Jahad Thomas looks to establish run game early vs. Notre Dame


Jahad Thomas looks to establish run game early vs. Notre Dame

Jahad Thomas came to Temple as an athlete, playing defensive back his freshman season.

Last summer, Owls head coach Matt Rhule decided to convert Thomas to running back and this season, the move has paid major dividends.

Thomas leads the American Athletic Conference with 822 yards and 12 touchdowns through seven games. He's averaging 117.4 yards and 5.0 yards per carry.

Last Thursday against East Carolina, Thomas had his worst game of the season yet still found the end zone twice. He averaged 3.3 yards per carry for 66 yards on 20 carries against ECU.

"We have had a lot of success running the ball early in the season," the junior RB said Tuesday. "Some teams want to stop the run, try to make us one-dimensional.

"We just do what we gotta do. The offensive line, they've been playing great so far. As long as they do what they do, protect P.J. (Walker), get the running game going, we'll be great."

On Saturday night, Thomas and the No. 21 7-0 Owls take on No. 9 6-1 Notre Dame at a sold-out Lincoln Financial Field. TU's offense has struggled to get going in recent weeks.

Two games ago, a 30-16 win over Central Florida at the Linc, TU led, 14-13, at halftime and trailed, 16-14, heading into the fourth quarter before exploding for 16 in the final 15.

Even in their 49-10 win over Tulane on homecoming Oct. 10, the Owls had only an 11-point lead at halftime before rupturing for 28 points in the second half.

Against the Irish, it's important for the Owls' offense to find its groove in the game's first 30 minutes.

"We have to establish the run game early," Thomas said. "Just to get the team going and that may open it up in the passing game.

"Or vice versa. Get the passing game going and then it allows us to run the ball more effectively."

While Temple's offense has dealt with slow starts, the Owls are averaging 32 points. The 24 points against ECU are TU's lowest point total this season.

The Owls benefit from a run game led by Thomas. Rhule placed an emphasis on the run game entering the season, and TU is averaging 148.9 yards per game on the ground.

Rhule hasn't asked Walker to do much this season, as TU averages 197 yards in the air. Against ECU, the QB missed some throws but connected on a big one late to send TU to a victory.

"I would love the day that we look like Baylor and we go out there early on, scoring 30 points in the first quarter," Rhule said of his offense's slow starts. "But that's not us."

The Phil Snow-coached defense is TU's backbone. The Owls allow 14.6 points per game — eighth in the nation. TU has generated 23 sacks — tied for eighth in the country — 12 interceptions and three forced fumbles. Temple has allowed 29 points in the second half, nine points in the fourth quarter and has four second-half shutouts.

According to Rhule, any time a team decides to play great defense, it commits to close games.

"It's really hard to be a high, high scoring team and play great defense," he said. "We're averaging over 30 points a game. It's not like we're winning, 17-14. It just takes us a little while." 

Notre Dame offers a difficult task for Thomas and the TU offense. The Irish defense features several NFL prospects, including defensive tackle Sheldon Day and linebacker Jaylon Smith.

When TU played the Irish at South Bend in 2013, Day was a sophomore but the 6-foot-2, 291-pound DT impressed the then first-year head coach.

"I go back to that game a couple years ago," Rhule said. "I remember coming out of that game and all I talked about was how good Sheldon Day was. So active.

"He's constantly moving, he's got power. He's a great pass rusher. You have to have a plan for him. You can't just go out there and say I'm going to play him one-on-one.

"You have to have a plan for him. He's a really, really dynamic rusher and run defender."

Rhule said TU's offensive line has to work as a group to slow down Day. Since Day is three-technique, he doesn't expect center Kyle Friend to see him much.

The Irish have a high-powered offense under Brian Kelly, but their defense is a challenge TU hasn't faced since the PSU game. ND allows 22.6 points per game, while averaging 194.4 passing yards and 175.9 rushing yards.

Temple is ranked for the first time in 36 years, undefeated and a rising program, but the general feel is Notre Dame wins Saturday night — ND is a double-digit favorite.

And that's a position the Owls are embracing.

"We love being the underdog, having that chip on our shoulder," Thomas said. "It just makes us play even harder. What we've done, nobody is going to be satisfied with anything we've done.

"We could go 12-0 and it's still going to be, 'They possibly could have done this and that.' As long as we keep that in our mind, keep that chip on our shoulder, we'll do fine."

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

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Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

It's been 12 days since Villanova's season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus crisis. Jay Wright held a video conference on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics. 

Here are the major takeaways from Wright's session with the media.  

This March is different

Villanova missed out on opportunities to win a fourth straight Big East Tournament and participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Wildcats won eight of their final nine games to clinch a share of the Big East regular season title. Not having a chance to shine in the postseason stings. 

"Missing the NCAA Tournament is obviously tough for our guys," Wright said. "We felt like we were playing great basketball, coming on strong. I always say we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year, and I think we were doing that. It is what it is, our guys get it. 

"It's a great example of our mantra 'attitude'. We try to teach our guys that you don't have control over what happens in life. What you do have control of is your response to what happens to you. 

"I don't know if there's even been a March where I wasn't either in (the NCAA Tournament), watching it or recruiting during it. I'm testing myself on what else is there in me? Being a better father, being a better husband. Spending more time with the kids, watching more movies, reading more, trying to be more worldly. I'm not very good at it but I'm trying."

Will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA? 

Arguably the biggest question concerning Wright's team heading into the offseason is will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA or will he return for his junior season at Villanova? Wright mentioned that Bey was especially disappointed when this season was cut short. He realizes that he has a big decision to make on his future. Wright discussed Bey's future plans as well as freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is also considered an NBA prospect. 

"The NBA is still on hold," Wright said. "They don't have a plan yet for what they're going to do with the pre-draft process or the draft yet. Saddiq and Jeremiah probably both will go through that process when we find out what it is. They're waiting on us for information, should they start working out? We're trying to get them as much information as possible. 

"If we were in a normal timeline, they would both go through the process. As we learn what the NBA is going to do there are so many possibilities. Just to take it to an extreme, there's a possibility they might not have a pre-draft process and just have the draft with no workouts, using the evaluations they had during the season. 

"We're communicating with both of them daily. Saddiq is having a tough time trying to find a place to work out in [his hometown] Washington D.C. He just got a gym to get into so he can shoot, he can't find a gym to get into to lift. Jeremiah is trying to find a place around here to get into to shoot."

2020 Summer Olympics postponed

Wright was supposed to spend a portion of his summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team in Tokyo. But with this week's announcement that the Olympics are postponed, his plans have changed. 

"It's the right decision," Wright said. "I feel bad for all of those athletes that it's once in a lifetime experience. I really feel bad for them. For basketball guys it's not as difficult. I talked with [U.S. head coach Greg Popovich] yesterday. It's postponed, obviously not cancelled, postponed until some time next spring or summer. There's a lot of questions there. They could do it late spring, when you might not have NBA players. If they did it in the summer maybe you do have NBA players. We have to wait for the IOC to make those decisions. 

"For us personally (at Villanova), it's kind of crazy because we thought we came up with this great plan. I was going to have to leave our offseason program for the Olympics. We had a plan to work around that, and now it doesn't matter. We'll be here in June and July. Now we don't even know if the players will be here. We worked so hard to put this plan in place for me being away and now it doesn't even matter."

Phillies season on hold

A Bucks County native, Wright is a huge Philadelphia sports fan. He had Phillies season tickets as a kid and is a regular at Citizens Bank Park during the summer months. Like all Phillies fans, he's disappointed the baseball season isn't starting this week.

"The end of the basketball season was always sobering," Wright said. "But what always saved us was the start of the Phillies. Opening Day and the start of baseball season in our family is a big deal. 

"We watch the spring training games, we'll even joke, 'Who do the Phillies play tonight?' It's really surreal. Spring time without baseball, especially the Phillies, is bizarre. It's really the way myself and my family get ourselves out of basketball mode. We go to Opening Day, we go to the Phillies games, we love 'Bark in the Park', we always bring the dogs. We're really going to miss it."

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Florida Gulf Coast's massive NCAA Tournament upset in Philly was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

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Florida Gulf Coast's massive NCAA Tournament upset in Philly was the Best Game I Ever Saw Live

I'll be honest. My North Philadelphia roots didn't make room for a lot of in-person sporting events. So as an adult, getting to the games was a must and the NCAA Tournament was always high on the list. Every March, I rooted for the Philly teams and the players I loved. So when the tournament came to Wells Fargo Center in March of 2013, I was all in. 

Thanks to Florida Gulf Coast University I got the complete and full embodiment of March Madness and then some.

The WFC has seen a ton of great basketball, from Allen Iverson's ear cupped encores to the frenzied success of Villanova's second home in South Philly. 

I guarantee you it was never wilder there than when this bracket-busting 15-seed had fans mobbing them in the hallway after an upset over Georgetown.

FGCU had all the swagger of James Brown in a fresh jumpsuit taking the court against the Hoyas. I had no idea what I was about to see.

They called themselves "Dunk City" and by the time the game was over, Georgetown was also calling them Daddy. I actually had Georgetown going to the Final Four in my personal tournament bracket, which as a 2-seed was a pretty mundane pick. That may also explain some of the bitter feelings I have thinking back on the cocktail of emotions I experienced as FGCU turned my "sheet of integrity" into liner for my cats' litter box. 

I'll never forget how those blue and green uniforms flew up and down the court, dunk after dunk. But it wasn't just the fact that they were dunking or hitting important shots, it was the way they were doing it. There were alley-oops, back-door slams, tip dunks, chin-ups on the rim. There were heat check three-pointers from Conshohocken, catch-and-shoot, in-your-face threes. The FGCU Eagles were talking trash and backing it up, the whole. nine. yards.

These kids absolutely knew they could beat Georgetown and then went out and did it with as much bravado and moxie as if destiny owed them a favor. When the weekend was over, I guess it did. They beat San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16. The only 15-seed to ever do it.

For a city that loves a good underdog, this was Vince Papale and Rudy with a little Bad News Bears on the side. Unbelievable. Happy to say I was in the building for a flat-out epic NCAA Tournament game which brought the captivating theater of the unexpected right into my lap.