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November 23, 2012In many ways, Temple's 38-20 loss to Syracuse at Lincoln Financial Field Friday was a microcosm of the Owls' first season back in the Big East since 2004 - from the game itself right down to the last word of coach Steve Addazio's postgame press conference.
In the process, Temple finished the 2012 campaign with a 4-7 overall record and a 2-5 mark in the Big East while saying goodbye to any slim bowl-eligibility hopes they still entertained.
There were drive-sustaining runs by running back Montel Harris, who rushed for 106 yards on 21 carries, topped the 1,000-yard mark on the season, and added to a resume that should allow him to play on Sundays in the future. Freshman outside linebacker Tyler Matakevich again led the defense in tackles, this time with 14 to go with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. It's something Matakevich has done for eight straight weeks now since entering the starting lineup.
Sophomore slot receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick, the team's leading pass catcher, again led the team in receptions, this time with five for 30 yards. And ultra-dependable kicker and punter Brandon McManus converted both of his field-goal attempts - from 47 and 22 yards - and finished off his career as the program's all-time leading scorer with 338 points.
The quarterback play again was equal parts promising and inconsistent, as junior Juice Granger went 16 of 23 passing for 173 yards to go with a nicely-thrown, 12-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman wideout John Christopher (three catches, 44 yards) and a well-executed 10-yard scoring run that gave Temple a short-lived, 20-17 lead in the third quarter. But Granger, in his second career start, also threw two interceptions to Syracuse's Keon Lyn, including a late pick-six that the Orange cornerback returned 31 yards for a touchdown with 2 minutes, 37 seconds remaining.
And there were more not-so-good elements of that equation - momentum deflaters, as Addazio calls them - that did in the Owls once again Friday. A lot of it was the glaring stuff that just never went away.
Although defensive coordinator Chuck Heater's much-maligned unit held Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib to a pedestrian 16 of 28 passing for 215 yards and a touchdown, the Owls' defense couldn't really come up with any key stops once again after Temple's offense spotted them a 10-0 lead after the first quarter with the help of a 47-yard field goal by McManus and the Granger-to-Christopher scoring pass.
And again, a lot of the miscues and blown assignments came from seniors that should know better.
Senior free safety Vaughn Carraway went the wrong way on Nassib's 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Sales that got Syracuse on the board early in the second quarter. And on the scoring drive that put the Orange ahead for good, senior cornerback Zamel Johnson somehow forgot to cover Alec Lemon, Syracuse's leading receiver, on a 31-yard catch-and-run that eventually set up the Orange for a one-yard touchdown run by Adonis Aimeen-Moore that gave Syracuse a 24-20 lead with 4:32 left in the third quarter.
At the end of the day, the Big East's worst defense surrendered 475 yards of total offense, including 260 on the ground.
And as he does after each loss - save for maybe the loss at Pitt in which he felt his team did not compete - Addazio instead chose to focus on what he believes is a young team with a bright future.
In a postgame session with reporters that spanned more than 21 minutes, Addazio oozed enthusiasm and exuberance and looked and sounded the part of a coach whose team had won by 18.
He said that opposing coaches tell him, "Your team is one physical-ass team."
When talking about the future, he said the Temple program is heading in a "super phenomenal direction."
Syracuse had three quick-strike scoring drives that used up just two minutes or less of game clock, and Harris fumbled a punt that led to a Syracuse field goal. Those were among the moments where Addazio said his team "got a little unglued again." The Orange went 10 of 17 on third-down conversions, including a third-and-9 on their first scoring drive and a third-and-15 on the drive that ended with the Ross Krautman 26-yard field goal that gave Syracuse a 17-13 lead just before halftime.
For his seniors, even the ones that struggled, Addazio offered praise, calling them trailblazers who helped Temple through its first Big East season in eight years. But beyond that, the prevailing message was basically to forget about the past and focus on the future.
"I don't think I've ever been more energized in my coaching career than I am right now," Addazio said.
At one point, Addazio even implored the assembled media to get behind his football team.
"If you can't like this football team right here," Addazio said, "then it's hard for you to like or be positive about anything."
If there are to be brighter moments ahead, Addazio and his staff will have to find a new pair of starting safeties to replace Carraway and strong safety Justin Gildea, a pair that will need to play better and make fewer game-changing mistakes than their predecessors. And regardless of who's playing quarterback, be it Juice Granger or Chris Coyer or Kevin Newsome or maybe even a freshman newcomer like P.J. Walker, the Owls must develop capable receivers that can stretch the field. Fitzpatrick, with 30 catches for 363 yards, was Temple's leading receiver this season. The next-highest reception total came from junior tight end Cody Booth, who caught just 17 passes. And senior wideout C.J. Hammond caught just four - four - passes this season. His 132 receiving yards were somehow the third-highest total on the team this season.
Regarding the whole quarterback thing, Addazio kind of loosely committed to Granger as his starter heading into spring drills. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Philadelphia native replaced Coyer as the starter midway through the Cincinnati game and spent the majority of his time handing off to Harris last week at Army before seeing his first full dose of running (he ran for 61 yards on 20 carries Friday) and throwing against Syracuse.
"The simple answer is yes," Addazio said after first stammering a bit when asked if Granger would be his No. 1 quarterback heading into the spring. "The reason I struggle to get an answer is because when it comes to spring ball, I just like the guys to compete. I just like competition. I like them to give it everything, to earn. When you go to spring ball, who cares who takes the first snap? It's going to be an open competition. It has to be?'
Translation: stay tuned as to who starts the season opener at quarterback next year at Notre Dame.
Granger, who played at George Washington High School and then played a season at Pierce College in Los Angeles before coming to Temple, said Saturday was a learning experience and something to build upon for the future. He also said he needed to do a better job of making adjustments after Syracuse dialed things up in the third quarter to take control of the game.
"They changed their front up," Granger said. "They started bringing more pressure, and that's my job to recognize the pressure and put the protection to the pressure and sometimes I didn't do that."
One of the more unfortunate notes of Saturday involved senior running back Matt Brown not being able to play his final college game. The ultra-competitive and durable 5-5 back from Baltimore simply could not make a go of it after he injured his left hamstring on a punt return last week at Army.
Brown, who did not get a single Division I scholarship offer out of the Peddie School in New Jersey tried again after prepping at New York's Milford Academy but earned his roster spot at Temple as a recruited walk-on.
From there, Brown ran side-by-side along the oft-injured Bernard Pierce through his first three seasons at Temple. Initially brought to Temple as a slot receiver, Brown finished his career with 2,647 yards and 22 touchdowns on 466 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry.
"It's been a long time coming," said Brown, who came out for the Senior Day pregame ceremony in his No. 2 jersey but did not suit up for the game. "It's been a good ride. Sometimes when you're young, you feel like it never ends. Then when it's over, you just recollect and you're thinking about everything you have and every little play, and you're a little more grateful than you were when it was going on."
Brown will face challenges getting to the NFL because of his smaller stature, but there could be a place for him in the league as a return specialist. Harris, who finished the season with 1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 10 games (a hamstring injury limited his carries in the season opener and kept him out of the Maryland game), plans to train with Brown in Atlanta at Dual Sports Performance before April's NFL Draft.
In just three seasons at Boston College, Harris became the Eagles' all-time leading rusher before he was dismissed from the program for what was deemed to be a repeated violation of team rules. He came to Temple, which had former Boston College assistants in Owls' offensive coordinator Ryan Day and quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers, and made a significant impact.
Last week, Harris set Temple and Big East single-game rushing records with 351 yards and seven touchdowns in the Owls' 63-32 win at West Point.
This season, Harris said, will mean as much as the previous three he spent at Boston College.
"I think this is up there, at least in the top two seasons," Harris said, "just because of how the team fought each week, week in and week out. We never gave up. The team enjoyed football the whole season, and we should have closed out with a win this week."
The hope of course, is that the 'should haves' will become wins in the future. Like his coach, Harris is encouraged by what he has seen this season and thinks it will translate well to the future.
"Juice stepped up," Harris said, rattling off names. "He had a great finish to the season. Jalen Fitzpatrick, Kenny Harper. On defense, the young linebackers. Hopefully the middle linebackers are going to be great. I've been around some good ones, and they're definitely playmakers.
"And the whole defensive line. Most of them come back beside (senior defensive end) John Youboty. Some big things happening for Temple and I just can't wait to watch next year."
Extra points: Senior punter and kicker Brandon McManus finished off his Temple career as the program's all-time leader in made field goals with 60, field goal attempts with 83 and punting average with 45.4 yards per attempt. The Owls played 19 freshmen Saturday, including 13 true freshmen and six redshirt freshmen. Montel Harris finished his career with 27 100-yard rushing games - five at Temple and 22 at Boston College. He leads the nation in that category. Freshman linebacker Tyler Matakevich became the first Temple freshman in the program's history to finish a season with 100 or more tackles, racking up 101 stops.
OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com. or @jdicarlo.