Struggling offense work in progress

George DeLeone was looking for a new job last fall. With 35 years of college coaching experience, 13 bowl appearances to his teams’ credits and the notoriety for helping construct the successful Syracuse offenses of

George DeLeone was looking for a new job last fall.

With 35 years of college coaching experience, 13 bowl appearances to his teams’ credits and the notoriety for helping construct the successful Syracuse
offenses of the 1990s, he knew there would be plenty of suitors.

Despite his credentials, DeLeone chose Temple which has been mired at the depth’s of the college football world for longer than a decade.”It was nice to get back up east again, where I’m from – for my family,” the offensive coordinator said. “No. 2, I enjoyed the challenge.”

That challenge is turning around an offense that averaged a mere 9.7 points per game last season and has not ranked higher than 89th in scoring in the last four seasons. Thus far, DeLeone’s offense is still a work in progress. Through five games, the Owls have averaged only 4.8 points per game, though they did score two of their three touchdowns in Satruday’s 43-14 loss to Vanderbilt. Of the 119 Division I-A football programs, only Duke has scored fewer points.

“We have struggled a lot,” DeLeone said. “I think the players – to their credit – have hung in there. All the players are learning a new system. We have a lot of young players who were playing high school football last year.”

We haven’t executed. I’ve got to do a better job. When it doesn’t work I always look at myself and try and see what I can do better.”

DeLeone blames part of the unit’s woes on inexperience. Only two of last season’s starters returned. Eight starters are in their first or second season and 18 players listed on the two-deep depth chart are underclassmen. Yet DeLeone remains optimistic that the unit will improve sooner rather than later.

“We think we’re going to make some progress really quick and you’ll see a change once we learn how to do the little things and how to win,” DeLeone said.

The little things – specifically turnovers
– have hurt the team. The team has fumbled
the ball 15 times, but has lost only four of them. Quarterbacks Vaughn Charlton and
Adam DiMichele have thrown nine interceptions.

Many of the interceptions have come when the quarterbacks – both in their first year of eligibility – have thrown into heavy coverage in effort to salvage a broken play.

Again, DeLeone said, these poor decisions
are the result of inexperience.

“In high school football, both kids, when
things went bad, they ran around, scrambled
around, just fling it around and go,” DeLeone said.

“Well, guess what? The teams we play,
their guys can make those plays too.” DiMichele said the offense refuses to
use its inexerience as a crutch.

“If we just trust our technique and stay
away from mistakes, good things will happen,” he said. “So inexperience, we can’t use that as an excuse.”

An undersized offensive line (only Elliot
Seifert weighs at least 300 pounds) has not
given the quarterbacks much protection.

Opponents have racked up 17 sacks against the Owls.

“Since we’re underweight, we need
to have better technique,” Seifert said. He
added that being lighter has its benefits, in particular getting off the line quicker.

The tailbacks have showed the most
promise. Senior Tim Brown burst out for a
career-high 148 rushing yards, including a
78-yard touchdown run in his first game back after a two-game absence.

Freshman Jason Harper rushed for 134
yards and a touchdown in Brown’s time on
the sidelines.

Despite the offense’s continued struggles,
it’s difficult to imagine it won’t improve,
given DeLeone’s record of success.

As offensive coordinator at Syracuse, he
constructed a pro-option attack that ranked
among the nation’s top units. DeLeone also guided several players to the professional
ranks, including quarterback Donovan McNabb and wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Kevin Johnson.

“We know his system works and it’s just
a matter of us believing in what he teaches,” DiMichele said.

Brown carried the offense against Vanderbilt, as the Owls put up a season-high 270 yards of total offense, 122 rushing yards and 14 first downs.

DiMichele led the unit on its best drive
of the season – a 14-play, 80-yard march
capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight
end Marcus Brown.

“We’re close” to breaking out, Seifert
said. “Coach [Al] Golden uses the phrase
‘Keep pounding the rock and it’s going to
crack.’ I think it’s going to crack.”

But turnovers and missed opportunities again plagued the offense. DiMichele completed 11 of 16 passes for 148 yards but
tossed two interceptions.

The offense also couldn’t capitalize on a
late-game red-zone opportunity, turning the
ball over on downs.

DeLeone said once the offense can consistently move the ball downfield, the defense will endure less pressure.

Despite lopsided scores, the defense has shown the ability to stop opponents when handed decent field position.

“The time of possession is going to improve,” DeLeone said.

“The field position is going to improve
and, ultimately, the score is going to improve.

“It’s just going to take us to have a
breakthrough game, play our game and make
it better for everybody” on the team.

John Kopp can be reached at

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