Temple Owls

Temple-Houston observations: Owls' offense gets off to sluggish start in loss

Temple-Houston observations: Owls' offense gets off to sluggish start in loss

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In the end, it was just too little, too late for Temple.

Despite a second-half surge, a 20-point hole was too deep to dig out of for Geoff Collins’ Owls as Houston quarterback Kyle Postma went 25 of 36 for 226 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 81 more yards as the Cougars left Lincoln Financial Field Saturday afternoon with a 20-13 victory.

Temple dropped to 2-3 on the season and 0-2 in AAC conference play. Houston improved to 3-1 on the year and 1-0 in the conference.

The Temple offense was sluggish yet again, especially early on, which played a big role in the 20-point deficit they faced. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Logan Marchi had another uneven showing, going 20 for 41 for 182 yards, a touchdown and a three picks. And he could have thrown more picks if tipped balls went other directions.

Ryquell Armstead led the charge on the ground with 63 yards on 14 carries.

But still, with all the issues, the Owls were in a position to strike late and tie the game in the waning minutes after a second-half comeback that included a pair of Aaron Boumerhi field goals and a 1-yard David Hood TD reception on 4th-and-goal.

Temple took over at its own 8-yard line with 5:15 left and slowly but surely pushed the ball to midfield and faced a 3rd-and-10 with just under two minutes left. A very questionable pitch call that went nowhere left Temple with 4th-and-10 and the game on the line. Marchi’s pass sailed over the head of Armstead and so, too, did Temple’s chance at pulling the victory cheese away from the Cougars’ claws.

• Let’s get this straight: Could Marchi be better? Yeah, a lot better. But this Temple offense woefully lacks an identity right now. Is it power running up the gut? Is it stretching the field horizontally with jet sweeps and screens? Is it throwing it down the field? Is it uptempo? There’s no answer, and that’s not a good thing. It’s all over the place. Stick to something, at least for a little bit and let your team know what it is. While Marchi could be better, he isn’t necessarily being put in a position to succeed and he’s not getting much help. That said, the running game started to establish itself some in the second half, which led to digging out of the 20-point hole.

• The opening drive of the game was a microcosm of everything that ails the Temple offense right now. It’s all so disjointed. Forward movement washed away unforced mistakes. Marchi hit Isaiah Wright for 17 yards on an out route to get the Owls in business at the Houston 7-yard line. A stuffed run for a five-yard loss, an incomplete pass and a completely unnecessary intentional grounding where Marchi had all the time in the world to throw the ball away later and the Owls were out of field-goal range at the Houston 36. Let’s break this down: 1st-and-goal at the 7-yard-line to a 4th-and-goal punt at the Houston 36. One step forward, so many steps backward. It’s the theme that anchors this Temple offense.

• Ten penalties for 83 yards for Temple sure as heck isn’t helping the cause, now is it?

• I get the point behind college football’s targeting rule. And, for the most part, do I think it’s a rule that works? Yes, I do. But I’m not sold at all on the one called at the end of the first quarter on Temple LB Shaun Bradley, who entered the game with four sacks and 23 tackles on the year, fourth-most on the team. Houston WR Linell Bonner crouched down across the middle to catch a low pass from Postma. As he crouched and dropped the ball, Bradley came across and hit him high in that split second. Yes, it was a high hit. No doubt. But Bradley came in for a form tackle and it was impossible for him to shift his body in that split second. Thus the high hit. There was no intentional target and the hit was high because of the positioning of the receiver. Tough call that cost the Owls one of their leading tacklers for the rest of the afternoon.

• Two series of plays perfectly illustrated just how tough a day at the office it was for Temple. In the first, Owls corner Mike Jones picked off a Postma past in the end zone, giving Temple a touchback and the ball. But not so fast as he was flagged for a very ticky-tack pass interference call where both players were jockeying for the ball and position. On the next play, Houston’s D’Eriq King took a reverse 13 yards for the game’s opening TD. Momentum taken away and sent the other way. In the second, Temple’s Keith Kirkwood made a great adjustment and hauled in a 30-yard pass while falling down near the sideline at the Houston 6-yard line. After a review, it was ruled Kirkwood’s knee was on the sideline as he caught the ball and thus the pass was ruled incomplete. On the next play, Marchi was obliterated on a blitz while throwing and the ball was picked by Houston’s Garrett Davis. More momentum was taken away and sent the other way. But, hey, the good teams make and earn their own breaks, right?

• Shame we didn’t get to see much of Houston superstar All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver on Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 290-pound sophomore left the game in the first quarter with an injury and did not return to the contest. He was seen on the Houston sideline with ice wrapped around his left knee. Get used to hearing that guy’s name in the coming year. Hello, top of the 2019 NFL draft.

• Temple returns to the unfriendly road next week for a noon kickoff at East Carolina. The Pirates are not a great team, but the same can be said right now for Temple, which obviously still has plenty of knots to unravel in the coming week.

Temple abandons identity against UConn, now searching for how to become bowl eligible

Temple abandons identity against UConn, now searching for how to become bowl eligible

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This was personal for Logan Marchi.

After all, Temple’s starting quarterback wouldn’t even be sporting cherry and white Saturday afternoons if his original plan went as scheduled.

Marchi, a Bristol, Connecticut, native, was set to attend UConn after high school. That is, until his scholarship offer was pulled by the Huskies shortly before national signing day.

Temple ultimately came back around and reoffered to Marchi, who signed on the spot.

All of that added a little spice to Saturday’s matchup between Temple and Connecticut at Lincoln Financial Field. Certainly, Marchi would want to put on a show. He just didn’t realize it would be a personal show.

Marchi dropped back for a career-high 54 pass attempts as Temple’s lopsided offense couldn’t help pull off a comeback in a 28-24 homecoming loss to UConn (see observations).

“I think any time you go into any game you want to try and be as balanced as you possibly can,” Temple offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “They did a good job early on in the first half of blitzing us and being aggressive in the run game. They also came in with a fairly porous pass defense, so we knew going in we felt like we would be able to throw it.”

Oh, they threw it all right. The Owls (3-4, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) threw when they were ahead early. They went to the air when things were tight during the middle of the game. And they tossed the ball around, even more, when they were trailing late.

It made for a nice day in the stat books for Marchi (career-best 356 yards, one touchdown and one interception). But, more importantly, it threw Temple’s offense out of whack as the team attempted 55 total passes (one spike to stop the clock not charged to Marchi) compared to 29 runs in the program’s first homecoming defeat since 2008.

“I would never imagine wanting to throw it 55 times,” Patenaude said. “We’re not like a Texas Tech type of group that wants to do that over and over again. You always want to be more balanced.”

Patenaude is exactly right. No one will ever mistake Temple’s offense for the Air Raid attack used by the Red Raiders. And that’s a good thing. TU has moved its way up the college football ranks the old-fashioned way: dominating the run game and playing stingy defense.

That commitment to the run is what allowed Bernard Pierce, Montel Harris and Jahad Thomas to all eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark in recent Temple history.

Despite being banged up, Ryquell Armstead, David Hood and the rest of the team’s running backs are waiting for their chance to be able to join that list. They showed flashes against the Huskies as the rushing attack went over the century mark for a third straight game (117 yards) and produced just the second and third scores on the ground from tailbacks this season.

But that quest to have a run-first mentality wasn’t going to get started on this Saturday. The Owls were focused on putting on an aerial show right from the start vs. UConn (2-4, 1-3 AAC), which worked for a while against the AAC’s worst pass defense.

Marchi was on target early. He connected with his receivers downfield when those opportunities presented themselves. However, with the Huskies playing deep coverage, a lot of Marchi’s work came underneath. He found his backs time and again for checkdowns (Hood finished with a team-high eight catches for 91 yards).

That was fine until the Owls’ defense stumbled a bit and the team began trying to play catch-up. Then the wideouts endured a case of the drops and the redshirt sophomore QB threw a critical pick-six near the end of the third quarter to put Temple back down by 14 points.

“We’ve got to execute. We didn’t execute out there today,” Marchi said. “We’ve got to catch passes. We’ve got to make the throws that are there and move the ball better. I thought we did that well coming out in the second half, moving down the field. We’ve just got to make the plays that are there.”

“I thought Logan had some nice balls. We’ve challenged them for the last couple weeks. We’ve got to make those catches,” Temple head coach Geoff Collins said of the dropped passes. “I thought vs. ECU, we were making those catches. We were making the hard catches and we were making the routine catches. There were sometimes out there today, even some of the routine catches, we weren’t pulling down. We’ve got to make sure we do that. 

“It’s been a point of emphasis and we’ll just keep stressing it because in games like this every single time that you drop a pass or there’s an incompletion on a makeable catch, that sets you back. It hurts the momentum, it hurts the tempo. When we were clicking, we were hitting on all cylinders. We were moving the ball up and down the field. Then one drop or one missed target is going to not be good for us.”

True, Temple’s offense was clicking on all cylinders most of the day against UConn. TU won a majority of the battles on the stat sheet, particularly in total yardage (473-244).

Still, the Owls were the ones that walked away back under the .500 mark and searching for answers to how they can make it to bowl eligibility.

“There are obviously some hurt kids in there,” Collins said of the mood in the locker room.

Temple is better off when it's the one hurting opponents on the field, primarily on the ground.

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.