Temple Owls

Temple at Notre Dame: Geoff Collins era begins under the national spotlight

Temple at Notre Dame: Geoff Collins era begins under the national spotlight

Temple at Notre Dame
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., NBC

And so, the Geoff Collins era at Temple officially begins. And it begins under one of the brightest spotlights in college football — a nationally televised showdown at Notre Dame.

Collins, who spent the last two years as defensive coordinator at Florida and the previous four seasons in the same position at Mississippi State, gets his first chance to show what he can do at the helm of a talented, but inexperienced Temple team that lost so much – its beloved head coach and most of his staff, a four-year starter at quarterback, a star running back and seven starters from a tenacious defense.

Needless to say, there are plenty questions his team will have to answer if it wants to leave South Bend with the upset win on Saturday. Ironically, Matt Rhule also made his coaching debut at Notre Dame, when Temple suffered a 28-6 loss in 2013.

On the other sideline stands Brian Kelly, whose seat is as sweltering as its ever been in the Notre Dame pressure cooker after the Fighting Irish crumbled last season to an incredibly disappointing 4-8 record.

Kelly has always been an excellent recruiter and has tremendous talent on his squad, but when you’re the head coach at Notre Dame, talent doesn’t mean everything. Wins do. And he’s going to need those this season, with the first chance at one coming Saturday.

Let’s look more closely at where both teams stand before Saturday’s season opener:

Scouting Temple
Yep, all the fingers are still pointing at the quarterback spot, where Collins isn’t publicly naming a starter to replace the now-graduated Phillip Walker prior to kickoff. It’s been a four-pronged race during camp between redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo and true freshman Todd Centeio. Those four have combined for five receptions, 69 yards and a single touchdown in their careers. No pressure at Notre Dame, right, guys?

Collins has said he knows who will take the first snap, but odds are he will use more than one quarterback depending on the situation and field position. The guess here is Nutile, a pro-style QB and most experienced of the bunch, will get the first snap while Marchi will also see time. Don’t be surprised to see packages for Centeio, either, as he’s been a revelation during spring ball and camp.

Junior Ryquell Armstead is back for Temple and he no doubt will be the Owls’ lead tailback this season. With the inexperience at QB and new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s affinity for running the ball, Armstead could well be the Owls’ most important player on the offensive side of the ledger. Even with star Jahad Thomas in front of him, Armstead led the Owls with 14 rushing TDs last season. He also had 919 total yards on the ground.

Perhaps Temple’s deepest position this season is on the outside at wide receiver where senior Keith Kirkwood, senior Adonis Jennings and junior Ventell Bryant give the Owls an experienced, talented trio to lean on. Those three combined last season for 2,017 yards on 123 grabs, including 12 TDs. Bryant led the way with 54 receptions and 895 yards. All three scored four times apiece.

New defensive coordinator Taver Johnson, formerly the defensive backs coach at Purdue, is tasked with molding a new-look Temple defense that must replace seven starters from a unit that was third in the entire nation last season in total defense with 282.5 yards allowed per game. Senior safety Sean Chandler is back as the unquestioned leader of the group. “Champ,” as he is referred to by coaches and teammates, had two picks last season and has seven in his collegiate career. The Owls must replace the entire starting linebacker unit, a group Collins has said will remain fluid. On the defensive line, there is experience on the end with seniors Jacob Martin and Sharif Finch and the tackle spot features youthful talent that could wind up being a strength.

Scouting Notre Dame
After the Irish floundered last season, Kelly thought it was time for a change and brought in former Memphis offensive coordinator Chip Long to fill the same role in South Bend. And Long’s tenure begins with 6-foot-1 junior Brandon Wimbush behind center to replace now-Cleveland Browns starter DeShone Kizer. Wimbush last season sat behind both Kizer and Malik Zaire, the later of whom has transferred to Florida. A four-star recruit out of Jersey City, New Jersey, Wimbush will be making his first career start on Saturday. He has five career passing attempts, all of which came as a true freshman in 2015 vs. UMass. Wimbush will be protected by 6-foot-8, 315-pound senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey, a Penn Charter High School product and legitimate first-round NFL prospect.

Junior tailback Josh Adams returns to lead the Irish’s rushing attack. He led Notre Dame with 933 yards on the ground last season. He’s the only RB in program history with at least 800 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons. He’s also a weapon in the passing game, as he had 21 grabs last year for 193 yards and a TD.

Junior Equanimeous St. Brown is a star on the outside for the Irish. The 6-foot-5, 203-pounder nabbed 58 balls for 961 yards and nine TDs last season. He can take over a game. Temple’s secondary, especially corners Artrel Foster and Mike Jones, will have its hands full.

Kelly also cleaned house on the defensive side of the ball and brought in Mike Elko, formerly of Wake Forest, to run the Irish’s defensive ship. Notre Dame ranked 42nd in the nation last season in total defense with 378.8 yards allowed per game, but was 61st with 27.9 points allowed per game. Where the Irish really struggled last year was against the run, allowing 182.42 yards per game on the ground, just 72nd in the nation. Middle linebacker Nyles Morgan is a player to keep an eye on. The senior and team captain led Notre Dame with 94 tackles last season, including four games of double-digit stops.

History
Saturday will mark the third all-time meeting between the Owls and the Fighting Irish, a series in which the Irish own a 2-0 record.

The first came back in the 2013 season opener at Notre Dame Stadium, when the Irish pulled away with a 28-6 victory in Rhule’s first game as Temple’s head coach. The Owls would go on to endure a 2-10 season from hell that year.

You probably remember the second meeting more vividly.

It came on Halloween night in 2015 when the No. 9 Fighting Irish visited Lincoln Financial Field and held off a valiant upset effort by the upstart No. 21 Owls, 24-20, in front of a national television audience just hours after ESPN’s College Gameday descended upon Philadelphia and Independence Hall for a Temple game for the first time. It was arguably the biggest game in Temple history and, despite the loss, it gave the Temple program a sense of legitimacy in the national eye for the first time in what felt like forever.

Storyline to watch: Seriously, though … how’s this QB thing going to work?
Duh. Of course this is the storyline to watch.

The fact that Temple’s QB situation is still this unsettled just hours before kick off can’t help but give some sort of legitimate pause. Is a multi-QB system really the best option for the Owls right now? Or is it necessary because no one truly won the job in the eyes of Collins and his staff during the summer?

How this all shakes down will be of utmost importance not just this week, but in the coming weeks, too. But it’s magnified because it’s the first game of a new era, it’s total change considering the stability of Walker over the last four seasons and the spotlight is always brighter at Notre Dame.

If Collins really does use multiple QBs, could one play well enough Saturday to finally earn the true starter’s crown? Possibly.

Either way, it’s a question that will need an answer soon.

Prediction
There are just so many questions surrounding the Owls right now. And that’s through no fault of their own. It’s just what naturally happens when there’s so much sudden change, especially with a new coaching staff coming in and laying out its own blueprints. And there are questions about the Irish, too, considering how they continually stumbled and fell face-first over and over again last season. That said, there is still more stability within the Irish right now. The Owls will keep showing that grit they’ve been known for in recent years, but there will just be too much of Notre Dame to deal with.

Notre Dame 27, Temple 13

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

BOX SCORE

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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USA Today Images

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.