The Cougars have ‘a lot to clean up' in terms of mistakes they made in their 62-13 victory over Southern if they hope to beat the Owls according to Cougars head Coach Tony Levine, "Penalties we talked about going into the game, we had 14 for 126 yards. Offensively we had an additional 100 yards negated from the plays that occurred in those being called back. Really in my mind it was 226 yards we lost due to those 14 penalties. It's something we're going to continue to work on, coach off the video and continue to emphasize. That's something that's important to winning football games. I look to see not only improvement but a vast improvement in that this week," Levine said during his weekly media press conference via uhcougars.com.
Temple first year head coach Matt Rhule echoed those same thoughts at his own weekly press conference (via philly.com), "The big thing for me is not to beat yourself. Go play with confidence. We wouldn't put you in bump-and-run if we didn't think you could do it. But you can't do it if you don't think you can do it. We played very well on 55 of the 62 plays they ran (in a 28-6 loss at 14th Notre Dame). So I think the thing for us this week is to come back and make those 55 to 70 plays a game. It's the simple things that we do in practice every day that we didn't do in the heat of battle."
The Owls are trying to reset their program after a 4-7 record last season, including 2-5 in the old Big East. Enter Rhule, who was a Temple assistant coach (on both offense and defense) from 2006 through 2011 under coaches Al Golden and Steve Addazio. After losing five of their last six games last season by an average of 23 points per game (allowing 40 on defense), including five conference losses by an average of 25 points per game, restoring team confidence was Rhule's first order of business as he told beat reporters in Philadelphia last week, "This is apples and oranges, compared to last season, in terms of what we're asking them to do," the Owls coach said last week via philly.com. "It's so completely different. We think we're a good football team, and we're going to play that way. Other people might not think that. It might not happen right away. We're trying to teach them to win games. That's true for every game. We have to let it play out."
"You can't really look at where people pretty much pick us," said linebacker/captain Tyler Matakevich (101 tackles including 3 for loss with 3 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery), who was voted the Big East's Newcomer of the Year last season. "But in the back of your head, it's always there. We're hoping to be successful. All we can do is go out there and play." Starting quarterback Connor Reilly, "Nobody knows what we're about, outside the (practice-facility) fence. Inside here, the Temple family, we do. That's all we care about." Rhule has stated that all he needs is someone to distribute the ball to his playmakers. Over the course of spring and summer practices he tabbed Reilly, the 6-foot3, 215 pound red shirt junior, man for the job over seniors Chris Coyer (who started the first nine games last season) and Clifton Granger (who started the last two). Coyer was subsequently moved to a do-it-all H-back position over the spring.
At Notre Dame Reilly was just that – a game manager in Rhule's newly installed pro-spread up tempo no huddle offense (coordinated by Marcus Satterfield), as he completed 23 of his 46 passes for 228 yards with zero interceptions. He also showed plenty of ‘pocket awareness' and wasn't afraid to pull the ball down and run if his first or second reads were not there, leading the Owls in rushing as well with 65 yards on 12 carries. A few of those runs came from some elements of the read-option game, which always seems to give the Cougars defense problems.
Ten different Owls caught those 23 passes including their three starting wide receivers (whom the NBC announcer anointed as ‘The Smurfs') – Ryan Alderman (5'9, 175, Sr.), John Christopher (5'10, 185, So.) and Jalen Fitzpatrick (5'11, 180, Jr.) leading the way. The three combined for 106 yards on 9 receptions, many on quick slants and crossing patterns over the middle. One particular matchup Satterfield may try to utilize includes his bigger receivers Romond Deloatch (6'4, 225, So.) and the previously mentioned Coyer (6'3, 250). Deloatch, who can line up at tight end and off the line as a bigger slot receiver, caught one pass for 20 yards after getting behind a linebacker down the seam. Coyer had 39 yards on 4 receptions while also rushing once for 14 yards from the backfield.
Cougar linebackers Derrick Mathews, Efrem Oliphant and George Bamfo need to be careful about covering Coyer and Deloatch, especially in their zone drops. As instinctive as Mathews is, he can lack concentration at times as he was beat on a 20 yard crossing pattern by a Southern wide receiver after keeping his eyes on the backfield off a play-action pass leading to the Jaguars first TD last Friday. Hopefully the Cougars secondary will put up a much better effort in covering the Owls receivers than they did the Jaguars as both corners, Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates, were burned more than a few times. Of course it's difficult to cover a receiver when you're instructed to play 8 yards off of him as the Coogs corners are in their zone coverage. With the Owls liking to ‘dink and dunk' their way down the field, safeties Trevon Stewart and Adrian McDonald need to not only know where to be, but get there quickly in helping out their corners.
Of course a secondary can only cover receivers for a certain amount of time, and this has everything to do with how much pressure the Cougars defensive front can put on Reilly. Hopefully Gibbs opens up his scheme on Saturday as it was very vanilla against Southern with very little blitzing being shown. Perhaps he wanted it this way as to not give Temple's coaches anything to game plan for? We shall see. Adding to the vanilla game plan on defense is the fact that featured rush end specialist Eric Eiland is out for the game with a groin injury and is listed as day-to-day. JC transfer Trevor Harris (6'5, 227) and true freshman Tyus Bowser (6'2, 219) must step up and take Eiland's place in pressuring the QB. Establishing a run game is something the Owls will look to accomplish early on in order to negate this pressure. I'm not sure if Reilly leading them in yards on the ground is what Satterfield wants as it exposes the QB to unnecessary hits. Kenny Harper started and is the big physical between the tackles back but he only carried the rock 6 times for 5 yards (including a 1 yard TD) against the Irish. The 6'0, 225 pound junior shared carries with fellow backs Zaire Williams (5'11, 195, Fr.) and Jamie Gilmore (5'8, 190, So.) with Williams accumulating only 33 yards on 7 carries and Gilmore 17 and 3 respectively.
Charged with opening up holes for said backs are (from left to right tackle) Cody Booth (6'5, 285, Sr.), Jeff Whittingham (6'2, 305, Sr.), Kyle Friend (6'2, 305, So.), Pete White (6'4, 330, Sr.) and Zach Hooks (6'6, 300, So.). The line did a solid job in communicating up front, especially in handling Fighting Irish massive (350 pounds plus) nose guard Louis Nix. Coach Rhule was impressed as he's looking to instill a tough physical mindset in his team. Cougars' defensive tackles Joey Mbu (6'2, 312, Jr.), Tomme Mark (6'3, 288, So.), Josh McNeil (6'5, 307, Sr.), Mike Mustafa (6'3, 277, So.), B.J. Singleton (6'3, 285, RFr.) and Nick Thurman (6'3, 285) need to play gap sound ball shutting down any running lanes. Strong side defensive ends Eric Braswell (6'5, 268, Jr.) and Cameron Malveaux (6'6, 252, RFr.) also need to maintain gap integrity as to not allow backside cuts by the Temple RBs or their shifty of-foot QB.
After allowing over 200 yards on the ground last season and 237 through the air with 21 passing TDs (90th overall), the Owls defense didn't fare much better against the Fighting Irish last week as their best cornerback, Anthony Robey (5'10, 160, Jr.), was beaten twice for scoring strikes of 32 yards barely five minutes into the first quarter. Another missed tackle late in the second quarter ended with a ND tight end scampering 66 yards to the end zone giving the Fighting Irish an insurmountable 21-6 lead just before the half. In all, Notre Dame's starting QB finished the day completing 16 of 23 passes for an impressive 346 yards with the three TD tosses. With the weakness of Temple's defense in coverage, look for UH QB's David Piland and John O'Korn to shred the Owls secondary much as they did to Southern's last week in much the same type of game plan – getting the ball out of the QB's as quickly as possible to Cougar receivers in space allowing them to make plays, with as much no-huddle thrown in as possible. TU's corner opposite Robey isn't much bigger as Tavon Austin is a sophomore listed at only 5'10, 180 pounds. The two safeties looking to help over the top in defensive coordinator Phil Snow's base 4-3 scheme are Stephaun Marshall at strong safety and hard hitting Abdul Smith (6'0, 205, Sr.) at free safety. Look for Cougars OC Doug Meacham to get the ball to outside receivers Larry McDuffy and Xavier Maxwell early and often in order to reestablish the confidence of the two as they struggled not only with catching the ball, but penalties last week (each had a holding call that negated big plays). With the Owl's corners playing press man coverage more times than not, their defense played with fire and were burned a few times over the top (as ND QB's averaged over 20 yards per completion). Look for Temple to play much the same, especially on the outside as Piland has struggled with his deep ball.
Completing a post pattern pass or two to McDuffey or Maxwell early on could alter this game plan, loosening up the middle of the field for inside receivers Deontay Greenberry and Daniel Spencer in mismatches against Temple's linebackers. Both receivers had great games last week in finding holes in Southern's zone. With the aforementioned Matakevich patrolling the Owl's zone over the middle of the field the 6'1, 230 pound sophomore is flanked by athletic Nate Smith (6'0, 225, So.) and Blaze Caponegro (6'1, 225, Sr.) at the Sam linebacker spot, and with a name like ‘Blaze' how could you not be a fleet of foot defender?
In returning to Temple, one of Rhule's first objectives was to get the defense playing back to its hard physical style they had been known for during the Golden and Addazio years. This toughness starts up front with senior starting tackles Levi Brown and Kamal Johnson, both of whom have started plenty of games over their combined ten seasons (both being redshirt seniors). Brown plays at the nose and weighs in at just over 300 pounds with Johnson adding 310 pounds to his 6'4 frame. At end are Sean Daniels and Shahbaz Ahmed. Daniels, whom was voted as the teams' toughest player, is 6'3, 230 pounds and has played in 27 career games over his first three seasons with Ahmed playing the strong end as a 255 pound true sophomore. They'll rotate nine deep in all along the line with none of the reserves weighing in at less than 280 pounds that includes Hershey Walton (6'4, 300, So.), Averee Robinson (6'1, 285, Fr.), Shahid Paulhill (6'3, 285, Sr.), Brian Carter (6'3, 280, Fr.) and Matt Ioannidis (6'4, 285, So.) who added the defenses only sack last week.
With five underclassmen on their two-deep it will be interesting to see how they fare against a Cougars offensive line that's experiencing major upheaval due mainly to injuries. It was learned that starting left tackle, Ralph Oragwu was lost for the season after tearing an ACL against Southern. In his absence Rowdy Harper moved from his left guard spot to spell the redshirt senior. In Harper, the line has a 6'6, 295 pound junior who started 12 games at the position last season so he is familiar with the position. Another alternative includes leaving Harper at left guard and inserting senior DeAnthony Sims in at LT as the 6'3, 330 pound reserve has seen plenty of time there over the past two seasons. Personally I would slide Harper over to tackle as he has quicker feet and is more equipped to handle the smaller Temple defensive ends with the more massive Sims better to handle the Owls huge interior defensive linemen. Of course if Ty Cloud comes back from his injury this issue is moot as the 6'4, 314 pound redshirt senior has 26 career starts at LG but has missed most of summer practices and the game against Southern with head and knee injuries. Coach Levine has said he's hoping Cloud at least practices this week. At center, Bryce Redman (6'1, 285) must do a better job at sealing his blocks against much bigger men without the holding penalties if the line wants to protect its QBs and open up holes for their very effective running game. On the other side of the line, sophomore right tackle Zach Johnson (6'6, 301) and senior guard Kevin Forsch (6'3, 307) must also work well together against Temple's stunts if they hope to open up holes for the Cougars running backs.
Both Ryan Jackson and Kenneth Farrow shredded Southern's defense for a combined 217 yards on 20 carries as a "Thunder and Lighting" type duo that's been used for most college teams of late. Also look for Meacham to get both backs involved more in the passing game this week, especially motioning Jackson out of the backfield in many five receiver sets in hopes of isolating the shifty back against a linebacker or safety in man coverage. This cat-and-mouse game between Temple's DC and the Cougars OC will be something to watch in terms of how Snow sets up his game plan against Meacham. Will he have his corners playing in man on the outside in order to give more help to the inside receivers and the Cougars dangerous running game, and how does Meacham counteract that?
Special teams wise, the Owls struggled against Notre Dame as place kicker Jim Cooper missed both of his field goal attempts from 32 and 43 yards out (in what was a close game at the time) and had an extra point blocked. The struggles were probably expected as the true freshman is trying to replace Brandon McManus and everything he brought to the program kicking wise over the past four seasons. Fortunately for the Cougars their cupboard isn't as bare in the kicking game as American Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Week Richie Leone not only punts but handles all of the placekicking duties for the Coogs. Returns wise for the Owls, Fitzpatrick can be a ‘waterbug' type and has the potential to break either a long punt or kickoff return (as he returned a kickoff for 39 yards last week). As for the Cougars return games, who returns punts? McDuffey struggled last week as he muffed two fair catches but I look for him to get a second chance with Damian Payne again waiting in the wings. A miscue (a fumble or blocked kick on either side) could drastically alter the course of this game so the special teams play shouldn't be overlooked Saturday afternoon.
Final Analysis: Will the Cougars be able to play "big boy football" and handle the bigger more physical teams from the American Athletic? This will be their first test in that regard. Can David Piland lead them from behind if they get down early? Will the Cougars be able to win on the road? I say yes, maybe and yes, but as they say – that's why we play the game.
Final prediction: After struggling early, the defense forces a key turnover and the official start of the O'Korn era begins as the true freshman leads the team to a come from behind victory – 31-27.