As the Temple Owls prepare to play their first Big East football game since 2004 against USF on Saturday, we enlisted the help of John at the excellent Temple site Owlsblog to tell us about his team, Steve Addazio's long-term plans for the Temple offense, and what the program looks to do better the second time around in the conference.
1. So far Temple's only win this year is over Villanova, but I imagine you thought the Maryland game was winnable too. What's gone on in the first three games?
The Maryland game was probably the most frustrating Temple sporting event I've ever had the displeasure of watching. Maryland is not that good at football. Temple may not be that good this year, either, but they are better than the Terrapins. Turnovers and horrific first half play calling doomed the Owls that day. Things got so bad that the student section started chanting "throw the ball" in the closing seconds of the first half after two consecutive runs up the middle for minimal gains. I'll touch more on Steve Addazio and Ryan Day's playing calling in a little bit.
To get to the point, Temple beat an over matched Villanova team, lost a very winnable game to Maryland and got handled by a very mediocre Penn State team. Addazio is playing a lot of true freshman and first-year starters so there are definitely going to be growing pains this year.
2. Is Montel Harris going to be a bigger factor now that he's had extra weeks of practice to get used to the Temple offense? Do he and Matt Brown complement each other, or are they the same kind of back?
OB: Montel Harris averaged 4.7 yards per carry during his four years at Boston College. At Temple he is picking up roughly 2.5 yards per carry. Harris had been battling hamstring issues coming out of training camp and he still doesn't look 100 percent. While he is easily the most heralded of the running backs and Matt Brown has picked up the most yards on the ground, it's Chris Coyer who really makes a difference in the running game. He was the only Owl who was able to pick up significant chunks of yardage on the ground against Penn State and he's the only player that opposing teams really need to keep an eye on at all times.
Brown worked so well for Temple the last few years because he was a true change of pace back coming in behind Bernard Pierce. Harris is a much more make you miss kind of back while Brown excels when he bounces it to the outside. Unfortunately, Addazio and Day seem enamored with "smashmouth" football and prefer to run between the tackles on first, second and third down pretty frequently, so their skillsets aren't properly utilized.
3. Do you think Steve Addazio wants to run an offense that is this run-heavy, or is he merely working with the talent he has available to him right now?
Ultimately, Addazio wants to run the spread option here at Temple. He has the quarterback in Coyer and the running backs in Harris, Brown and Kenny Harper, but absolutely no vertical options on the outside and a suspect offensive line. When asked why he didn't throw the ball more against Maryland, Addazio went off on a rant about how receivers need to catch the ball. Two true freshman wideouts, Khalif Herbin and Romond Deloatch, spent significant time with the first team offense this week in practice so it looks like he is going to keep trotting receivers out there until someone steps up and makes a play.
I don't think Addazio's run-heavy offense would be such a big deal amongst Temple fans if he actually utilized running backs the way they should be. Harris and Brown are not up the gut, between the tackle runners. They excel when they get out in space yet the majority of the runs called have them plunging into the heart of the opponent's defensive line. Addazio caught a ton of flack in Florida for his style of playcalling (remember when firesteveaddazio.com was a thing?) and he's catching some heat from the diehards up here now. He really is lucky that the program flies under the media's radar since Philly is a pro football down because his some of his decisions would get absolutely demolished by local columnists and sports radio hosts.
4. Tell us how the Temple defense lines up and plays. They had a lot of trouble slowing down Penn State, even though they only gave up 24 points. Was that a one-time issue or are there some inherent defensive flaws?
OB: Temple's defense has been its strength the last few seasons but this is a down year for the program and the unit demonstrates that. There are some individual standouts, such as redshirt freshman linebacker Nate D. Smith who leads the team with 21 tackles. Linebacker Olaniyi Adewole leads the team with tackles for loss with three while Justin Gildea, Anthony Robey and Vaughn Carraway can all make plays in the defensive backfield. Still, there are no real impact players that can truly disrupt what opposing offenses are trying to do.
At the end of the day, this is is a young team that is learning how to compete (/coachspeak). In a perfect world last year would've been Temple's first year in the Big East as that squad was better equipped to compete week in and week out against BCS competition. Unfortunately the narrative is in place until they do something to prove people wrong (i.e. win): LOL! Temple sux!!!
5. What are your thoughts on returning to the Big East? Long-term, what does Temple have to do to be a viable conference member (besides winning, of course)?
OB: I was asked the same question by a Maryland site a few weeks ago so I'm just going to recycle the answer. Ultimately, I think this move will have the biggest impact on the basketball program. For years the Owls carried the Atlantic 10 but ultimately toiled just under the radar nationally. Fran Dunphy has done some great things in recent years and now that he has the Big East to sell to fans and potential recruits I think that the team has a shot to enter the upper echelon of college basketball.
The football program will also reap the benefits of this move as the new television contract will completely dwarf the amount of money the school was getting from the MAC and Atlantic 10. Temple lost about $600,000 per year playing football in the MAC but the school should be in the black from here on out. Also, the administration that is in place this time around actually understands the value of high caliber college athletics as marketing for the university. The president of the school during the dark days of Temple football, David Adamany, helped improve Temple's academic profile but wouldn't have shed a tear if athletics were dropped all together.
This will come across as totally homerish but I truly believe that Temple is a sleeping giant in the world of college athletics. There is no reason why the football team can't consistently win seven to nine games a year and both the men's and women's basketball programs should be able to bring in enough of the high-caliber local talent to become factors nationally. I'm not predicting national championships or anything but I think all of the major programs will be very relevant nationally sooner rather than later.
6. Any predictions for the game? I know you've said you think Temple can win. Explain how.
OB: I think Temple can win but I don't expect it to happen. USF has all the talent but for some reason they just can't put it all together. Hanging tough with Florida State was nice but losing to Ball State the week before wasn't. USF has more talent at nearly every position but Temple is one of those teams that plays up or down to its competition. Gun to my head, USF is going to win this game but I don't think it's going to be as easy as some Bulls fans think it will be.