TU/UT - My View
Question: What's one of the best things about Temple football?
Answer: There are lots to do in Philadelphia on the weekends.
Well that used to be the answer. As of Saturday, the Temple University Owls (4-2, 3-0) have just won four games in a row, something that the Owls haven't accomplished in two dozen years. They are currently sitting atop the MAC East tied for first place with Ohio University. Temple is making first appearance at the Glass Bowl since becoming a MAC member.
Coming off of last season, the strength of this team was projected to be its defense. And that's where we start.
The Owls are ranked number 25 in the nation and first in the MAC against the run allowing just 105.5 yards/game and an average rush of 3.1 yards. Against the pass, Temple is 62nd in the country allowing nearly 215 yards through the air. The Owls are ranked 29th in sacks with a 2.67 sacks per game average. They also have 37 TFL (6.17 per game.) Combining these stats, Temple is 33rd in the nation and first in the MAC in total defense.
Despite their defensive stature, the Owls do not have a single defender in the top 100 of tacklers in the nation, statistically speaking. Four TU defenders have 30 or more tackles with six more having between 21 and 29 tackles. This bunch can all tackle and like to tackle in a parliament.
The Owls have depth on the defensive front with head coach Al Golden freely rotating eight returning players with at least nine games of experience coming into the 2009 season. Junior DT Elisha Joseph (6'3", 275#) is tied for third in tackles with 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks and one INT. NT Andre Neblett (6'2, 295#) has 3.5 TFL, one INT, three pass break ups and four pass deflections. Maybe he wears number 2 on his jersey as he is a DB in his dreams. Sophomore DE Adrian Robinson (6'2", 248#) leads Temple with 6.0 TFL and 6.0 sacks. Sophomore DT Muhammad Wilkerson (6'5", 290) is second on the team in TFL (5.0) and sacks (3.0). Junior Amara Kamara (6'2", 232#) moved from OLB to right DE and is fifth on the team in tackles. This group is young, large, quick and aggressive.
Backing up the front four is a trio of excellent linebackers. Senior MLB Alex Joseph (6'2", 243#) is the team's second-leading tackler. He is flanked on one side by junior Elijah Joseph (6'1", 235#) who is tied for third in total tackles which includes 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, which was returned 95 yards for a TD. The other OLB is senior John Haley (6'1", 227#) who is tied for seventh in team tackles. Eight of the top 14 tacklers are DLs and LBs.
Completing the defense is a stellar secondary led by junior FS Jaiquawn Jarrett (6'2", 195#) who leads Temple in tackles and INTs (2). He also has 3 pass breakups and 5 pass deflections. Against Army he had nine tackles, all solo. Senior SS Dominique Harris (6'3", 215#) is third in total tackles and the team leader with 6 pass breakups and 7 pass deflections, tops in the MAC. Starting cornerback sophomore Kevin Kroboth (6'0", 190#) has played well with 5 pass breakups and 5 deflections.
Largely because of the Owls defense, Temple ranks No. 18 in turnover margin (0.83).
Special Teams Defense
Temple leads the MAC and is 8th in the nation in punt return yardage allowed giving up an average of 2.22 yards per return. Junior punter Jeff Wathne is averaging 36.73 yards per punt with 27.2% of his punts being fair caught.
Freshman Brandon McManus has consistently put kickoffs to the five yard line, helping the Owls limit kickoff returns to an average of less than 21 yards with a season long return of 24 yards.
With head coach Al Golden focusing on defense, the offense has to be considered a work in progress. Bad news for Owls fans is the status of freshman sensation, RB Bernard Pierce (6'0", 210#). Pierce entered the Army game as the Mid-American Conference's leading rusher, and he had run for 65 yards on 11 carries, 23 on the first snap, when he took a hit near the Cadets' sideline late in the second quarter. He was taken off the field on a gurney for X-rays and did not return. He suffered shoulder and neck injuries and his playing status against the Rockets is doubtful. He is currently ranked the number three rusher in the nation among freshman. He has both size and speed - he ran a 10.6-second 100-meter dash in high school which was the fastest in Pennsylvania.
Senior Lamar McPherson (5'11", 185#, 3.1 ypc) and sophomore Kee-ayre Griffin (5'11", 185#, 3.8 ypc) will handle the running duties in place of Pierce if he can't play. Coach Golden employees nine OLs to open holes for the running backs.
This is an offensive line which is deeper than any the Owls have had in years and averages 313 pounds among the starters. This group is led by senior LT Devin Tyler (6'7", 301#), sophomore LG Wayne Tribue (6'3",312 ), sophomore C John Palumbo (6'6", 304#), junior RG Colin Madison (6'4", 310#), and junior RT Darius Morris (6'4", 305#). TE Matt Balasavage (6'4", 258#) is principally a blocker having one reception this year, that for a TD. Of this group, Golden says that this is "a line that's getting after it – a line that's been three years in the making."
With the loss of Pierce, Temple may have to rely more on a passing game which has yet to be a large offensive factor for the Owls. Junior QB Vaughn Charlton is completing less than 53% of his passes, has thrown five picks in six games, and is averaging 173.5 yards passing per game. These stats put him at the bottom of the MAC in completion percentage and near the bottom in passing yardage. No Temple receiver is in the top 100 of average number of receptions per game, nor passing yardage per game.
The upside of TU's passing game is the receivers are, on average, turning seven yard catches into 14 yard gains. Only three Owl receivers have double-digit catches, led by WR Joe Jones (5'11", 206#) with 16 grabs and 14.5 ypc average. WR Michael Campbell (6'2", 212#) is also averaging 14.5 ypc on 12 catches. Senior WR Jason Harper (5'9", 195#) has ten grabs and an 18.0 ypc average. The Temple deep threat is WR James Nixon (6'1, 185#) who is averaging an eye-popping 33.2 yards per catch on half a dozen grabs.
Special Teams Offense
Coach Golden has employed multiple kick-off returners with three averaging more than 25 yards per return, ranking TU number 21 in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 25.24 ypr.
Punt returns are averaging 7.0 ypr.
What to look for:
Aaron Opelt to throw quickly on outs with a variety of screens to counter TU's pressure; he will roll out to open passing lanes but will not rush the ball much.
A battle royal at the LOS pitting Rockets OL, including TE Tom Burzine, against TU's front four and pinching LBs.
Close coverage of Rockets WRs by a good and fairly tall group of Temple DBs.
Multiple sacks by both teams.
With special teams play improving, look for a Rocket kickoff return to exceed 25 yards.
Toledo to have the edge in punt return yardage.
Despite Golden's praise of his offensive line, Owl RBs will not exceed 120 yards on the ground.
QB Vaughn Charlton to attempt more than 25 passes as the Rockets defense plays the run to make Charlton the focus of the TU offense.
The Rockets to score more than the 19 points (the per-game-average Temple has allowed during its first six games.)
Rockets defense to hold Temple to less than 20 points.
The Philadelphia and Temple media has been talking about the Owls' four wins in a row. Much less emphasized is TU's four game losing streak against the Rockets.
With the exception of Penn State, with many Nittany Lions feeling the effects of the flu, the Owls have not faced an offense that measures up to the Rockets. This will be a good opportunity for the Rockets to re-establish themselves as a bonafied MAC West contender.
TU – UT History
The Rockets lead the series 6-2. Temple's first win in the series came in 1984. The Owls defeated the Rockets, 35-6, in the final Temple football game held at Atlantic City Convention Hall (featured in "The Color of Money" with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.) The field had eight-yard end zones due to space constraints. One set of goal post was tethered to a stage which housed the Temple band. The band scattered with every PAT and FG. Sod was placed directly over the Hall's concrete floor which made for the re-setting of pieces of sod between most every play.
Temple has lost the last four games to Toledo:
1998 Glass Bowl L, 12-24
2001 Franklin Field L, 7-33
2004 Glass Bowl L, 17-45
2005 Lincoln Financial Field L, 17-42
Cosby Connection with Toledo
Comedian Bill Cosby lettered in football (and track) for the Owls in 1961, catching one touchdown pass. The 1961 Owls lost a close one at Toledo, 15-14. The next year, Toledo shut out the Owls, 13-0, in a game that a young halfback named Bill Cosby missed.
Cosby did not want to miss the game, but as he explained to coach George Makris and Athletic Director Ernie Casale, he had his big break in show business coming up at Town Hall in Philadelphia on Friday, the night before the game. Cosby was to appear on the program with Peter, Paul & Mary and couldn't miss the opportunity.
Cosby pleaded to be able to fly to Toledo on Saturday for the game, but the coach and A.D. told him that it couldn't be done. As a result, he would have to decide between being a football player or a comedian.
We all know his decision and how well that worked for all of us!
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