Temple Owls

Temple-Villanova observations: Owls escape with 16-13 win over Wildcats

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Temple-Villanova observations: Owls escape with 16-13 win over Wildcats

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After a defensive struggle and moments of sloppy play and uncertainty, the Mayor’s Cup is heading back to a display case on North Broad Street.
 
Temple's defense made the plays it needed to make while smothering Villanova’s running game as the Owls survived their home opener at the Linc by the skin of their teeth with a 16-13 victory over Villanova thanks to a 49-yard field goal by Aaron Boumehri with a minute even left on the clock.

Saturday's narrow victory marked the first in the career of Temple head coach Geoff Collins.
 
A relatively monotonous, uneventful game kicked up a few notches at the beginning of the fourth quarter when senior QB Zach Bednarczyk led an 81-yard Villanova drive that ended in the cherry and white-painted endzone with a 10-yard touchdown toss to Taurus Phillips that made it a 13-10 game.
 
After another fruitless Temple drive, Bednarczyk drove the ‘Cats back into Temple territory, when Drew Kresge nailed a 34-yard field goal to tie the game at 13-13 with 3:29 left.
 
With the Owls in desperation mode, sophomore Logan Marchi, who finished the game with 274 yards through the air, took the Owls down the field with the help of a one-handed, 29-yard grab by Ventell Bryant down the sideline and a holding call on Villanova corner Malik Reeves.
 
Boumerhi, who hit earlier from 44 yards but also missed earlier in the game from 48 yards, stepped in and drilled the deciding FG.
 
With under a minute left, the ‘Cats were driving into Temple territory looking to tie or take the lead. But Temple LB Shaun Bradley stripped Villanova’s Matt Gudzak and the Owls recovered with just seconds left.

The Owls moved to 1-1 on the young season while the Wildcats fell to 1-1.
 
• Let’s just get this out of the way now: this game was not pretty by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. Penalties, curious play-calling, dropped passes, punts galore, any mistake you can think of, the Owls and Wildcats “featured” it all on Saturday. This was not a Temple-Villanova game you will be telling your grandkids about. I’m sure the 35,117 announced in attendance will agree.

 
• While mistakes were made and passes were batted down, Marchi seemed more comfortable this week for Temple as compared to last week. Sure, playing at home against Villanova isn’t necessarily the same as making your first career start at Notre Dame in front of a national audience. But Marchi was solid in the pocket and, when he had time, made good decisions. His best throw of the day came in the first quarter when he dropped a 43-yard dime down the sideline to Adonis Jennings in stride. Marchi and Keith Kirkwood seem to be developing some chemistry. When Marchi was in trouble Saturday, more than a few times he threw it up to Kirkwood, who used his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame to go up and get it, as happened in the first when Kirkwood leapt over a pair of defenders and brought down an 23-yard gain. Having the team's 2016 leading receiver in Bryant, who missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, back in the lineup, certainly helped, too. Bryant hauled in seven balls for 79 yards in his debut. One thing to improve upon – getting rid of the ball when out of the pocket. On a few occasions Saturday, he scrambled and either took an unnecessary sack or forced a dangerous incomplete pass. That could get him trouble. Still work to do, but a step in the right direction for Marchi.

• Bednarczyk and the Villanova offense racked up 475 yards of offense last week at Lehigh. The ‘Cats posted more yardage this week against a better FBS defense.  In total, Villanova put up 402 yards on Temple.  But the difference this week was that the Wildcats were able to do their damage through the air as Bednarczyk threw for 382 yards and the TD to Phillips. Gudzak, Aaron Forbes and the rest of the ‘Cats running attack accounted for just 20 yards on the ground.
 
• The two-minute drive Marchi engineered at the end of the first half tipped the scales in Temple’s favor and gave the Owls a leg up that they wound up needing. The Owls started at their own 25 and took the ball 75 yards in 1:59, capped by fullback Nick Sharga’s TD plunge from a yard out with a single tick left on the clock. Surprisingly, it was the redshirt senior’s first career touchdown. But the key play was Jennings’ diving grab at the 1-yard line with :05 left. Marchi stayed cool in the pocket and fired a dart to the big receiver, who stretched out and hauled in a fastball.

• After Villanova put its first points of the day on the board courtesy of a 44-yard field goal off the foot of Kresge late in the third quarter, the ‘Cats went for the surprise onside kick. And they had the Owls completely fooled. A lovely kick was right in the hands of a Wildcat… until it went right through his hands and to the ground. After a scramble, Temple’s Kenny Yeboah came out of the pack with the ball. Talk about a missed opportunity. That would have totally shifted the momentum in favor of the Wildcats and had the Owls on their heels. This game could have gone an entire different direction in that split second.

• Oh, man. The Owls have plenty to work on this week, don’t they? This was not a great showing by any means at all. Villanova is a very good FCS team, no doubt, and the ‘Cats deserve a ton of credit for how hard they fought and played Saturday afternoon. But Geoff Collins and Temple have plenty of bumps to smooth out – rushing attack, pass defense, offensive momentum, you name it.  Head coach Mark Ferrante and the ‘Cats, meanwhile, let it be know they won’t be bossed around in the first year of the post-Andy Talley era and are a legit FCS threat.

• Temple welcomes UMass to The Linc next week for a Friday night tilt. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The Owls and Minutemen last met in 2015 in Foxboro in a game the Owls stole late in regulation, 25-23, thanks to a blocked PAT that was returned for two points and a field goal as time expired. If the Owls stumbled vs. UMass, a team that eventually finished 3-9 that year, who knows where that 2015 season in the spotlight goes from there?

The Wildcats head back home to the Main Line next week to host Lafayette at Villanova Stadium for the ‘Cats home opener. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

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.