Talking Temple with Nick Menta

Cincinnati plays Temple tomorrow night. I wanted to know more about Temple, so I put up a tweet about who I should talk to. Some said a rabbi. I don't know any rabbis so that didn't work. Some sadi Bill Cosby. He did not reply to my tweet. Unfortunately. I found someone even better to talk to however. That is Nick Menta. He writes for CSN Philly and The 700 Level. As always, questions are in bold.

I don't think many people have watched a lot of Temple this season. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Owls?

As you might imagine with a team that's 0-5, there are more weaknesses than strengths. Probably best to just bullet these:

Weaknesses:
– Temple enters Friday night with the 120th-ranked defense in the country.  The Owls' are allowing opponents 330 yards passing per game, the second-highest total in the nation behind only Texas State. They've allowed every quarterback they've played (as long as you combine Houston's David Piland — now retired — and John O'Korn) to throw for at least 305, complete a 62.8 percent of their attempts, and score eight TDs through the air. Five opposing receivers have gone for over 100 yards in five games. Idaho QB Chad Chalich put up 424 total yards. Sorry, Idaho? QB? Chad? Chalich?

– Kicker Brandon McManus spent the last four years moving to the top of Temple's all-time scoring list, and the Owls have suffered in their first year without him. True freshman Jim Cooper and Nick Visco and senior punter Paul Layton have combined to make just 1 of 6 field goal attempts.

– On offense, both Walker and Reilly have talent under center, and the backfield isn't bad either, but the receiving corps is severely lacking. No one has more than five total catches through five games. Making matters more difficult is that none of Temple's starting receivers are over 6-foot. Deon Miller is 6-5 but has so little body fat that he suffers from chronic cramping and can play only a very limited role. The lack of height and speed at the wideout position makes for A) smaller passing targets B) difficulties in outside run blocking and C) allows teams to stack the box because they don't have to worry about their cornerbacks in man coverage. That all said, Robby Anderson — who left the team in the offseason, came back, and didn't play the first three games — has both speed and size and caught a 58-yard bomb last week from Walker for Temple's longest play of the season.

Strengths:
– Despite the issues both in coverage and in generating a pass rush, Temple does have a promising stable of young linebackers, led by sophomore Tyler Matakevich. In 2012, Matakevich became the first freshman in Temple history to record 100 tackles and took home the Big East's rookie of the year award. He has led the team in tackles in 12 of the 13 games he's started. He recorded a single-game, program-record 24 stops against Idaho.

– For letting up as many yards as it does, Temple actually boasts a fairly impressive red zone defense. Through the first three games, it was actually the 10th-best in the country. It was never any better than against Houston in Week 2, when it allowed the Cougars zero touchdowns in six trips, holding them to four field goals, a lost fumble and a turnover on downs. From their last defensive drive against Notre Dame (Game 1) to the first quarter vs. Idaho (Game 4), the Owls made nine straight stands within their own 20 without allowing a touchdown. In 16 total opponent trips to the red zone, Temple has allowed just three TDs. Message here: score on big plays, which the Owls have a penchant for giving up.

-There are other things in both categories but I value your readership's eyesight.

P.J. Walker came in during the second half of the Louisville game and they outscored Louisville during the second half. Is this his team for the rest of the year and maybe the rest of his career? What does he bring to the table?

You know — maybe? (Solid answer here. This is why you reached out to me.)

The plan was originally to have Walker — whom head coach Matt Rhule is very high on — redshirt the season. He started out third on the depth chart behind junior Connor Reilly and senior backup Clinton Granger and was supposed to stay there. But the plan went south when Reilly suffered a sprained MCL and a bone bruise in the fourth quarter vs. Houston. When he couldn't start vs. Fordham, and Granger couldn't move the ball, Rhule burned Walker's redshirt and wound up only using him for nine plays before returning to the injured Reilly — who led three straight touchdown drives and nearly won the game.

But in Reilly's last two outings, he's completed just 48 percent of his passes. He went 3 for 7 vs. Louisville before Rhule put in Walker with Temple already down 17-0 in the second quarter. And Walker impressed, going 10 for 19 for 182 yards passing and a TD. He also picked up 67 yards on the ground while running for his life.

Once Rhule burned the freshman's redshirt, he was going to play him. Last week, he denied interest in using any kind of quarterback rotation. Some of the decision to start Walker is because Reilly is still limited by his knee, and some of it is just because Walker's ready now and it would be a waste of eligibility not to play him.

If he keeps improving and playing well — yeah, he could entrench himself. But freshmen are bound to make mistakes, Reilly will eventually get healthy, and Temple will probably wind up needing both as the season goes on.

Temple did pretty well their last couple of seasons in the MAC, something that hasn't translated to the Big East and now the American. Is it too simple to say the program might be better fitted to a smaller league?

Yeah, a lot of people don't realize it, but Temple actually went 26-12 between 2009-2011. 9-4, 8-4, 9-4.

Some of it is just about timing. Al Golden — aided by Rhule, one of his long-time assistants — resurrected a program that was nearly abandoned in 2004. Many of the players that made a bowl game in 2009 and won one in 2011 ended up leaving right when the program made the jump to the Big East in 2012.

Rhule actually has some intriguing young talent, but, you know, they're young, and some of the upperclassmen aren't doing enough not to be overtaken by those underclassmen who are still learning.

As for the MAC, there are bad teams at the bottom, but the teams at the top can reasonably compete in better conferences. Ball State just beat Virginia, Northern Illinois kicked the holy hell out of Purdue, etc. Thankfully, it's beginning to gain at least a little respect. Plus, there are few more enjoyable hash tags than #MACtion.

Also, Michigan is fraudulent and should have lost to the Zips. Go Zips.

The Owls haven't won a game this season. Outside of next week against Army, do you think they will win a game this season?

Boy, am I glad I didn't put down on that over/under 3.5 wins bet I was looking to get all over. Prior to the year, this looked like a 5-7 team. Optimism and some lucky breaks could have gotten the Owls to 6-6. The Fordham and Idaho games were supposed to be wins.

And here they are at 0-5.

When a team hasn't won a game, it's hard to say it can definitely beat anybody. But Army, UConn and Memphis are winnable games. And sometimes teams pull out the random game. Maybe Temple finishes up 2-10? 3-9? An 0-fer would still be surprising.

Is there a buzz around Temple football or is that something that is reserved for basketball only?

This is as succinctly as I can explain it: 21,709 people showed up to watch a Heisman candidate, the potential No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, and the No. 7 team in the nation when Louisville visited last week. Three weeks prior, 20,047 showed up to watch FCS Fordham.

Even Temple basketball — which has the sixth-most wins in Division I history, has made six straight NCAA tournaments and has knocked off five Top 10 teams in the last five seasons — only averaged 5,917 last year (96th in the country). For basketball, it doesn't matter so much that Temple is playing, so much as who Temple is playing. Crowds will show up for big opponents, but Wednesday night non-con games — forget it.

Temple's attendance issues can actually make for a pretty long, fairly complicated discussion. There are a lot of explanations for why these two programs struggle to draw. Some of it is the university's long history as a commuter school — although that's rapidly changing. Some of it is because the student population is very diverse and there's no sense of a unifying spirit or culture on campus. Some of it is because there's been a lot of losing on the football side of things. Some of it is because Philadelphia's "we're a great sports town" self-congratulatory BS is exactly that. Some of it is because there's four pro teams and this isn't a land-grant university with a local monopoly. And some of it is because the football team doesn't play on campus — although that's more BS.

Temple really should draw better than it does. It has over 100,000 alumni living in the city. It should draw — it just doesn't.

Speaking of Temple basketball, how do you think the Owls will do this year? Who replaces Wyatt?

Nobody replaces Wyatt. Kid averaged 20.5 and went for 30 or more seven times last year, including in both tournament games. Not happening.

The real question is — who's replacing the five seniors Fran Dunphy just lost?

Temple will be without four of of its five leading scorers from last year. The top two returners — juniors Anthony Lee and Will Cummings — averaged 9.8 and 5.8 points per game.

There's 12 guys technically on the roster, but two of them are in residence. Of the remaining 10, eight will probably play, and five of those are freshmen or sophomores. Quenton DeCosey led the three returning sophomores last year with seven minutes per game.

This is likely a retooling year where the young guys will have to get a whole lot of run and learn as they go. That kind of inexperience and lack of depth could prove challenging in in-conference home-and-homes with Louisville, UConn, Memphis and, of course, Cincinnati.

If Dunphy makes his seventh straight tournament, with this group — he's the best basketball coach in the country. That is not hyperbole.

To close, how do you think Friday night will go?

Three weeks ago, I would have said pretty poorly, but what the hell are you guys doing taking Miami (OH) 0-0 into the fourth quarter and then losing to USF? You're costing me money.

I've actually been pretty high on Brendon Kay since last year, and as gruesome and saddening as Munchie Legaux's injury was, I still thought Kay should have started over him, regardless of whatever offense Tuberville was trying to install.

That all aside, last year's meeting did not go well. Kay went 13 of 21 for 244 and two TDs and the backs combined for 228 on the ground in a 34-10 romp.

Spread is 21? If you guys don't stop turning the ball over, Temple covers. Scratch that, if you guys don't stop turning the ball over — alright, look, just stop turning the ball over.

 

That was unexpectedly great. A ton of thanks to Nick Menta. Be sure to follow him on twitter and read his work on the 700 Level.

Scott

About Scott

I write Bearcats Blog and also on the Student Section.

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