KEYS TO THE TEMPLE GAME
Perhaps the single most damning piece of evidence against former Rutgers Head Coach Terry Shea's regime was his pitiful record against Big East doormat Temple. In the 5 years prior to Shea's arrival on the Banks, Rutgers was 5-0 versus Temple, winning by an average score of 40-10. While the Scarlet Knights never could manage that breakthrough season, Rutgers was a cut above Temple and was competitive, if not successful, against the rest of the Big East. Respectability was one of the first victims of the Shea error. Rutgers was 3-32 in Big East games under Shea. Worse still, Rutgers was only 2-3 against Temple and replaced the gritty Owls as the conference doormat. That reversal of fortune was further aggravated in 2001 when the Big East voted to rescind Temple's associate membership for failure to administer an economically viable football program. The Owls took out their frustration on hapless Rutgers teams. Temple pounded Shea's last team 48-14 in Piscataway. The Owls manhandled new Head Coach Greg Schiano'a inaugural team 30-5 at Veterans Stadium. Temple overcame 5 TOs and a 14-point deficit in rainy conditions at Rutgers Stadium to beat Rutgers last year in a game that Temple dominated statistically. Schiano had yet to close the talent gap or the toughness gap with Temple.
Temple fumbled the opening kickoff and Rutgers recovered at the TU37. Rutgers moved into scoring position but the Owl defense pushed back the Scarlet Knights. P Mike Barr pinned Temple at the TU01 and Rutgers quickly forced an Owl punt that Temple recovered near midfield when the ball struck a member of the Scarlet Knight return team. Temple penetrated inside the RU10 but the Scarlet Knight defense pushed Temple back and the Owls settled for a 41-yard FG by PK Cap Poklemba to take a 3-0 lead. KOR Nate Jones returned the ensuing kickoff past midfield and Rutgers again moved into scoring position before Owl DT Dan Klecko sacked QB Ryan Hart and forced a fumble. Rutgers forced a 3-n-out and then drove 45 yards in 5 plays, scoring on a 35-yard TD pass to WR Aaron Martin to take the lead. The 2nd Quarter began with an exchange of punts before FS Jarvis Johnson intercepted Owl QB Mike McGann near midfield. However, Rutgers could do nothing with the excellent field position and went 3-n-out. Temple drove to midfield but fumbled away possession on a botched snap. Rutgers scored on the next play when Hart hit TE LJ Smith for a 53-yard TD to extend the Rutgers lead to 14-3. The teams exchanged punts again before DE Raheem Orr forced a fumble at the TU15 in the closing second of the half, enabling PK Ryan Sands to kick a 31-yard FG on the final play. Rutgers lead only 17-3 despite starting all nine of its possessions at no worse than the RU36, with an average starting point at the RU47.
The 2nd Half was all Temple. Only further Temple TOs and kicking miscues kept the outcome in doubt. Temple forced Rutgers 3-n-out on the opening possession. Five plays and 57 yards later, Temple scored on a 4-yard TD run by RB Tanardo Sharps but missed the XPA. Temple forced another Rutgers punt and drove into scoring position before SLB Brian Bender forced a fumble that MLB Gary Brackett returned to the TU34, The Owl defense again held Rutgers to 3-n-out but Barr pinned Temple at the TU07. The Scarlet Knight defense forced a Temple 3-n-out and a 28-yard punt by P Mike McLaughlin put Rutgers on the fringe of scoring position. Hart threw for the end zone immediately but was intercepted near the goal line. Rutgers forced another punt but again went 3-n-out. Barr pinned Temple at the TU01 but Temple opened the 4th Quarter with a 19-play, 90-yard drive only to miss a 26-yard FGA. Rutgers went 3-n-out for the fifth time in six 2nd Half possessions. Temple drove 54 yards in 11 plays against an exhausted Scarlet Knight defense, scoring on a 17-yard TD pass to WR Zamir Cobb. A successful 2XPA tied the score at 17-17. Rutgers again went 3-n-out and Cobb returned the punt to the edge of scoring position. Seven plays and 34 yards later, Poklemba kicked the game-winning 22-yard FG with 00:39 remaining.
The Temple game was both encouraging and aggravating. I didn't listen to the game. Expecting another bad loss, I was pleasantly surprised to see the close score. Then I found out that Rutgers blew a 14-point lead. Not happy. Then I found out how badly Rutgers rolled over in the 2nd Half. Argh. And how completely Temple dominated the game statistically. Two big pass plays, clutch punting, Temple TOs, and terrible Owl kicking positioned Rutgers to steal a game but offensive ineptitude and defensive breakdowns enabled Temple to comeback. Schiano has outrecruited Temple Head Coach Bobby Wallace for three years. Rutgers apparently has reversed the talent gap with the Owls. The toughness gap has been more difficult to close. Wallace's teams are tough, especially on defense. While Schiano apparently has remedied the softness that plagued his offense under former Offensive Coordinator Bill Cubit, Schiano's defense has regressed. More talented but less experienced, the Scarlet Knights haven't been able to stop committed running or passing attacks. Techniques are deficient and tackling is sloppy. The coaching gap is also an issue. Wallace won three consecutive Division II national championships. Schiano has found ways to lose every winnable game against equal or better competition in his three years on the Banks. Saturday's game is the biggest of Schiano's three-year tenure. Schiano must stop the 25-game Big East losing streak and show that he's at least passed Temple. That's why it is important that this is a road game, too. Schiano will have to beat Temple without a home field advantage. Here are my five keys to the Temple game.
1. Fast Start. Temple is in a fragile condition as a team and as a program. The ACC's spring raid on the Big East created two openings in the Big East lineup, neither of which was offered back to Temple. The departure of Boston College from the Big East still left Temple curbside. Furthermore, Conference USA looked past Temple when filling its depleted ranks. With only an overcrowded Mid-American Conference remaining in the east, Temple is staring at the lonely life of an independent. Soon to be without a conference, Wallace was forced to heavily recruit JUCO players because the uncertain future of Owl football was such a tough sell to high school seniors.
Wallace entered the season with a heavily rebuilt team that lacked depth and experience. After a respectable showing at Penn State in its season opener, in which the Owls actually outgained the Nittany Lions, Temple lost heartbreaking OT games to Division I-AA Villanova and C-USA Cincinnati, one of the programs rumored to be joining the rebuilt Big East while Temple languishes on the curb. A respectable showing at Louisville seemed to confirm that Temple was not going to be a pushover and a road win at Middle Tennessee State ensured the Owls wouldn't suffer the ignominy of a winless season. However, two straight blowout losses to Boston College and Miami have Temple reeling. A mediocre Boston College team demolished the Owls and Wallace gave his offense a vote of no confidence against Miami with a quick kick on 3rd-n-8 near midfield.
Temple has avoided its Ofer. The Owls are highly unlikely to win any game after they play Rutgers. If Rutgers can get a big lead against Temple as the Scarlet Knights did last year, the Owls are much less likely to mount a comeback. Temple is more likely to implode. And if that occurs, Rutgers is likely to pour it on, payback for four years of humiliating defeats and woodshed beatings. However, Rutgers has started slowly in Big East games against Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh – trailing by an average score of 31-6 at halftime. The Scarlet Knight offense has been slow starting while the defense has been blitzed by both the run and pass. Rutgers must get off to a fast start against Temple. Rutgers must score first and must score at least 14 points in the 1st Quarter, much as it did against Michigan State. Unlike Michigan State, Temple won't be able to win a shootout. Rutgers must at least maintain the lead through the 2nd Quarter but preferably extend the lead. Temple lacks the firepower to make up a big deficit and the Rutgers offense is much more capable of eating clock with time consuming drives.
2. Minimize Big Plays Allowed. The Rutgers rush defense is ranked #101 nationally at 192 yards allowed per game while the pass defense is yielding 233 yards per game. Buffalo, Navy, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia ran at will against Rutgers. Michigan State, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh blitzed Rutgers with aerial assaults. The Scarlet Knight defense has repeatedly been burned for big plays – 10 TD passes and 6 TD runs of at least 20 yards. Rutgers has yielded at least 20 yards on 18 additional pass plays. The Rutgers secondary has been vulnerable to spread offenses. Michigan State and Virginia Tech spread out the Rutgers defense and threw the football with tremendous success. Michigan State found gaping holes against Rutgers Cover 2 (2-deep zone) zone underneath scheme. Virginia Tech abused Rutgers' soft man-to-man coverage. Against a spread offense, Rutgers Defensive Coordinator Paul Ferraro must choose between putting on the field backup DBs who get torched or leaving slower LBs out in pass coverage.
Temple employs a spread offense. Wallace undoubtedly has seen the game tapes. Temple will come out throwing against Rutgers. Temple does not have the QB that Michigan State and Virginia Tech have. And Temple lacks depth at WR. The Owls have three legitimate receiving threats in Sr WR Zamir Cobb, JUCO Jr WR Phil Goodman, and RS Sr WR Terrence Stubbs, who are averaging nearly 200 receiving yards per game. Ferraro must deploy his secondary in Cover 2 zone underneath scheme. Since Temple's offense struggles to gain yardage, a Cover 1 (deep FS) scheme is too risky, especially considering the poor man-to-man coverage skills of the Rutgers CBs. The Scarlet Knight safeties must not allow the Owl receivers to get behind them. Rutgers must keep all passes in front of them and then come up and make the tackles. Rutgers must make Temple methodically drive the length of field. The Owls will eventually self-destruct. Rutgers must not yield more than two long passes, none of which can be TD passes. Rutgers must limit Temple to 250 yards passing.
3. Red Zone Defense. Not to state the obvious but Rutgers must keep Temple out of the end zone. The Owl placekicking is atrocious. RS Sr PK Jared Davis has made only 7 of 16 FGAs. Davis' erratic kicking cost Temple overtime losses to Villanova and Cincinnati. This is one reason why minimizing big plays is so important. Not only is Temple unlikely to methodically drive the length of the field, but drives that stall within FG range are more likely than not to yield no points. The frustration of empty drives will erode Temple's already fragile morale. Once the Temple offense penetrates the red zone, Rutgers must stop the Owls and force FGAs. The Scarlet Knights can't afford missed tackles in the red zone. Or blown coverages. Or missed assignments. Or allow McGann to break containment and scramble for yardage. Rutgers must limit Temple to two FGAs for every three scoring opportunities. Furthermore, Rutgers must not allow more than two Temple TDs from the red zone.
4. Running Between the Tackles. Rutgers displayed another strong rushing effort against Pittsburgh with 156 yards rushing with its RBs. While the Rutgers passing game sputtered in the 1st Half and exploded in the 2nd Half against a flat Panther defense, the running game was more consistent. The Scarlet Knights gained 61 rushing yards in the 1st Half. The Scarlet Knights have demonstrated the ability to control the football and punish the defense with it interior running game. Rutgers has run effectively since Michigan State's Top 10 rushing defense stuffed the Scarlet Knight ground attack. The Scarlet Knight, who did not rush for over 100 yards in any Big East game last season, have rushed for 100 yards in three consecutive Big East games. Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg is building his running game inside out. When the season opened, Rutgers ran almost exclusively between the tackles. The Power G -- with the FB and the pulling backside guard leading through a hole between the tackle and TE, the isolation run, and lead draw were the primary running plays. As the OLine gained proficiency in their blocking assignments on these plays, Ver Steeg began incorporating more off tackle runs with zone blocking.
Temple employs a 4-4 defense very similar to that of Virginia Tech. The Owls use safeties as the OLBs to put more speed on the field. However, Temple has not replaced the dominating presence of Klecko and currently ranks #109 nationally in allowing 211 rushing yards per game. Rutgers must capitalize upon this vulnerability. Rutgers likely will not be able to emphasize an outside running attack against and undersized 8-man front – too many defenders on the line of scrimmage with too much speed. Rutgers must run at Temple between the tackles. This assignment will be compromised by the likely absence of Fr TB Justise Hairston with hyperextended knee suffered against Pittsburgh. Jr TB Clarence Pittman will replace Hairston in the starting lineup. Pittman is not the powerful runner that Hairston is. RS Fr FB Brian Leonard will also receive plenty of carries inside. A successful inside running game will open the outside running game and will provide opportunities for deep and intermediate passes. A strong running game will keep the Temple offense on the sideline and will disrupt the rhythm of the Owl passing game. Rutgers must rush for at least 125 yards between the tackles.
5. Vertical Passing Game. In the 2nd Half of the Pittsburgh game, Ver Steeg apparently saw the light. His short passing game was being constricted in the middle of field and was stifling the offense. In the absence of any real deep threat, opponents were crowding the middle of the field and giving little cushion on the outside receivers. The results were completion percentages hovering around 50% and a TD:INT ratio of one-to-two. The Scarlet Knights were averaging less than 10 yards per reception. Rutgers finally started throwing downfield more frequently in the 2nd Half against Pittsburgh. The deep passes stretched the Panther secondary and created openings underneath, allowing Rutgers to gain 287 passing yards in the 2nd Half.
Temple's 4-4 defensive scheme leaves its CBs in man-to-man coverage with help from only one deep safety. Rutgers should be able to throw deep down the sidelines against Temple with fly, corner, and skinny post patterns. Rutgers must throw deep at least three times per quarter. The persistent threat of the deep ball will create openings underneath on slant, hitch, curl, and sideline routes. Rutgers must complete at least half of its deep passes and must average at least 25 yards per completion. Deep passes should contribute at least 6 receptions for 150 yards.
1. Jr TB Clarence Pittman. Pittman gained only 10 yards on 12 carries against Temple last season. The running game was invisible and forced Hart, a true freshman in his second start, to try to beat Temple singlehandedly. The Rutgers offense is much more effective and much better balanced this season. Pittman will replace the injured Hairston as the starting TB against Temple. Pittman is averaging a respectable 4.2 yards per carry this season behind a revamped OLine in Ver Steeg's offense. However, Pittman is not the bruising inside runner that Hairston is. The smaller, faster Pittman is more suited to run outside. Unfortunately, Temple's 4-4 defense will likely limit outside running opportunities unless Rutgers can first run inside. Pittman – or backup TB So Markis Facyson – must run effectively between the tackles. If Pittman can't run between the tackles, he likely won't be able to run outside. In that case, Ver Steeg will switch the bigger, stronger Leonard to TB. But Leonard is more effective as a multi-dimensional FB than are his backups – Jr Cedric Brown or RS So Ishmael Medley. Therefore, Rutgers' backfield will be most effective if Pittman can run well inside and allow Leonard to complement Pittman at the FB position. Pittman must gain 100 yards. Pittman must also catch at least two passes for 20 yards, which means that Hart has to actually throw twice to his TB.
2. So QB Ryan Hart. Hart played his best half of football against Pittsburgh in the 2nd Half last week. Hart completed 21 of 38 pass attempts in the 2nd Half for 287 yards. Granted, Pittsburgh's defense was flat in the 3rd Quarter while initially sitting on 35-point lead. But Hart nonetheless displayed sharp execution of the offense. Until pressed for time late in the 4th Quarter, Hart forced fewer passes into tight coverage and thew more accurately. Hart must build on his success in the 2nd Half against Pittsburgh. He must continue to throw downfield to stretch the Owl secondary. He must not force passes over the crowded middle of the 4-4 defense. Hart must find his RBs as safety valves in the flats. Hart must complete at least 60% of his passes, throw for at least 250 yards, and must not throw more than one INT.
3. RS Sr DE Raheem Orr. After a very strong performance against Virginia Tech three weeks ago, Orr has been relatively quiet in losses to West Virginia and Pittsburgh. West Virginia generally ran inside of Orr so Orr didn't have many opportunities to make plays. However, Pittsburgh primarily threw the football. Against a Panther OLine that allowed 3 sacks per game, Orr was virtually shutout (his one sack was disallowed on an official's horrible call) but recorded 4 QB hurries. He was especially quiet in the 1st Half, when Panther QB Rod Rutherford was unpressured while throwing for a career high 347 yards in the 1st Half. Orr was more disruptive in the 2nd Half. If Rutgers is to pressure McGann, Orr must have a dominating performance. Raheem must wreak havoc off the edge in the Owl backfield. Orr will be matched up against JUCO RS Jr RT Chris Harris. Orr must manhandle Harris on the pass rush – beating him upfield or bulling inside him. Orr must also contain McGann in the pocket or run McGann down from behind if the Owl QB scrambles. Orr must pressure McGann into mistakes. Orr must record at least two sacks of McGann and a few hurries.
4. RS Fr FB Brian Leonard. Leonard bounced back from a poor showing against West Virginia with a strong effort against Pittsburgh. Leonard replaced the injured Hairston as the TB and gained 79 yards and 2 TDs on 17 carries, mostly in the 2nd Half. Leonard also caught 3 passes for 12 yards and 2 TDs. With Temple expected to crowd the line of scrimmage with two LBs and two safeties, Leonard will be a valuable weapon in stretching the Owl safeties horizontally into the flats. Hart must find Leonard as his safety valve in the flats when his primary receivers are covered. Ver Steeg must finally call a wheel route for Leonard. Do either Ver Steeg or Schiano know what one is? Go watch the tape of the Virginia Tech game. Hokie FB Doug Easlick beat Rutgers LBs downfield twice on wheel routes. Leonard should run at least two wheel routes against Temple. Since the Owls employ a 4-man DLine as do Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, Leonard should run effectively from the lead draw. Leonard must catch at least 6 passes for 60 yards receiving and must get at least 10 carries for 50 yards rushing.
5. Fr WR Marcus Daniels. RS So WR Tres Moses suffered a sprained ankle during the 2nd Half of the Pittsburgh game. Moses has been the leading receiver with 33 receptions in 7 games. Moses is not expected to play against Temple. Jr WR Jerry Andre is listed as Moses' backup but I expect to see Daniels on the field more. Whether it is Daniels or Andre, that player has big shoes to fill. While So WR Shawn Tucker is likely to pick up the slack for Moses, Daniels will have to pick up the slack for Tucker. Daniels must be an effective deep threat and he must work successfully underneath. Yardage after catch (YAC) will be important against the isolated Owl CBs. Daniels must catch at least four passes for 80 yards.
Coming Next: Pittsburgh Post-Mortem. I'll take a belated look back at how Rutgers performed with respect to my perceived keys.
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