KEYS TO THE TEMPLE GAME
If a football program fell and nobody was there to see it, would anybody really care? That is the sad fate staring into the Owl's eyes. Temple football is in its death throws. Dismissed from the Big East. Drawing sparse crowds to a beautiful new stadium. Lacking a firm commitment from the university administration. Unable to recruit with the promise of an uncertain future. And unable to compete on the field with a roster affected by the larger issues. However, since the announcement of Temple's pending eviction from the Big East, the Owls have routinely taken out their frustrations on hapless Rutgers. Temple won four games in a row by an average score of 39-16. But Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano decisively snapped the losing streak with a 30-14 win at Lincoln Financial Field last year. After being pushed around by the stronger, tougher Owls, the Scarlet Knights finally shoved back. Unlike most of their wins last year, whereby Rutgers slowly built comfortable leads, the Scarlet Knights dominated this game from the outset and never gave Temple a chance.
Rutgers forced Temple 3-n-out to open the game and then P Joe Radigan pinned the Owls on the TU06 with a 51-yard punt. The Scarlet Knights forced another 3-n-out and PR Willie Foster returned the ensuing punt 19 yards to the TU29. Five plays later, TB Brian Leonard punched in a 1-yard TD run to give Rutgers a 7-0 lead. Temple finally gained a first down but MLB DeVraun Thompson quickly ended the possession when he intercepted, in the backfield, a shovel pass that he returned 7 yards to the TU32. Rutgers blew a golden opportunity when Owl FS Yazid Jackson intercepted Ryan Hart at the TU18. WS Jason Grant returned the favor when he intercepted Owl QB Mike McGann on the next play and returned the pick 22 yards to the TU43. Seven plays later, Hart connected with Leonard for a 7-yard TD pass on a play-action drag route in the flat to give Rutgers a 14-0 lead. Temple mounted a 7-play, 48-yard drive that spanned the 1st and 2nd Quarters but missed a 42-yard FGA. Rutgers answered with a 10-play, 76-yard drive that concluded with a 4-yard TD run by Leonard. Temple again went 3-n-out but WS Sadeke Konte sacked Hart and forced a fumble that he recovered on the RU23. However, DE Piana Lukabu and CB Nate Jones combined to stop TB Jamil Porter on 4th-n-2. The teams exchanged 3-n-outs but Owl P Mike McLaughlin mishandled the long snap and gave Rutgers possession on the Temple side of the field for the fourth time in eight possessions. Rutgers earned 1st-n-goal at the TU03 but settled for a 32-yard FG after another sack of Hart. Rutgers went into the locker room with a commanding 24-0 lead after a dominating 1st Half.
Rutgers maintained that dominance in the 2nd Half. The Scarlet Knights drove 45 yards in 11 plays to open the half and PK Ryan Sans finished the drive with a season-high 49-yard FG. Walter Washington replaced an ineffective McGann at QB for the Owls and drove Temple across midfield before being thrown back. Hart again coughed up the ball deep inside Rutgers territory on another sack, giving Temple possession at the RU27. Washington threw a 16-yard TD pass to WR Zamir Cobb to finally put Temple on the scoreboard, trailing 27-7 midway through the 3rd Quarter. Rutgers answered with a 15-play, 59-yard, 6-minute drive culminating in a 37-yard FG by Sands. Rutgers forced a Temple punt to open the 4th Quarter and a 14-yard return by Foster put the Scarlet Knights at midfield. However, the Owls blocked a 38-yard FGA to end a 9-play, 30-yard drive. The teams exchanged 3-n-outs, with Radigan pinning Temple on the TU08 with a 47-yard punt. Rutgers forced another quick Temple punt and turned the ball over on downs after a clock-eating 11-play, 43-yard, 6-minute drive. Washington engineered a 9-play, 86-yard garbage time TD drive against Rutgers second team defense and ran for a 2-yard TD on the final play of the game to close out the scoring.
Temple is a throwback to the days of college football when popular support and a huge bankroll weren't necessary to compete. But, in the modern arms race that is college football, the Owls are equipped with nothing but their claws. And they are scratching to survive. Head Coach Bobby Wallace's Owls (1-5, 0-1 Big East) roll into Piscataway on the brink of another disastrous season. Meanwhile, Rutgers (3-2, 0-1 Big East) is still struggling to shed its own laughingstock label. Rutgers has talent but has not played at a consistent enough level to capitalize upon that talent. The Scarlet Knights have shown equal parts brilliance and buffoonery against a schedule that should have Rutgers at 5-0 and the feel-good story of the college football season. Here are my five keys to a desperately needed decisive win over Temple.
1. Set Up the Run With the Pass. Last year, the formerly stout Owl defense ranked #101 nationally in rushing defense at 202 yards allowed per game. The Owls couldn't stop anybody. Well, almost anybody. In their first game without injured starting TB Justise Hairston, Rutgers gained only 86 rushing yards on 40 carries against Temple. Wallace deployed eight- or nine-man fronts to stuff the Scarlet Knight rushing attack and force Rutgers to beat the Owls by passing the football. Hart responded by completing 30 of 42 passes for 316 yards, one TD, and one INT. The Owls did manage to sack Hart three times for minus 29 yards and two fumbles. With starting RT RS Jr Sameeh McDonald and backup RT true freshman Jeremy Zuttah out with knee injuries and with starting RG RS Jr John Glass nursing an ankle injury, the Owls will face a less experienced and cohesive Rutgers OLine with as many as three new faces - backup RT RS So Cameron Stephenson, backup LT RS Fr Pedro Sosa, and backup RG RS Fr Mike Fladell. The Owls likely will amplify the defensive pressure that they employed last year. Wallace likely will put eight defenders in the box to snuff the Scarlet Knight running game and blitz Hart. Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg cannot afford to try to establish the running game against an eight-man front. Hart needs to come out throwing and use the passing attack to set up the running game. Ver Steeg must call designed passes on at least half of Rutgers first down plays. And he should mix plenty of draws and screen passes to keep the Owl pass rush off balance.
2. Pressure Washington. Washington is averaging 182 passing yards and 60 rushing yards per game. Other than Sr WR Phil Goodman, Washington is the only real offensive threat that Wallace possesses. At 6-2 and 240 pounds, Washington is a strong runner who is tough to bring down. He also has a strong arm but his accuracy, especially on the run, is suspect. Schiano cannot afford to expose his combustible secondary. Rutgers must pressure Washington and flush him from the pocket. Rutgers leads the Big East with 18 sacks. Although the Scarlet Knights have recorded these statistics against a weak schedule, Wallace returns only three starters off an OLine that was woefully ineffective last season. The Scarlet Knight defense must generate an effective four-man pass rush. That will make blitzing a luxury that Schiano can employ at his whim, rather than out of necessity. The blitz must come from all sides - CBs, safeties, and LBs. Schiano also must frequently use the zone blitz to prevent Temple from countering the blitz with WR middle screen passes against an emptied interior defense, which has been very effective against Rutgers this season. Once Washington is flushed, Rutgers must contain him, hurry him, and tackle him. Let him scramble. Just don't let him cross the line of scrimmage. Rutgers must register four sacks and limit Washington to 250 total yards of offense.
3. Vertical Passing Game. Temple uses a 4-2 Cover 1 defensive scheme very similar to the scheme Virginia Tech has made notorious, where two safeties play OLB in a 4-4 look. This system places a tremendous burden on a Temple secondary that lacks talent, depth, and experience. The starting secondary has three new starters this season, only one of whom was on the Temple roster last year. The way to attack a 4-4 defense is to attack it vertically. The CBs and FS must defend a lot of real estate behind the eight-man front. There are huge gaps that can exploited, especially if the defense is stretched vertically. The Scarlet Knight WRs must make receptions on fade, post, slant, and corner routes. The TEs execute seam, post, and corner routes. Rutgers must exercise enough of its base running game - Power G and iso - to be able to sell play-action and stretch the field vertically. Rutgers must throw deep (> 20 yards) at least four times per quarter and must complete at least eight.
4. Big Plays Allowed. The Achilles hell of the Rutgers defense last year, big plays have spread through the patient like gangrene. Last year, the Scarlet Knights yielded an average of 5 gains of 20+ yards per game. Through five games, Rutgers has allowed 33 gains of at least 20 yards. The Scarlet Knights yielded ten gains of 20+ yards, including three TDs, in a 41-31 loss to New Hampshire. Syracuse recorded eight gains of 20+ yards, including three TDs, in a 41-31 victory over Rutgers. Big plays also caused wins over Michigan State, Kent State, and Vanderbilt to be much closer than necessary. Big plays undermine the philosophy of a bend-but-don't break 4-3 Cover 2 defense. Opponents drive the length of the field in fewer plays and thus have fewer opportunities to make drive-killing mistakes - penalties, TFLs, sacks, bad throws, dropped passes, etc. Temple has an inefficient offense, ranked #63 in total offense but #82 in scoring. The Scarlet Knights must force Washington to methodically drive the length of the field to score. Rutgers must not allow more than five gains of 20 yards. And no more than one 20+ yard TD.
5. Ball Distribution. RS So FB Brian Leonard and RS Jr WR Tres Moses lead the Big East in receptions at 7.0 and 6.6 per game, respectively. RS So TE Clark Harris is also ranked in the Top 10. All three plus Sr WR Chris Baker are ranked in the Top 10 in receiving yardage. Three players - Moses, Baker, and Harris have registered 100-yard receiving games. Five players have seen action at TB; four at FB. Ver Steeg has a multitude of weapons at his disposal. The Rutgers offense functions best when Hart distributes the ball and maximizes his options. Hart must complete at least three passes each to Moses, Harris, Baker, and Leonard. Backup WR So Marcus Daniels is expected to return from a minor knee injury; he must catch his share of passes, too. Hart must throw to a FB not named Leonard. The running game must also be diverse. Run Leonard off-tackle occasionally. Jr TB Markis Facyson and Fr TB Dimitri Linton, when used, should also run between the tackles instead of telegraphing pitches. Sr TB Clarence Pittman ran well inside and outside last week; he must split the carries with Leonard.
1. Jr QB Ryan Hart. After a one-week absence, Hart returns to his usual place atop this list. As noted above, Temple will likely deploy an eight-man front and dare Hart to beat the blitz. Hart must dissect the Owl secondary and attack all areas of the field. Hart must complete his short passes quickly before the heat arrives. And he must stand in long enough to complete the deeper passes needed to stretch the Temple defense vertically. Hart must complete at least 65% of his passes for at least 300 yards. He must throw at least 3 TD passes and not more than one INT.
2. RS So RT Cameron Stephenson/RS Fr LT Pedro Sosa. McDonald was lost to a knee injury against Syracuse. His backup, Zuttah, was lost to a knee injury against Vanderbilt. Stephenson replaced Zuttah at Vanderbilt. Schiano has designated Stephenson, a converted DT, as the starter this week. Stephenson has barely played this season. He likely lacks the stamina to play the entire game. Therefore, Sosa probably will see considerable action at LT, allowing starting LT RS Sr Ron Green to slide over to RT to spell Stephenson. Temple will likely try to exploit the inexperience of either player. Stephenson and Sosa must battle and must hold their own against more experienced Owl DEs and OLBs, who are actually safeties aligned as OLBs. Ver Steeg must assist his rookies with his playcalling. Draw plays are easily blocked by OTs, who allow an outside upfield rush by the DEs, and will also serve to slow down the pass rush. Screen passes will also slow the pass rush but will not necessarily help the rookie OTs because they have to hold their blocks and cut the DE to open a passing lane. Ver Steeg can also run the Power G behind them (where they briefly block double team the DT and then block the backside the LB) or away from them (where they seal the backside DE). Running inside zone or off-tackle plays behind them could prove more challenging. Stephenson and Sosa must not allow/commit more than three of the following - sacks, holding penalties, or illegal procedure penalties.
3. So MLB DeVraun Thompson. Thompson shook off a knee injury to contribute substantially to Rutgers 2nd Half comeback at Vanderbilt. Thompson recorded 4 tackles, one sack, and a 27-yard fumble return. All but one tackle occurred after halftime. As he did against Kent State QB Joshua Cribbs, Thompson must mirror Washington and come up and tackle him if Walter breaks containment on a scramble. Spread offenses use misdirection as the basis for their running game. Thompson must not get lured out of position. He must register at least 8 tackles, 3 TFLs, and a sack. Further, he must not allow Washington to run for any big gains (20+ yards).
4. Jr WS Jason Nugent. Nugent has been the weakest link of a weak defense. Primarily employed in a run-support role last season in an eight-man front, Nugent has primarily played deep safety in the 4-3 Cover 2 scheme that Schiano has employed this season. And not played well. Nugent has looked lost this season. Another athlete who isn't a football player. He has been fooled by misdirection and has repeatedly been beaten deep in pass coverage. Rutgers is allowing more deep passes with two deep safeties than they did last year with a single deep safety. Backup WS true freshman Ron Girault, who started the season on the fourth team, played well against Vanderbilt. If Nugent wants to keep his job, he must start playing better. Temple employs mostly 3WR and 4WR formations. Rutgers will mostly be in Cover 2. Nugent has responsibility for one deep half of the field. He cannot get beaten deep while cheating on short routes. He must keep the ball in front of him and then tackle surely. He must also not get beat in coverage on QB bootlegs as he did against Vanderbilt. He must not get lured out of position on misdirection runs, where the deep safety must come up and make the tackle. Nugent must make 6 tackles and must not yield any big pass plays.
5. RS Jr FB Ishmael Medley. Five games have only served to cement Leonard as the feature back in the Rutgers offense. That means more snaps at TB than at FB. Which has provided more playing time for Medley at FB. With Leonard out against Syracuse with a thigh injury, Medley caught three passes for 17 yards. While not eye-popping numbers, a 6 yard-per-play average is more than adequate for a play designed to substitute for an outside run in the offense. However, last week against Vanderbilt, Hart didn't throw to Medley once. Leonard lacks the speed to run outside. He is more effective running between the tackles. But opponents are loading up to stop Leonard inside. Opposing DEs and OLBs can pinch hard inside without fear of being beaten outside. Ver Steeg must call enough play-action FB drag routes for Medley (or Sr FB Jerome Brown) to keep opposing defenses honest. Leonard will get fewer carries but he'll gain more yardage. Medley must catch at least three passes for at least 25 yards. If Ver Steeg calls the drag route on the goal line, Medley can moonwalk in for a TD.
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