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's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

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Temple's NCAA tourney hopes take a crushing blow

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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

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Temple flops in biggest game of season

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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.