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.”

Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose lead Temple over St. Joe's in Big 5 battle

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Shizz Alston Jr., Quinton Rose lead Temple over St. Joe's in Big 5 battle

BOX SCORE

With five minutes and 22 seconds left in the first half and Temple trailing St. Joe’s, 26-24, De’Vondre Perry took a three-pointer that hit the back iron and missed long.

Out of nowhere, Quinton Rose streaked down the center of the free throw lane, leaped above everyone on the floor, corralled the offensive rebound and completed the two-handed slam to tie the game, prompting an eruption from the Liacouras Center crowd.

“That’s just how [Quinton] plays,” Shizz Alston Jr. said. “When guys start jawing at him he just turns it up a notch. I think some of their players were talking to him and he just got juiced up off of that.”

The play energized the Owls after a slow start, highlighting a 17-3 run to end the half and leading to an 81-78 Temple victory (see observations). Alston Jr. led all scorers with 20 points, including five three-pointers, and Rose added a 15 point, 11 rebound double-double for the squad.

At the start of the game, St. Joe’s came out hot, hitting on three of their first five three-point attempts and jumping out to a 17-8 lead early in the game. After a Fran Dunphy timeout with just less than 13 minutes left in the half, the Owls seemed to tighten up defensively.

“He just told us we had to pick it up,” Rose said. “It’s simple as that.

"I think we had a lack of communication and the biggest thing is we don’t finish our possessions with rebounds. We give up a lot of second-chance points. We just have to straighten that up and I think we’ll be good.”

Obi Enechionyia and Rose came up with big blocks and Temple started forcing turnovers. This helped the offense get going, in particular, Alston, whose 15 first-half points kept Temple in the ball game despite the hot shooting start by St. Joe's.

Perry, a true freshman, provided a spark off the bench for the Owls, contributing nine points in the first half, including two threes and a tough finish at the rim.

“He showed a lot of toughness,” Rose said. “I mean he’s young, but he showed a lot of toughness on the defensive end and rebounding. He made some big shots for us too.”

Perry attributed a lot of the open looks he got to his teammates.

“My teammates opened it up for me,” Perry said. “Either driving or kicking or just doing what they do best by penetrating and giving me the ball.”

Temple’s star big man, Enechionyia, struggled throughout the game, going 1 for 8 from the field and finishing with four points while being limited to 23 minutes because of foul trouble. Center Ernest Aflakpui came up big in his absence, putting up 12 points on 5 for 6 from the field and adding six rebounds.

“If we can count on a dozen points from Ern every game, that would be spectacular,” Dunphy said. “It’s obviously not his forte, but he did a terrific job. I thought he was poised at the rim and didn’t rush himself.”

In the last five minutes, the Hawks rallied from 16 down and cut the lead to four, but five clutch free throws from fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown sealed Temple’s first Big 5 and Atlantic-10 win of the year.

“I thought Josh Brown saved us at the foul line,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “I thought he played great again. He played great against Wisconsin and played great again. I’m very, very proud of him.”

The Owls, now 6-2 on the season, will host the No. 4-ranked Villanova Wildcats, who could jump to No. 1 in the country after Duke’s loss Saturday, in another Big 5 showdown this Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.

“It’s a really big opportunity,” Rose said. “I hope they are No. 1 so we can knock them off.”

Temple-St. Joe's observations: Owls hold off late rally

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Temple-St. Joe's observations: Owls hold off late rally

BOX SCORE

Temple on Saturday afternoon nabbed its first win against a Big 5 team and an Atlantic 10 team with an 81-78 victory over St. Joe’s at the Liacouras Center.

With five clutch free throws from fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown, the Owls held off a late rally by the Hawks. Shizz Alston Jr. led the Owls with 20 points and four rebounds, while Quinton Rose added a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards.

Temple moves to 6-2 on the season with the victory.

• St. Joe’s was on fire early on, making three of its first five three-point attempts, en route to a 17-8 lead just over seven minutes into the game.

• After a Fran Dunphy timeout with 12:44 left in the first half, Temple turned up its effort on defense. Big blocks by Rose and Obi Enechionyia allowed Temple to take the lead, 18-17, with 9:30 left in the half. The Owls forced a total of eight turnovers in the first half.

• Alston, Jr. dominated the first half and really kept the Owls in the game during St. Joe’s early run. He went 5 for 8 from the field in the first half, including 4 of 5 from three-point range, for 15 points. The junior guard has developed tremendously since last season, coming into this contest averaging 16.9 points, which is up from 13.9 points per game last year in his sophomore campaign.

• Enechionyia struggled in the first half, going 1 for 6 from the field in 17 minutes of action. He missed multiple fadeaway jumpers on the baseline and didn’t make an impact in the post. He also picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second half and had to go to the bench. The senior power forward finished the afternoon with just four points and six rebounds.

• Junior center Ernest Aflakpui filled in tremendously with Enechionyia on the bench. He scored 12 points while shooting 83 percent from the field, added six rebounds and disrupted shots around the rim.

• De’Vondre Perry also played a big role for Temple, putting up nine points, 6.9 points more than his season average, in 21 minutes of action, which is up from his season average of 12.3 minutes per game. The true freshman did it in a variety of ways as well, driving and finishing at the basket, drawing fouls and adding two three-pointers. Perry was the only freshman to play in the game.

• Rose displayed his incredible athleticism with multiple big plays in the first half. The sophomore guard slashed through the lane and made a contested layup to put Temple up 18-17, and then followed a Perry missed three-pointer with a put-back dunk that caused the crowd to erupt. He also missed a few layups during the game, showing he still can refine his touch around the basket, but finished the game with 15 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

• The student section was involved throughout the game, bringing out big-head posters during opponents’ free throws, making noise after airballs and erupting after multiple big Rose dunks. In Temple’s second Big 5 game of the year, the Owls fans needed to out-do the St. Joe’s fans who traveled to North Philly, and they certainly did.

• The win marks Temple’s first Big 5 victory of the year, almost two weeks after its 87-83 road loss to La Salle. It was a physical matchup that seemed like it would get chippy. Rose got into a St. Joe’s player’s face after a layup in the first half. Enechionyia was elbowed in the face while going up for a rebound at the end of the first half. Temple was the more physical, scrappy team Saturday, but will need to be better this Wednesday against another Big 5 team, No. 4 Villanova.

The Hawks return to action next Sunday when they host Maine.