Temple Owls

Temple leaning on upperclassmen wide receiver trio to guide new offense

Temple leaning on upperclassmen wide receiver trio to guide new offense

Quarterback this, quarterback that.

Here, there, everywhere throughout Temple’s preseason camp, the questions about the quarterbacks have been flung fast and furiously in the direction of first-year head coach Geoff Collins about who will start this Saturday's opener at Notre Dame.

And rightfully so as the four-horse race for the starter’s crown at the most important position on the field is still unsettled.

But there are no questions on 10th and Diamonds Streets about who the QB is going to throw the ball to on the outside.

Headed by redshirt senior Keith Kirkwood, senior Adonis Jennings and junior Ventell Bryant, the Owls feature one of, if not the most loaded wide receiver corps in the entire American Athletic Conference.

There is experience, athleticism, size, strength, speed and everything else in between.

There’s also a hell of a lot of confidence.

"I believe, in my eyes, we're the best receiving corps in this country," Kirkwood said last week. "No disrespect to any other team, but that's how much I believe in my group.

"We're tremendously deep. We have so much depth that I think any receiver in this group right now can play.

“Our receiver group is very knowledgeable. We all came back together. We all build off one another. There are a lot of new freshmen who came in and are doing great and making tremendous strides. They can play on this field as well.”

Kirkwood, who was awarded jersey No. 5 for this season, a distinction of great weight as Temple coaches and teammates traditionally award single-digit jersey numbers to those Owls voted the toughest on the team, is the senior leader and mouthpiece of the Owls' talented receivers. He's so respected among his peers that he was the first player during camp this year to be awarded a single-digit jersey.

A Neptune, New Jersey native, Kirkwood burst onto the scene last season after transferring from Hawaii with a hardship waiver in 2014 and redshirting in 2015 after suffering a season-ending injury in the opening victory over Penn State at Lincoln Financial Field.

With ample opportunity ahead of him in 2016, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Kirkwood reached out and caught almost every ounce of opportunity thrown his way.
 
He snatched 42 balls for 648 yards and four TDs, including a tip-toed grab in the back of the endzone with just a second left that gave the Owls an improbable victory at UCF last October, a victory last year’s squad used as a launching pad toward the AAC title.  Temple, a wandering 3-3 team at the time, reeled off seven straight wins after Kirkwood’s season-saving catch.

And now there’s even more opportunity for Kirkwood to tackle, literally.

Collins is a huge believer in the Bill Belichick theory of “position flexibility.” He trains and coaches his players to play multiple spots on the field on both sides of the ball.

This summer, Kirkwood has lined up plenty at defensive end.

“I most definitely think I’ll get there [vs. Notre Dame,]” Kirkwood said. “I’m getting some reps in there with the 1s. We’ll see what happens in the first game.

“It’s helped me out a lot, seeing that being versatile is kind of what they want at the next level, to see if you can play both sides of the ball.”

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Jennings is an athletic specimen who can blow by a defender or make the difficult catch in traffic.

A Sicklerville, New Jersey native and Timber Creek High School product, Jennings transferred to Temple in 2015 after spending his freshman season at Pitt and receiving a hardship waiver, just as Kirkwood did.

And also much like Kirkwood did, Jennings took full advantage of increased opportunity in the Owls’ offense last season.  He nabbed 27 balls for 474 yards and four TDs. He had himself a career day in the Owls’ disheartening Military Bowl loss to Wake Forest late last December when he recorded career-highs with seven receptions, 154 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’m just trying to take this leadership role on with the receivers as well as with Keith and Ventell,” Jennings said of his role with the Owls this season.

“I’m just being the older mentor to the younger guys to bring them along and help bring the whole team along. … Me and all the older guys, we just have to continue to bring the younger guys on this team along so that when we leave, they’ll be able to fill in and do great things.

“Time flies. I embrace being a leader for those guys. They look up to me and they ask me questions, so I’m glad to be able to help them. I just look really forward to guiding them throughout the season.”

Bryant, a Tampa, Florida native, actually led the Owls in receiving last year and got better and better as the season went on. He posted 854 yards on 54 receptions, four of which were for touchdowns.

The 6-foot-3, 200 pounder, who earned the No. 1 jersey as a sophomore last year, put up three games of over 100 yards receiving last season – 115 yards on five grabs in a win vs. USF in October, a career-high 168 yards on nine catches in a win at Tulane in November and 151 yards on a career-high 11 receptions in the Military Bowl loss.

The fact of the matter is, that while Collins and the Temple coaching staff break in one, two, three or even four new quarterbacks to play this season, the Owls will lean on this trio of skilled upperclassmen wideouts to help ease the transition and smooth out any bumps in the road.

These three wideouts have the ability to limit the quarterbacks’ mistakes, an invaluable asset for QBs with limited experience who’ve combined for just five completions and 69 yards in their college careers.

This trio can go and get the ball, and Collins knows that’s just what he’ll need them to do before, while and even after the QB situation bubbles.

“They’re an unbelievable group of guys,” Collins said of his upperclassmen wideouts. “They work hard and they compete.

“It’s up to us to find ways to get them the ball. [Offensive coordinator Dave] Patenaude is one of the most creative playcallers in college football and you will see a bunch of new stuff out here.

“But having those guys, it’s huge.”

Temple's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

usa-fran-dunphy-temple-owls-loss.jpg
USA Today Images

Temple's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

BOX SCORE 

Whether it was simply coachspeak or the dawning realization that his team now has only one entry point into the NCAA Tournament, Fran Dunphy made a short but forceful declaration following Temple’s 80-59 loss to Houston on Sunday.

“We’ve got to win every game we play from here on in,” the Owls head coach said. “That’s the only thing we can do.”

Indeed, at this point, anything short of a perfect run through the American Athletic Conference tournament — which begins on March 8th following the Owls’ final three regular-season games — will likely relegate Temple to the NIT or worse.

The Cougars (21-5, 11-3 American) made sure of that by completely dominating the Owls (15-12 7-8) on their home court to suck the life out of the Liacouras Center — and Temple’s fading NCAA hopes.

“We never let them breathe,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. 

Houston has now won five straight to join nationally ranked Wichita State and Cincinnati atop the conference, making it increasingly likely that only those three squads will represent the American at the Big Dance. 

Temple, despite a conference record hovering around .500, had been making a nice push to join the party thanks to a potent strength of schedule, a couple of impressive November non-conference wins over Auburn and Clemson, and a recent five-game winning streak that included an overtime upset of Wichita State.

But after losing to the Shockers in a rematch on Thursday, the Owls likely needed to win out and then win at least a couple of more games in the AAC tournament to have a realistic shot of an at-large NCAA berth.

Houston ruined that by scoring the game’s first 15 points and never taking its foot off the gas from there en route to Sunday’s lopsided win.

“I think we came out really flat,” said Nate Pierre-Louis, who led the Owls with 13 points after watching the poor start from the bench. “I think we came out underestimating them. And they came out guns blazing, making everything. If we want to push forward, we can’t start out like that at all.”

Dunphy, who could be feeling some heat if Temple misses the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in five years, had a hard time explaining what went wrong. But he didn’t make excuses, whether it was the team having trouble with its charter flight leaving Wichita (“You figure it out, suck it up and do a better job”) or bouncing back in general from an emotionally draining game there (“[Houston] had a great win at home against Cincinnati, so they were probably more susceptible to a letdown than we were”).

He also didn’t hide from the fact that there wasn’t enough effort from his players.

“We were a step slow all day long,” Dunphy said. “We had decent rest, we worked hard enough, [assistant coach] Chris Clark had us very well prepared for the x-and-o piece. We were just slow all day.”

In no way was that more magnified than in Houston’s 53-22 rebounding advantage, including a 17-5 edge on the offensive end. The Cougars' 53 rebounds matched a Liacouras Center record.

When asked about that, Sampson pointed out that he recently learned his team was among the shortest in the nation. Clearly, though, their hunger makes up for that fact.

“I guess we’re short but it never crossed my mind that it mattered,” the Houston coach said. “What’s that old saying? If size were important, what happened to the dinosaurs?”

Dunphy had a less philosophical (and probably more scientifically accurate) approach to the rebounding discrepancy.

“We were just not disciplined enough on the rebounding side,” the Temple coach said. “They played very well, and obviously we didn’t play very well at all.”

Sadly for Temple fans, the Owls have had a few games this year when they didn’t play well. They’ve also had games where they’ve looked like world-beaters, making this a particularly maddening season.

So whether the Owls close the regular season strong and make a run in the conference tournament or crash out in the first round is anyone’s guess, really. But even after Sunday’s brutal loss, sophomore Quinton Rose forecasted some optimism as the up-and-down 2017-18 campaign winds down.

“I think we’re at our best when we have our backs against the wall,” said Rose, who scored 13 on Sunday. “So I have no doubt we can make a good run."

Temple flops in biggest game of season

usa-shizz-alston-temple-owls.jpg
USA Today Images

Temple flops in biggest game of season

BOX SCORE 

In its biggest game of the season, Temple had its biggest flop.

With their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes dangling over a precipice, the Owls were smoked by visiting Houston, 80-59, on Sunday at the Liacouras Center.

Quinton Rose and Nate Pierre-Louis scored 13 points apiece for Temple (15-12, 7-8 American), which had won seven of its last nine coming in with the only losses in that stretch to nationally ranked teams (Wichita State, Cincinnati) on the road.

Corey Davis Jr. had a game-high 20 points for Houston (21-5, 11-3), which has now won five straight, including a massive win over No. 5 Cincinnati on Thursday, and is challenging the Bearcats and Shockers for the league title.

• It sounds cliché but Houston just seemed to want it more, outhustling Temple to loose balls and dominating on the glass by a ridiculous 53-22 margin. Not surprisingly, there were smatterings of boos from Temple fans when the final horn sounded.

• Considering the urgency of the game, Temple was very flat from the start with Houston’s Davis hitting two tough three-pointers to spark an 8-0 start for the visitors.

• The Cougars built their lead to 15-0 as Temple fans, standing until the Owls scored their first basket, grew impatient and implored head coach Fran Dunphy to change the lineup.

• Finally, Temple got on the scoreboard when Obi Enechionyia threw down a big dunk with 13:36 left in the first half. But fittingly, Davis hit a jumper just moments later and the red-hot Cougars kept their foot on the gas to increase their lead to 34-11 with 7:30 left.

• Houston led by a staggering 24 points at the final media timeout of the first half and took a 21-point lead into halftime after an Enechionyia three-pointer in the final seconds.

• Temple shot 31 percent in the first half, and it seemed even uglier with several of the Owls’ shots missing the rim entirely.

• The biggest first-half difference was rebounding as Houston held a 31-9 advantage and an 11-1 edge on the offensive boards. On one especially excruciating possession for Temple, Houston got a couple of offensive rebounds before Davis drilled a three right in front of the Temple bench.

• With Temple showing a little more life to start the second half, the Cougars promptly sucked it back out of them with star senior Rob Gray hitting a big three to put them up 47-24 with 16 minutes left.

• With 13 minutes left, the Cougars had doubled up Temple’s score (54-27), and then went ahead 59-27 on Davis’ sixth three-pointer of the game. Temple fans had very little cheer for from there. Houston’s a good team but it’s not easy to explain how the surging Owls could lose a game this badly to anyone at home.

• Houston actually had far more turnovers than Temple, 17-10.

• Temple lost at Houston, 76-73, back in December, and is now 2-7 all-time vs. the Cougars, including a 1-4 mark in Philadelphia.

• Houston is chasing just its second NCAA Tournament berth since 1992 and its first since 2010. The Owls, meanwhile, are in danger of missing two straight Big Dances for just the second time since Fran Dunphy took over in 2006. Thanks in large part to a great strength of schedule and their recent hot streak, the Owls were on Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out” in ESPN’s bracketology but this loss — and a sub-.500 conference mark — will certainly drop them even further off the bubble.

• The best celebration of the day came in honor of Hooter the Owl’s birthday, with mascots from around the city coming to the Liacouras Center to pay their respects. But those vibes didn’t extend to the game as Temple dropped to 12-1 all-time on its mascot’s birthday.

• Temple plays its final home game next Sunday vs. UCF before closing the regular season with road games at UConn and Tulsa. But even if they win out, the Owls still likely need to win the American Athletic Conference tournament to get into the NCAAs.