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1. The margin for error is eggshell-thin
Temple has proven a lot in the last five years. First, the Owls proved you can actually build a sound, winning program in Philadelphia. After a couple of decades of profound losing -- they won two or fewer games 13 times between 1989-2006, went 8-58 from 1991-96, and went 4-42 from 2003-06 -- they rebounded with ferocity under Al Golden, going from one win in 2006, to four in 2007, to five in 2008, to nine in 2009. Golden left in 2010, but Steve Addazio took over in 2011 and engineered a 9-4 record and a top-25 finish in the F/+ rankings. Temple won 26 games in three seasons (after winning 25 in the previous nine and 38 in the previous 18) and survived a coaching change. You're never entitled to wins, but in the last half-decade Temple has proven capable of them.
And in 2012, Temple proved that its margin for error is ridiculously small. Throw a couple of injuries and staff changes into the mix, and the Owls can revert to previous form. Well, that's not quite true -- a 4-7 record and a No. 84 F/+ ranking is not "previous form" (Temple was 119th, dead last, in F/+ in both 2005 and 2006) -- but the program regressed sharply in Addazio's second season.
Al Golden's refurbishing job in north Philadelphia was stunning, but some of the veneer wore off last year as the Owls returned to the Big East conference that kicked them out for gross incompetence almost a decade earlier. And despite the problems, Addazio -- clearly the most enchanting job interviewee on the planet this side of Charlie Weis -- fell up, taking the Boston College head coaching job. So now, following a disappointing step backwards, Temple has to roll the dice again and hope that Matt Rhule has the answers that Addazio suddenly did not last fall.
2. What happens in Act III?
The rebirth of Temple Football began when, for some strange reason, Golden accepted a seemingly thankless job in 2006. Addazio's stay was brief, but now Rhule takes over in an attempt to make sure Temple's story remains a happy one.
To the extent that Rhule has a track record (he's still only 38 and took his first FBS job, at Temple, just seven years ago), it's an impressive one. He was first Golden's defensive line coach in 2006, then moved to quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator in 2007, then to offensive coordinator in 2008-10. He remained Addazio's co-coordinator in 2011 before leaving to become the New York Giants' assistant offensive line coach last fall. His most impressive accomplishment might be what happened when he left. Temple ranked 58th in Off. F/+ in 2009 and 45th in 2011, but in his absence the Owls' offense fell back to 76th. The run game still worked, but the passing game completely fell apart.
We don't know what Rhule will be able to make of this team, but we do know that he's already recruiting at a more impressive level than Addazio, who established much of his coaching bona fides on the idea that he's a fantastic recruiter.
In the 2011-12 recruiting classes, Addazio inked nine three-star recruits (according to Rivals.com), six of whom were given the lowest three-star designation (a 5.5 Rivals rating). In the 2013 and (still incomplete) 2014 classes, however, Rhule has either signed (in 2013) or scored a non-binding commitment (in 2014) from 12 three-star recruits (six at 5.5, six at either 5.6 or 5.7) and one four-star recruit, 2014 Philadelphia offensive lineman Aaron Ruff. There is, of course, a lot of context here -- the 2011 class was partially Addazio's and partially Golden's, just like the 2013 class was partially Addazio's; plus, Rhule hasn't actually signed Ruff or any of the other interesting 2014 commits, obviously -- but early signs are that Rhule's upside for attracting quality talent is quite high.
Since Rhule has yet to coach a game, we're scrounging for clues like a hog looking for truffles. We'll soon find out if he can reestablish Temple's recent success in a tougher conference. But he has indeed recruited pretty well, and he's been confident enough (both in his abilities and in his familiarity with Temple's personnel after a year off) that he's made quite a few position changes in his first months on the job. And we're just a couple of weeks away from finding out if they worked.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-7 | Adj. Record: 1-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 84|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|31-Aug||Villanova||41-10||W||19.3 - 36.0||L|
|8-Sep||Maryland||27-36||L||21.7 - 32.3||L|
|22-Sep||at Penn State||13-24||L||24.1 - 36.5||L|
|6-Oct||South Florida||37-28||W||27.4 - 30.6||L|
|13-Oct||at Connecticut||17-14||W||26.4 - 27.7||L|
|20-Oct||Rutgers||10-35||L||18.0 - 41.4||L|
|27-Oct||at Pittsburgh||17-47||L||26.4 - 48.5||L|
|3-Nov||at Louisville||17-45||L||27.1 - 40.5||L|
|10-Nov||Cincinnati||10-34||L||19.6 - 34.3||L|
|17-Nov||at Army||63-32||W||43.4 - 36.8||W|
|23-Nov||Syracuse||20-38||L||30.5 - 30.9||L|
|Points Per Game||24.7||87||31.2||87|
|Adj. Points Per Game||25.8||85||35.9||117|
3. The offense rallied, at least
Really, the 2012 Temple offense had no chance. Never mind Rhule's departure -- the Owls had to replace their starting quarterback (Chester Stewart), starting running back (Bernard Pierce), four of their top five receiving targets, and five linemen who had combined for 132 career starts (including all-conference tackle Pat Boyle). They returned just two starters, and while dual-threat quarterback Chris Coyer had shown some promise in 2011 and former Boston College running back Montel Harris was coming aboard, it took quite a while for the offense to find any traction.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): Opponent 34.1, Temple 22.8 (minus-11.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Opponent 38.2, Temple 29.4 (minus-8.8)
The Owls did put a decent offensive product on the field eventually, though; that's more than could be said for a young defense that not only had to replace quite a few starters, but had to keep shuffling well into the season.
|Q1 Rk||69||1st Down Rk||66|
|Q2 Rk||101||2nd Down Rk||84|
|Q3 Rk||32||3rd Down Rk||82|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Clinton "Juice" Granger||6'3, 230||Sr.||*** (5.5)||31||55||370||56.4%||2||2||5||8.3%||5.6|
|Connor Reilly||6'3, 215||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Thomas Rumer||6'3, 212||RSFr.||NR|
|Chris Coyer||HB||6'3, 250||Sr.||** (5.4)||96||543||5.7||5.1||2||+8.8|
|Clinton Granger||QB||6'3, 230||Sr.||*** (5.5)||37||243||6.6||5.9||1||+6.3|
|Jamie Gilmore||RB||5'8, 190||So.||*** (5.7)||20||94||4.7||5.8||0||0.0|
|Jalen Fitzpatrick||WR||5'11, 180||Jr.||** (5.3)||15||34||2.3||2.7||0||-2.4|
|Kenneth Harper||RB||6'0, 225||Jr.||** (5.2)||13||65||5.0||8.4||2||+1.0|
|Avery Williams||RB||5'10, 200||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Zaire Williams||RB||5'11, 195||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
4. Still gonna run
Temple had a strong run-first identity in 2012 -- sixth-highest run percentages in the country on standard downs, 10th on passing downs. Often when a new coach comes aboard, such a strong identity can get smoothed out a decent amount. But Rhule's not really "new," and when he was in charge of the Temple offense, the Owls still ran quite a bit. So yeah, they're going to run a lot in 2013, as well.
Can't they do it anywhere near as well, though? Temple ended up ranking 21st in Rushing S&P+, and despite inexperience, the line actually came together nicely, at least as far as run blocking is concerned. This year, the line returns five of the six players who got starting experience last year; plus, they welcome former Maryland star recruit Pete White to the mix. White has struggled with injuries in his career, but he can certainly provide solid depth and experience for a line that already had a decent amount of it.
The line certainly benefited from the services of Montel Harris, however. The Owls struggled in short-yardage situations, but when the line got Harris a crease, he tended to take advantage of it. And backup Matt Brown was even more explosive than Harris. The two combined to rush for 1,420 yards on just 22 carries per game, and then-quarterback Chris Coyer provided some rushing punch as well. So did Coyer's eventual replacement Clinton Granger, for that matter.
But Harris and Brown are gone, and Coyer's now an H-Back. For Temple to succeed on the ground, the Owls will have to get strong contributions from some combination of two returnees (Jamie Gilmore and Kenny Harper combined for nice averages in 2012, albeit in just 33 combined carries) and two young Williamses (redshirt freshman Avery and true freshman Zaire, who is apparently coming along nicely). This could make for a lovely corps of running backs, but it's still significant to lose backs the caliber of Harris and Brown.
|Jalen Fitzpatrick||WR-Z||5'11, 180||Jr.||** (5.3)||55||30||363||54.5%||6.6||26.2%||43.6%||6.9||51.6|
|Kenneth Harper||RB||6'0, 225||Jr.||** (5.2)||17||13||129||76.5%||7.6||8.1%||35.3%||8.6||18.3|
|Alex Jackson||TE||6'4, 255||Sr.||** (5.4)||14||9||99||64.3%||7.1||6.7%||42.9%||5.7||14.1|
|Deon Miller||WR||6'5, 210||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||7||101||53.8%||7.8||6.2%||61.5%||7.8||14.4|
|John Christopher||WR-X||5'10, 185||So.||NR||12||9||122||75.0%||10.2||5.7%||41.7%||9.9||17.3|
|Ryan Alderman||WR-F||5'9, 175||Sr.||NR||11||5||51||45.5%||4.6||5.2%||54.5%||4.3||7.3|
|Samuel Benjamin||WR-Z||6'0, 195||So.||** (5.4)||8||2||20||25.0%||2.5||3.8%||50.0%||2.7||2.8|
|Khalif Herbin||WR-F||5'7, 170||So.||** (5.4)||2||1||-1||50.0%||-0.5||1.0%||0.0%||-0.2||-0.1|
|Wanemi Omuso||TE||6'2, 255||Jr.||NR|
|Nathan Hairston||WR-X||6'0, 185||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|James Whitfield||WR-X||6'1, 190||RSFr.||** (5.2)|
5. Can the Owls at least pretend to pass?
When you think about it, it's actually pretty difficult to rank 21st in Rushing S&P+ and 108th in Passing S&P+. When you have one of the best running games on your opponent's schedule, one would think the opponent would have to focus pretty heavily on it in the game plan; in theory, that would open up some pretty easy passing opportunities.
Instead of stealing easy early-down yardage with the pass like Tim Beck at Nebraska (and others), then-coordinator Ryan Day just ran more. And that's fine -- Temple did it effectively. But despite distracted defenses, the passing game was just egregious. Coyer's hints at dual-threat prowess in 2011 were a bit of a mirage, and replacement Juice Granger wasn't much better. Only tight ends and running backs were capable of reasonably decent catch rates, but passes to them didn't actually go anywhere. Meanwhile, the top three wideouts on the targets list combined to catch just 41 of 83 passes, and the occasional big play wasn't enough to balance out the inefficiency.
|Martin Wallace||RT||26 career starts|
|Zach Hooks||LT||6'6, 300||So.||NR||11 career starts|
|Jeff Whittingham||LG||6'2, 305||Sr.||** (5.1)||11 career starts|
|Kyle Friend||C||6'2, 305||So.||** (5.3)||9 career starts|
|Sean Boyle||C||6'5, 305||Sr.||** (5.1)||8 career starts|
|Pete White (Maryland)||RG||6'4, 330||Sr.||**** (5.8)||6 career starts|
|Scott Roorda||LG||6'3, 300||Sr.||NR||4 career starts|
|Cody Booth||LT||6'5, 285||Sr.||NR|
|Joe Cenatiempo||LT||6'9, 313||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Adam Metz||LT||6'5, 295||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Jacob Quinn||C||6'5, 295||So.||NR|
|Eric Lofton||RT||6'5, 300||So.||** (5.2)|
|Raymond Korang||RT||6'8, 315||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Brendan McGowan||LG||6'4, 300||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Will Rathbone||RG||6'5, 275||RSFr.||NR|
|Dion Dawkins||RG||6'5, 325||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Matt Barone||OL||6'2, 295||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
6. Rhule's made some changes
If nothing else, Rhule is attempting a complete overhaul of the passing game. It appears that unused junior Connor Reilly will evidently be Temple's starting quarterback -- the more pro-style passer spent last year as a square peg in a round-hole offense -- while tight ends Cody Booth (offensive tackle) and Romond Deloatch (defensive end) have been moved to other positions. For what it's worth, six of the seven wideouts targeted at least twice last year do return, but who the heck knows if any of them will be effective, or if any of the changes and shifts will have an impact on the success of the ground game. Booth and Pete White will certainly upgrade the athleticism on the line. That can't hurt, I guess.
|Q1 Rk||121||1st Down Rk||112|
|Q2 Rk||114||2nd Down Rk||122|
|Q3 Rk||116||3rd Down Rk||83|
7. Lots of sophomores below
The Temple offense was certainly worse in 2012 than in 2011, but the primary reason for Temple's win percentage getting cut in half came on the defensive side of the ball. The Owls fielded a defense loaded with youngsters and bereft of readiness. The pass rush was decent (though not what it had been), and the Owls almost literally had no other strengths worth mentioning.
If there's reason for hope (other than "Temple has a new defensive coordinator now"), it's that a lot of freshmen and sophomores were on last year's two-deep, and the Owls' experience level is significantly higher in 2013, especially in the front seven. Temple's two leading linebackers were each freshmen, as was active tackle Hershey Walton. Make no mistake: the Temple D will still be crazy-young, especially if some redshirt freshmen and some of Rhule's February signees live up to recruiting billing. But while significant improvement is probably too much to ask, run-of-the-mill improvement is not.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Hershey Walton||DT||6'4, 300||So.||** (5.4)||11||28.5||4.7%||1.5||0||0||1||0||1|
|Levi Brown||NT||6'2, 300||Sr.||** (5.0)||11||21.0||3.5%||3.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Shahid Paulhill||DT||6'3, 285||Sr.||** (5.1)||11||20.0||3.3%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Sean Daniels||DE||6'3, 230||Sr.||** (5.2)||11||14.5||2.4%||3||3||0||1||0||0|
|Kamal Johnson||DT||6'4, 310||Sr.||** (4.9)||3||5.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Avery Ellis||DE||6'2, 235||So.||** (5.3)||9||3.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Matt Ioannidis||NT||6'4, 285||So.||** (5.4)||6||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Chudnoff||DE||6'2, 250||So.||** (5.4)||10||1.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||2|
|Jaimen Newman||DE||6'4, 290||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Romond Deloatch||DE||6'4, 225||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Shahbaz Ahmed||DE||6'3, 255||So.||** (5.3)|
|Kiser Terry||DE||6'3, 250||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Averee Robinson||DT||6'1, 285||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tyler Matakevich||WLB||6'1, 230||So.||** (5.2)||11||84.0||13.9%||3||0||0||3||1||2|
|Nate D. Smith||MLB||6'0, 230||So.||** (5.4)||11||63.0||10.4%||6.5||3.5||0||2||3||1|
|Blaze Caponegro||SLB||6'1, 225||Sr.||** (5.1)||9||25.5||4.2%||3||2||0||1||0||0|
|Rob Dvoracek||MLB||6'2, 230||So.||** (5.3)||11||8.0||1.3%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Marc Tyson||SLB||6'0, 230||Jr.||NR|
|Haason Reddick||WLB||6'1, 215||RSFr.||NR|
|Jarred Alwan||LB||6'1, 230||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Buddy Brown||LB||6'3, 215||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
8. Temple could pressure the quarterback … and that's about it
Temple ranked seventh in Adj. Sack Rate in 2011, logging 33 sacks among 74 tackles for loss. Those numbers fell to 25 and 53, respectively, last year, but that's still not awful, especially considering opponents really didn't care to pass that often. (They didn't need to, not with Temple fielding the second-worst run defense in the country.) Rhule wants to emphasize big plays on defense, and to fill that need, he went after former Eastern Michigan defensive coordinator Phil Snow.
Snow has a lot of big titles on his résumé -- Arizona State defensive coordinator (1992-00), UCLA defensive coordinator (2001-02), Washington defensive coordinator (2003-04), Detroit Lions linebackers coach (2005-08) -- and while his Eastern Michigan defenses weren't always very effective, that's usually going to be the case at EMU. His 2011 EMU defense was his best, and it made most of its bones by, you guessed it, getting after the quarterback (23 sacks, 69 tackles for loss, and a No. 29 Adj. Sack Rate ranking). He practices the aggressiveness Rhule wants to preach. Now we'll just have to see if Temple has enough pieces to make it work.
There are some reasonable standouts at each level of the defense. End Sean Daniels might have potential as a pass rush specialist if nothing else, and again, Hershey Walton logged quite a few tackles for a freshman tackle. Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith made at least a few plays while trying to stay afloat as freshman linebackers. And corners Anthony Robey and Zamel Johnson appear to have some play-making ability (5.5 tackles for loss, 10 passes defensed) to go along with what were play-allowing tendencies last year. And again, there are some interesting freshmen and redshirt freshmen in spots, as well. That's tepid praise, but this was a pretty tepid defense last year.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Anthony Robey||CB||5'10, 190||Jr.||** (5.2)||11||32.5||5.4%||3.5||1.5||0||6||0||0|
|Zamel Johnson||CB||6'0, 175||Sr.||** (5.2)||11||20.0||3.3%||2||0||0||4||0||0|
|Tavon Young||CB||5'10, 160||So.||** (5.3)||10||10.5||1.7%||2||1.5||2||0||1||1|
|Chris Hutton||FS||5'10, 180||Jr.||** (5.4)||11||10.5||1.7%||0||0||1||1||1||0|
|Abdul Smith||FS||6'0, 205||Sr.||*** (5.7)||8||7.5||1.2%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Brian Burns||SS||6'0, 185||Jr.||** (5.1)||5||1.0||0.2%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Will Hayes||CB||5'9, 182||So.||NR|
|Nate L. Smith||DB||6'1, 185||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Dion Shaw||FS||6'1, 200||RSFr.||NR|
|Stephaun Marshall||SS||5'11, 190||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Jihaad Pretlow||SS||5'11, 190||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Jalen Fitzpatrick||KR||5'11, 180||Jr.||12||24.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||13|
|Field Goal Pct||19|
|Kick Returns Avg||22|
|Punt Returns Avg||44|
9. Temple's biggest advantage is gone
For two straight years, Temple had one hell of a special teams unit. The Owls ranked fifth in Special Teams F/+ in 2011 and 13th in 2012, spurred mostly by awesome work from punter/kicker/leg extraordinaire Brandon McManus, now an Indianapolis Colt. In 2012, Temple also got stellar contributions from Matt Brown in the return game.
McManus and Brown are both gone now. The offense and defense will have to improve to an even greater degree if the Owls can no longer count on a field position boost from special teams.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|31-Aug||at Notre Dame||13|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||59|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||84|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / -0.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (8, 7)|
10. Beat bad teams on the road
In terms of F/+ rankings, Temple has been all over the map since 2008, jumping to 69th and 52nd, falling to 75th, leaping to 25th, and crashing to 84th. That's an average ranking of 61st, however, and if the Owls can pull of that rank (something I doubt, honestly), they will win some games. They host teams projected 53rd, 55th, and 58th, and three of their six road games are at teams projected 91st, 116th, and 122nd. Honestly, this schedule could be conducive to a bowl bid even if the Owls rank only about 70th or so. But that will depend on their ability to beat Houston on September 7 and beat bad teams on the road. I think SMU is likely underrated at 91st, and as I wrote earlier today, Memphis could be quite a bit better than 116th. But Idaho's awful, and beating Houston, Fordham, Idaho, Army, and either UCF or UConn gets the Owls to within one win of six.
Long-term, I like the Rhule hire. Again, he's recruiting very well, and he knows the personnel and landscape at hand. But it might be a bit much to ask for significant improvement in 2013. The passing game is still beyond suspect, and even if the pass rush comes back around, there are still enormous question marks on this defense. If Temple can get to five wins while still playing a ton of underclassmen, I'll consider that progress. So let's set the bar there.
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