In the throes of its first one-win season in seven years, it’s clear Temple has taken a few giant steps back from the past few seasons. Even with a bevy of junior college (JUCO) transfers and junior quarterback Mike McGann, the Owls have been overmatched, outplayed and outcoached.
Temple coach Bobby Wallace said his squad is still showing the effort, just not results.
After a 30-14 loss to Rutgers he let his team know people need to step up, especially the leaders on the squad.
“I was stronger with them than normal,” Wallace said. “Because you take the guys you expect to be players leading into the season, who have done a whole lot for this program, but they all played poor. The guys that I expected to lead this football team did not play well.”
While McGann’s play has improved from last year, he’s been unable to make the transformation as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, despite his experience. Through the first four games the Owls had one of the top passing offenses, but defenses have caught on. In his last three games prior to his injury, McGann was 24 of 49 for 151 yards and four interceptions. Coach Wallace and offensive coordinator Dave Brock had so little confidence passing against Miami’s cat-quick secondary that McGann had just 11 pass attempts.
“He’s tried,” Wallace said. “He’s working on it, but he’s made poor decisions. The poor decisions he made last Saturday [against Rutgers] were things he knew how to do a year ago.”
McGann is out with torn elbow tendons, and his playing status is
questionable for this week’s game at Syracuse. Wallace said McGann’s status will be a game-time decision. If McGann can’t go, JUCO transfer sophomore Walter Washington will make his first career start. Washington, who has seen time in every game this year, has looked competent thus far. However, a lot of his time on the field has been when the game’s outcome was already decided.
Starting running back Makonnen Fenton has not looked the same since suffering from his two cracked ribs, something even Wallace has conceded. In his four games after his return, Fenton has rushed for 149 yards on 32 carries. Junior Jamil Porter earned playing time in place of the struggling Fenton. He met with Wallace for an explanaexplanation about his decreasing touches.
“I sat him down, and me and him watched the film,” Wallace said. “I think he realized he’s not playing as well as Makonnen can play.”
With the passing game floundering, senior wide receiver Zamir Cobb continued to put up productive numbers. The school’s all-time leader in receptions is second in the conference in receptions and yards to go with four touchdowns. Phil Goodman, another JUCO standout, complemented Cobb and is averaging almost 15 yards a catch. Aside from those two, Brock’s spread offense has not spread the ball effectively, nor produced many points.
Part of the problem is execution and the other is Brock’s predictable play calling. It’s almost a given Brock calls a WR screen four times a game or a shuffle pass just as much. Against Miami, they used the shuffle pass repeatedly with varying degrees of success. Then in the first quarter against Rutgers, they ran the shuffle pass twice. The second time a Rutgers lineman intercepted it.
“I think it’s just making plays,” Wallace said. “We’ve proven we can run the offense. Earlier in the year we went up against defenses as good as Rutgers. The last three weeks we haven’t played well. Why? I can’t tell you.”
While they do boast the most sacks in the conference (19), they yield almost 200 yards rushing a game. Sophomore linebacker Rian Wallace and senior defensive tackle Taso Apostolidis have been the yeomen of this unit.
The problems seem to lie with experience. With eight new starters, many players are still adjusting to the speed and schemes of the Division I-A level. Apostolidis, who was demoralized following the Rutgers loss, has been a part of some of the best defenses in the school’s recent history. This season has been agonizingly different.
While the defense gave up its share of big plays, mistakes on offense put the defense in vulnerable positions.
“That kills a defense,” Apostolidis said. “Because when you’re sitting out on the field and you get a big stop, you want to go back to the sideline and catch your breath. Then all of the sudden you got to go back onto the field, three-and-out. It kills the defense mentally. But we’re not playing our best either.”
The Owls rank last in the Big East in scoring defense, total defense and stopping opponents on third down. After a lopsided loss to Boston College, Wallace alluded to some of his defense playing selfishly.
“People were playing selfishly,” Apostolidis said. “If we play our responsibilities from D-line all the way to the secondary we should be all right.”
Rian Wallace has been outstanding, ranking fourth in the nation in tackles. He also led the squad with 11 tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries. Rian insisted inexperienced players are not playing selfishly, they’re just still trying to absorb playing on the D-I level.
“Some people try to freelance and make things happen,” Wallace said. “I think it’s not just catching on. Even though it’s the same scheme, every week you’re seeing different offensive schemes at the same time, and it’s hard to keep up.”
“As far as talent, we got just as much as anybody else does. It’s just experience,” junior defensive back Ray Lamb said. “As a defensive back, my coach says you have to play every play perfectly.”
Unfortunately, they’ve played far from perfectly. In back-to-back games the Owls allowed more than 600 total yards to Boston College and Miami.
With four difficult games to go, very little may change.
Jason S. Haslam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.