Temple Owls

Temple's QB decision takes spotlight as Geoff Collins' 1st camp kicks off

Temple's QB decision takes spotlight as Geoff Collins' 1st camp kicks off

The last time Temple head coach Geoff Collins stepped foot in South Bend, Indiana, he was literally a man on the run about 10 years ago.

“You probably won’t believe this when I tell you,” Collins quipped jovially. “I trained to run a marathon. It was back when the College Football Hall of Fame was still in South Bend. The starting line was at the College Football Hall of Fame and, 26.2 miles later, on the 50-yard line at Notre Dame Stadium was the finish.”

In just over four weeks, Collins will return to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since.

But when the coin is flipped into the late summer afternoon air right at the very same 50-yard line on Sept. 2, it won’t be the end of anything.

In fact, it will be quite the opposite. Because once that coin is flipped in front of a national audience, the marathon that is Collins’ head coaching career will hit the ground running.

But before Collins, the former University of Florida defensive coordinator who was hired to be the head man at Temple this past December after Matt Rhule took the head gig at Baylor, and his Owls battle the Fighting Irish in the season opener, there is still work to be done as training camp officially kicked off with Monday’s annual media day.

And Collins is doing that work his own unique way to help mold these Owls and the program itself in his vision.

And that includes the ever-present starting quarterback decision that is looming overhead as Temple prepares to replace four-year starter Phillip Walker, an undrafted free agent in camp with the Indianapolis Colts who holds the program records for passing yards (10,668) and passing touchdowns (74).

Redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo and true freshman Todd Centeio are all racing during camp to earn the right to fill Walker’s cherry and white cleats.

Those four have combined in their college careers for five completions on 11 attempts, 69 yards and a single touchdown toss.

No pressure, right, guys?

How’s that going to sort out as camp begins? Good question, and Collins, per usual, had his own unique solution.

“One of the questions I preloaded is who is going to take the first snap [at Tuesday’s first camp practice]?” Collins said. “So, tomorrow, there will be four snaps that happen at the same time. At our practices, there are all kinds of drills going on at once.

“When we have the first snap, there will be four drills and the balls will be snapped by four different guys at the same time.”

Needless to say, this is the most pressing question Collins must find an answer for in the coming weeks. After all, it is the most important position on the field.

Russo, the 6-foot-4, Archbishop Wood product who was committed to Rutgers before decomitting and then rebuffing overtures from LSU before signing with the Owls in 2015, has all the physical tools of the prototypical pro-style quarterback and could be the favorite at this moment in time just for that last fact alone.

But the competition is more than wide open and live practice and scrimmage action will be the ultimate litmus tests.

And the name to keep an eye on isn’t that of the more game- and practice-seasoned Nutile or Marchi. Instead, it’s that of the true frosh Centeio.

The Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, native burst onto the scene with an impressive, poised performance during April’s spring game. Your eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to him on the Chodoff Field turf that day with precision passes, heady check-downs and smart, efficient scrambles out of the pocket.

As you may have guessed, the coaching staff saw all of that in Centeio that day, and even more since.

“When you start evaluating quarterbacks and start talking about personalities, you say is he a kid that gets it? Does he have ‘it’? And [Centeio] does,” new Temple offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude, nee of Coastal Carolina, said.

“He’s got a little bit of swagger to him. He’s got confidence in his ability. He’s a good athlete. He’s very bright and did very well in the classroom. … But he gives us a dynamic that maybe some of the other guys don’t — when the play breaks down, he can make plays with his feet. He’s a very willing runner.”

Patenaude said his hope is to have a decision on a lead horse down two weeks before the flight to South Bend. In the meantime, he has plenty he wants to see out of all four guys.

“A big piece of it is the stage isn’t going to be too big for them when they go to Notre Dame,” he said. “A big part of it is how they can handle the offense, what their demeanor is, how they can run the offense, get us in and out of checks, be able to handle themselves, not get too caught into the emotion of it.”

The other side of the equation here is made up of the guys who will be catching the passes thrown by whomever gets crowned the starter.

Guys such as Keith Kirkwood, Ventell Bryant and Adonis Jennings had been working with and catching passes thrown by Walker for the better part of two or three years. The chemistry was there in the blink of an eye. The intricacies of how each player works were there in a snap of a finger or, literally, in the flick of a wrist.

Not so much anymore as the wideouts will be tasked with getting on the same page with the new starter. That’s much easier said than done. And that’s why all these upcoming camp reps with all four QBs are so important.

“We have four quarterbacks, each and every one has a unique position and unique talent,” Kirkwood said. “Whoever plays on this field, every single player I feel has something to bring to this team and have a productive year.”

But still, that noise you hear overhead of 10th and Diamond Streets?

It isn’t the SEPTA train rolling by every so often above.

It’s the hands of the quarterback decision clock ticking.

Tick, tock.

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

BOX SCORE 

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.