Learning from the Past
Football is back on the lips of North Broad Street’s pedestrians after Temple’s convincing 35-7 victory against Army Friday night in West Point, N.Y.
It was a case of night and day in the special teams department. What plagued the Owls in 2007, helped secure a much different outcome in 2008.
“Last year’s team was a selfish team,” coach Al Golden said. “We had a bunch of primadonna’s. This year, we had all of our starters running down and making plays.”
Last season, in a 37-21 runaway victory for the Black Knights, the Owls were beaten, and badly, by a two costly special teams miscues. After surviving an 88-yard kickoff return to start the game, the Owls played to a 21-21 tie at the half. Then the Black Knights took an 85-yard punt return to the house late in the third quarter. The problems continued throughout the year, and this offseason Golden assumed the special team duties.
Now it would be the Owls who struck with two major special teams’ plays.
The first came midway through the first half after Owls’ senior cornerback Tommie Williams smashed through Black Knight’s kick returner Carlos Sandiego, causing the ball to pop loose. Williams recovered and soon after, they converted for the game’s first touchdown.
“Tommie’s one of our fastest players and he’s tough,” Golden said. “He likes to throw it around, he really did a great job. Our team finally looked at it as ‘this is really one third of the game’ and we lost a lot of games last year because of that one third of the game.”
In the second half’s opening kickoff, sophomore cornerback Jamal Schulters raced 98-yards for a touchdown. With the offense stalling in the second half, it was just the spark the Owls needed.
“Special teams is a big part of the game, special teams can change the game as you saw today,” Schulters said. “We emphasized that the whole summer.”
Overall the team allowed 122 total yards on special teams, an impressive feat considering the Owls kicked off six times, and punted four more times.
Sure the Owls had a handful of hiccups. Late in the third quarter sophomore punt returner Delano Green made a series of quick cuts to leave Army defenders stumbling, but after 50-yards he fumbled, and the Owls were empty handed.
Still progress is progress, and everybody goes through growing pains.
This time it was harder to find the mistakes. Maybe the Owls learned how to disguise them, or maybe, just maybe, Al Golden’s squad is learning how to execute. Either way one blatant error continues to nag the Owls after their throttling of Army: Penalties.
What was a weakness last year, may still be a cripple in 2008.
“I’m disappointed in the penalties,” Golden said. “We’ll have to get back to the basics on that. Aggressive penalties, ok, but operational penalties and personal fouls I have no tolerance for and those guys know that there is a price to pay in our program when you do that.”
Although it didn’t matter on this night, eight penalties for 74 yards will be a factor against the top teams in the Mid-American Conference. Open up your NCAA rule books, and the Owls committed an array of violations.
The lapses in discipline included unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, roughing the passer, off-sides, and blocking in the back. The offseason was a time to correct these mistakes, but it looks like more work is needed to find a cure.
“I think that the penalties were unfortunate,” junior defensive end Brian Sanford said. “We learn from our penalties and hopefully next game we will clean up the penalties.”
The Owls can certainly learn from the Black Knights, who are among the least penalized teams in the NCAA. They had three infractions this game: a 15 yard illegal block in the second quarter, and two calls late in the fourth, well after the outcome was decided.