Football team aims to take next step under Collins

With added depth and comfort in year two under coach Geoff Collins, the Owls plan to exceed predictions.

PHOTO: Redshirt sophomore Ty Mason scrimmages on Aug. 18.
Redshirt-freshman cornerback Ty Mason (right) attempts to tackle redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Freddie Johnson during the Owls' practice on Saturday at Franklin Field on Penn's campus in University City. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After finishing with a 7-6 record in 2017, the Temple University football team is aiming for a conference championship.

The American Athletic Conference preseason media poll predicted Temple to finish third in the East Division behind Central Florida and South Florida. Ralph D. Russo, a writer for the Associated Press, projected Temple to win its division for the third time in four years.

“It happened two years ago, we can do it again,” junior cornerback Linwood Crump said. “Everybody keeps saying we might finish third, but they are wrong. All that doubt needs to leave their mind because we are Temple Tuff, and we can definitely win the conference this year.”

In a span of five weeks, the Owls will have four conference games against teams with winning records last year. The first three are on the road at Navy, Central Florida and Houston in October and November. The Owls will then host South Florida on Nov. 17.

Unlike last season, Temple knew its starter at quarterback for the entirety of the offseason. Last season,  former quarterback Logan Marchi, who transferred to East Tennessee State University, was named starter with less than two weeks left before the season opener.

Nutile started against Army West Point on Oct. 21, 2017 and every game that followed. In the six games Nutile started last year, Temple went 4-2 and went on to win the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl against Florida International University.

“Everybody as a whole just feels a lot more comfortable,” junior linebacker Shaun Bradley said. “We know a lot more, who our quarterback is, what the coaches like to do and how our scheme works. I think this will allow us to play fast from the beginning because we know what to expect, and everyone is comfortable with each other.”

The offense gained an average of 428.5 yards per game, in the six contests Nutile started. Nutile also led the Owls to a 3-1 conference record, including a win at home against Navy on Nov. 18.

With Nutile having the entire offseason to prepare as starter, the Owls expect to have a big jump in offensive production this year under offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude

“Frank is really bright and really competitive,” Patenaude said. “He is probably one of the smartest couple of guys I have ever coached regarding his understanding of the offense we run.”

“Players seemed more relaxed,” he added. “And it is causing them to play from instincts. … I feel like we have the ability to do much more on the offensive side of the ball.”

The team can achieve its goals because its roster has “elite depth,” Collins said throughout preseason.

At wide receiver, despite losing Adonis Jennings and Keith Kirkwood to the NFL, Patenaude is confident that younger players can step up to fill the void. Redshirt freshman Jadan Blue and redshirt sophomores Branden Mack and Freddie Johnson are underclassmen expected to contribute on offense this season.

Mack has excelled at jumping over defenders to make difficult catches, and has been Nutile’s first target in the red zone during training camp. Blue and Johnson profile as faster receivers who can create separation between them and defenders with their speed downfield, Patenaude said.

The Owls also return with graduate student Ventell Bryant and junior Isaiah Wright, who led the team in receptions in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

“We are all just different,” Mack said. “Me and Ventell have the size, Freddie and Jadan have speed. And Isaiah is just a playmaker. We all have different skills that make us a complete group.”

“We can now do a lot of four-receiver sets,” Patenaude said. “Their versatility and understanding of playing in the slot and outside will really give us a diverse look.”

At both the safety and cornerback positions, the Owls have seven players ready to contribute in-game and is led by senior safety Delvon Randall. He was second on the team last season with 83 tackles and led with four interceptions.

Defensive backs coach Nathan Burton said he expects to use about five safeties throughout the entire season.

“We are a deep group, and it’s going to be a fun group,” Burton said. “We are going to be fresh, we are going to play fast all game. We are going to be a nightmare for offenses in the league.”

With the secondary depth, defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said he can insert extra defensive back or two in place of a linebacker for coveraged-based schemes.  

Temple also returns four of its five leaders in tackles from last season, including all three starting linebackers. Bradley, junior Sam Franklin and redshirt junior Chapelle Russell expect to lead the Owls to have “a top linebacker corps in the nation,” Thacker said.

The three combined for 214 tackles last season. Russell led the team with 70 tackles before he tore his ACL in November 2017.

“This year, the depth is just ridiculous,” Crump said. “Last year, the problem for us was we were inexperienced. We had a lot of sophomores and juniors who never played in a college game. Now, we have a bunch of guys who have experience, and our depth behind us has experience now. That has brought a lot to us in camp this year, and I think we can be great because of it.”

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