With the 2003 football season two games in and Temple at its bye week, there are still a number of questions to be answered.
So far the feeling around the team has been one of disappointment after a shocking 23-20 loss in double overtime to Villanova.
The Owls current record stands at 0-2 with three road games coming up in the next four weeks.
The season started with a 23-10 loss at then-nationally ranked Penn State, which was the first of eight bowl teams the Owls will face this year.
A glaring problem early has been inexperience.
The squad has only 20 returning players (nine on offense, 11 on defense).
Realizing the Owls have just two years left in the Big East Conference, Wallace dipped into the junior college ranks for talent and brought in 23 JUCO (junior college) transfers.
For the season opener, nine new Owls started.
“The difference in this fall camp is that the coaching staff has to mesh the personalities of older newcomers that we expect to contribute immediately,” Wallace said.
The Owls enter their second season in the spread offense under offensive coordinator Dave Brock with junior quarterback Mike McGann under center.
McGann has not been spectacular, connecting on 33 of his 61 passes for 406 yards, thus far. He has shown a grasp of the offense, but is still having some accuracy problems throwing the deep ball.
McGann threw a conference-high 22 interceptions last year, but has yet to throw a pick this season.
McGann will not be the only quarterback to see time this year with the welcome addition of junior college transfer Walter Washington.
Washington, who has three years of eligibility, comes to Temple with an impressive resume after being named National Junior College Athletic Association First Team All-American and runner-up for the National Player of the Year.
Washington has been doing it with his legs more than his arm in the two games played, coming in for short yardage plays and successfully converting them.
“Mike McGann had a tremendous summer and fall camp,” Wallace said. “He is light years ahead of where he was last year, and I think Washington will contribute in ways himself. He is a very talented athlete and he gets better each practice as far as understanding what we want to get done.”
The running back position looked like it was going to be a strong point with senior Makonnen Fenton replacing Tanardo Sharps, the school’s second all-time leading rusher.
Fenton’s 118-yard performance at Penn State gave the offense some optimism but the running game took a huge hit when he broke two of his ribs against ‘Nova and will be out four to six weeks. Jamil Porter, a JUCO transfer, will be asked to take over for Fenton. In his first action of the season he ran for 49 yards on 15 carries.
The receivers look excellent with the return of senior Zamir Cobb and arrival of highly touted JUCO recruit Phil Goodman.
They showed how dangerous they can be, combining for 250 yards receiving on 16 catches against ‘Nova. Also seeing action for the Owls will be senior Terrence Stubbs, sophomore Sean Szarka and Buchie Ibeh, another JUCO transfer.
The defense has been in the upper echelon of college football the last couple years under the direction of defensive coordinator Raymond Monica.
The Owls defense is one of eight Division I-A teams to rank in the top 20 nationally in total defense in 2001 (19th) and 2002 (18th).
They have a lot of holes to fill now that eight starters from the unit graduated, including Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Dan Klecko.
Two remaining starters are linebackers Troy Bennett and Rian Wallace. Both need to pick up the slack in order for this defense to thrive.
Wallace, a fourth team freshman All-America last season, has three tackles for a loss and a forced fumble this season.
“Wallace and Bennett are outstanding football players,” Wallace said. “We have to maintain our focus in order to concentrate and exploit our strength in this area.”
The defense needs to continue to be the Owls’ strength if they want to turn the season around, especially since they’ll be playing some pass-happy teams in the next couple of weeks.
Senior Yazid Jackson is the lone starter in the secondary from last year’s team.
Former running back turned safety Lawrence Wade has their only interception and one sack, while JUCO transfer strong safety Sadeke Konte already has two sacks this season.
For the Owls to improve, the defense will have to force more turnovers and give the offense a short field to work with.
The Owls next three games are on the road, starting with Cincinnati. Temple is desperate for a win and haven’t beaten the Bobcats since 1985.
Matt Sitkoff can be reached at Phil14367@aol.com.