauled in two balls for 88 yards, including a 74-yard TD pass in the third quarter. It was the Owls’ longest play from scrimmage this season.

Redshirt junior running back David Hood, who was awarded the No. 1 jersey this week by his teammates, a weekly rotating reward for toughness and leadership, carried the ball 12 times for 81 yards, including a hard-nosed 33-yard gain down the sideline in the second quarter when he shrugged off tacklers left and right. He made the most of his touches as the Owls’ featured back Saturday. Don’t be surprised to see him featured again next week.

• With a game that was basically over by halftime, a highlight of the second half was the fan “Flex Cam” that had Hulk Hogan’s “Real American” theme music playing in the background. That brought perhaps the biggest cheers from the announced crowd of 25,877.

• Next week’s season finale at 2-9 Tulsa is no gimmie, by any means, for Temple. It’s always tough for a young team like the Owls to travel halfway across the country, even more so with the pressure of bowl eligibility lingering overhead.  But the Golden Hurricane hung tough at South Florida this past Thursday, losing only by a 27-20 margin in the same environment Temple fell by 36 points earlier in the year. And Tulsa features senior running back D’Angelo Brewer, the conference’s leader in rush yards for a tailback with 126.2 yards per game (Navy QB Zach Abey leads the conference in rushing per game with 150.2 yards) and 1,262 total rushing yards. A challenge looms for a Temple defense that will still be licking its wounds.