Temple Owls

Temple Spring Game: Process to replace 7 defensive starters begins

Temple Spring Game: Process to replace 7 defensive starters begins

Temple enters the 2017 season without seven of its starters from last year's defense.

A couple will be chosen in the 2017 NFL draft like projected first-round pick DE/LB Haason Reddick and mid-round pick CB Nate Hairston.

The departures of last year's starting linebackers Avery Williams, Stephaun Marshall and Jared Alwan also leave a void in the middle of the defense.

But the Owls aren't short on resources to replace those aforementioned players this upcoming season, and those resources were on display in the Cherry and White Game on Saturday at Edberg-Olson Hall. The Cherry team prevailed 17-14 over the White squad (see offensive recap).

"We have to replace three," head coach Geoff Collins said of the linebackers Saturday. "The development of those young linebackers, they showed up today in a big way. I'm proud of them, I'm excited about it."

Each of the starting linebackers last season had 50-plus tackles. They also combined for 20 percent of Temple's total tackles.

Collins has stressed since the start of Spring practices that he's looking for "above-the-line" players, meaning that a player is talented enough to see significant playing time.

Two front-runners for starting linebacker jobs, Jared Folks and Chapelle Russell, didn't play in the Cherry and White game because of injury and haven't been active during Spring practice. 

Folks racked up 32 tackles, including two tackles for a loss, one interception and one forced fumble last year. Russell had 25 tackles, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

With Folks and Russell out, fellow linebackers Shaun Bradley and William Kwenkeu were able to showcase their talents Saturday.

"I've seen some leadership emerge out of the young linebackers, as it should," running back Jager Gardner said. "They're really fast, they're really athletic, I see a lot of good things out of them. It's going to be a really scary year for some teams."

"Shaun Bradley sticks out to me," Gardner added. "He's everywhere on the field."

It's no wonder as Bradley led the linebacker group in tackles with five Saturday.

Collins said he wants to have eight linebackers playing at an "above-the-line" level before they kick off the season on the road against Notre Dame on Sept. 2. 

One area of the defense Collins and defensive coordinator Taver Johnson won't have much turnover is the defensive backfield. Starting safeties Sean Chandler and Delvon Randall are both returning, while Artrel Foster and Derrek Thomas will be back on the outside at cornerback.

Foster and fellow cornerback Kareem Ali were each ruled inactive for the spring game Saturday, which gave Mike Jones, a transfer from North Carolina Central, some time on the outside. Jones had 114 tackles, 36 pass break-ups and 11 interceptions in four years at North Carolina Central.

Jones picked off quarterback Logan Marchi and ran it back for 10 yards in the spring game Saturday.

Randall said he has seen improvement since the start of spring practices amongst the defensive backs.

"I see progress every day, day by day," Randall said. "I see a lot of progress. We're just trying to get everyone on the same level. Just pick up from where we left off last year and make it better."

Temple finished third in the NCAA last season in total defense and passing defense.

Randall said it means a lot for him to see guys like Tavon Young and Hairston go into the NFL as he hopes to eventually follow in their footsteps.

But first, he plans on passing along the tips they taught him to the young group of defensive backs on the Owls' roster.

"The main part is work ethic, take no days off," Randall said. "And when you take no days off, it will show eventually."

Two-way flexibility
Collins has repeatedly emphasized positional flexibility since his arrival as the head coach. Wide receiver Keith Kirkwood was lined up at defensive end and picked up a sack in the spring game Saturday.

Bradley, who rushed for over 1,400-yards at Rancocas Valley High School his senior year, got reps at running back on Saturday and carried the ball one time for six yards.

"Seeing the flexibility of our team is just a plus for me," Randall said. "We have enough guys that can do multiple things and it will help during the season."

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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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.