Snow's Defensive Masterstroke Against ECU

With help from Mother Nature, Temple defensive coordinator Phil Snow cooked up a winning game plan for East Carolina's high-flying offense.

Temple defensive coordinator Phil Snow, now in his 38th year in the coaching business, summarized his feelings about helping the Owls upset East Carolina simply: “I’ve been through a lot of wars, right?”

With cold rain, wind and a sloppy track at Lincoln Financial Field working as his allies, Snow won another battle — a big one — as he devised a winning defensive game plan for a famous Temple victory. The Owls upset No. 21-ranked ECU, 20-10, to secure the program’s first win against a ranked opponent since 1998 and its first-ever win against a ranked foe on its home field in 35 tries.

After the game, Snow was quick to give Mother Nature her due credit for the role she played in the upset. And while Saturday might have served as another example of weather acting as an equalizer on the playing field, it bears repeating that both teams were subjected to the same conditions. Given that, Snow’s plan heading into the ECU game was nothing short of a masterstroke.

It took an uncommon defensive approach to make Nov. 1, 2014, a date to remember in Temple football lore. For starters, Temple ceded much ground to the ECU offense as a result of accepting that the Owls were much more likely contain the Pirates than stop them outright for an entire game. ECU was always going to rack up yards and first downs in the game— Snow said he accepted that going in. True to form, ECU tallied more than 430 yards of total offense and 30 first downs by game’s end.

But Snow said he was willing to allow that to the Pirates as long as his team could drop in coverage and make enough stops on third down. Temple stopped ECU on 7-of-16 third down attempts and successfully defended both of the Pirates’ fourth-down tries.

“(ECU’s) offense is hard to stop. Like I told (Temple’s players), they’re not going to beat us with first downs. Their deal is, (when) they make chunks, they score,” Snow said. “The 30, 40, 50 yard passes. Just don’t give up chunks, and with that philosophy we got turnovers. And the whole thing worked.”

With an offense like ECU’s, which still ranked the No. 3 total offense in America even after scoring only 10 points against Temple, giving the Pirates space to work and hoping to stand them up at the first-down sticks could have backfired. For executing such a delicate game plan, Temple head coach Matt Rhule tipped his figurative cap to Snow and the defensive unit in his post game remarks.

“We didn’t give up many big plays,” Rhule said after the game in a nod to the Owls' prevent-approach.

Rhule couldn’t be more correct. ECU’s long run of the day went for 21 yards while quarterback Shane Carden’s longest completion went for 24 yards. Carden finished the game 24-of-41 and was able to avoid additional turnovers by not throwing an interception, however, he was sacked four times in the game.

Granted, the weather factored in limiting pass attempts for both teams, but ECU’s Justin Hardy, the AAC’s second-leading receiver with more than 800 receiving yards already in 2014, was held to just four catches and 35 yards.

“What we did is we dropped eight (players) a lot and rushed three,” Snow said. "And then we had some other little wrinkles for them that they had not seen… We changed some tendencies and things just fell right."

Temple planned on winning the turnover battle, too, despite the fact that ECU had only lost three fumbles all season. The weather made this goal much more attainable, but the Owls still delivered by scooping up five ECU fumbles. The first of those was housed by Tavon Young on a 63-yard return to open the scoring.

And then there was a laundry list of Temple players that delivered the kind of performances needed to clinch an upset.

Praise Martin-Oquike was named the Walter Camp and AAC Defensive Player of the Week award winner for his outing, which included three solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a blocked field goal. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich tied Lance Johnstone’s 19-year-old Temple record for solo tackles in a game with 16 (Johnstone has 16 versus Pittsburgh during the 1995 season). Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis also gathered 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss in the game.

The list goes on. And the result of the clever defensive scheming by Snow? ECU out-gained Temple in the game, 428-135, but was still left confounded and empty-handed when it was all over. Temple held ECU to three points at the halftime break — that was a first for the Pirates this season. And ECU's lone touchdown finally arrived when the game was out of reach as only 2:15 remained on the game clock when the Pirates made it 20-10 on a rushing score.

“The guys did a great job executing,” said Snow in a nod to his players before again turning the attention away from the plan he devised to help win another battle.

"But the weather helped us a little bit too," he added with a modest shrug.

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