For coach Geoff Collins, bowl games are simple.
“The teams that play the best in the bowl games are the ones that want to be there, the ones that have something to prove…that aren’t just going down there treating it like a party, but they want to go down there have something to prove on the football field,” he said last Wednesday.
Junior safety Delvon Randall said last year’s preparation for the Military Bowl, a game Temple lost, 34-26, to a Wake Forest University team that entered with a 6-6 record, was “discombobulated” at times. Graduate assistant coaches led some of the practices for the Owls’ defense after former coach Matt Rhule departed for Baylor University.
Not all of the players wanted to be at the game and “just wanted to go for the party,” Randall added. He feels Temple is ready for Thursday’s Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl against Florida International University at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“This year, we’re going on a business trip,” Randall said. “We’re coming to handle business.”
“It is pressure because we don’t want to have a losing record,” Randall added. “We don’t want to go 6-7. We want to be 7-6.”
Temple hasn’t finished a season with a losing record since 2013, Rhule’s first season. If Temple beats Florida International, it will secure its third winning season in a row. The last time the Owls had three straight winning seasons was from 2009-11. Al Golden coached the first two years of that run before Steve Addazio coached the 2011 season.
2011 was the first of Addazio’s two seasons and the last time Temple won a bowl game. After last year’s loss to Wake Forest, tight ends and special teams coach Ed Foley, then serving as the interim coach, and others lamented the Owls’ failure to become the “best Temple team ever” by winning their 11th game. Temple had the same opportunity at the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl, but it lost to the University of Toledo.
This year, the seniors became the winningest senior class and they have a chance to earn their 33rd win. Florida International, on the other hand, has a chance to set the program record for single-season wins and win its second bowl in program history. Collins served as the defensive coordinator for the Golden Panthers when they won the 2010 Little Caesars Bowl.
Florida International’s defense this season uses a scheme that relies on man coverage with a free safety, Collins said. The Golden Panthers have the 27th-best red zone defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision and rank 82nd in total defense.
Since he became the starting quarterback on Oct. 21 against Army West Point, redshirt junior Frank Nutile has 11 touchdown passes. Five of Nutile’s touchdown tosses have been to senior wideout Adonis Jennings.
The scores include a 37-yard pass against Army and a 74-yard pass against Central Florida on Nov. 18.
“I think anytime you’re going to see a lot of man coverage, that’s kind of your mindset, there could be a chance of big plays,” Nutile said. “But it really just comes down to beating the man across from you and me making a good pass, accurate pass.”
“They could play man coverage on film, but when we go out there, you never know what they’re going to play,” Jennings said. “So you have to be ready for everything thrown at you, and that’s how I prepare.”
Offensively, Florida International has the highest red zone efficiency in the FBS, scoring on 39 of 40 trips. Senior quarterback Alex McGough has the program record for career touchdown passes.
He threw 17 touchdown passes, including a season-high three during the Golden Panthers’ regular-season finale against UMass. McGough is also mobile, but he tends to slide instead of taking hits, Randall said.
Each team has a piece of program history on the line Thursday. The Owls’ seniors want to pad their lead over past classes’ win totals.
“At the end of the day, that’s kind of the biggest motivation behind it really, winning for the seniors, ending off with a winning season then kind of just getting a propel into next year with a winning season,” Nutile said.