football Edit

Assessing the Owls at the quarter mark of the season

After Saturday’s 28-3 loss to Boston College, Temple is staring at a 1-2 record heading into next Saturday’s game against an FCS opponent in Wagner.

In that sense, the Owls still have a good chance of coming out of their nonconference schedule with a .500 record, which seemed likely at the outset of the season.

What matters more, of course, is how Temple arrives at that mark before American Athletic Conference play begins Oct. 2 at home against Memphis.

The Owls are still a very flawed football team, and that’s plain for anyone to see. After getting blown out at Rutgers in the season opener, they got away with early mistakes in a win at Akron last Saturday, and they weren’t going to get away with them Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field against a much better Boston College team that’s now 3-0.

Trying to gauge the mood of the program Saturday involved listening to the three people made available to reporters after the game: third-year head coach Rod Carey, redshirt freshman safety M.J. Griffin, who led the team with nine tackles, and redshirt-junior wide receiver Jadan Blue.

Carey, who went 8-5 in his first season on North Broad Street before last year’s forgettable 1-6 campaign, seemed equal parts frustrated and optimistic as he answered questions from reporters.

“All of the penalties today and key situational football that we failed in led to (the loss),” Carey said in his opening remarks.

Temple committed 11 penalties that cost the Owls 66 yards. Carey and some of his players have often called the Owls a young team, which they are in some spots – like at quarterback, running back and a handful of spots on defense - but certainly not in others, like an underperforming offensive line that started three seniors and two juniors Saturday. Redshirt freshman Wisdom Quarshie eventually came in to relieve injured senior Joseph Hooper at left guard.

With that, part of the issue is that several veteran players were the ones committing the penalties Saturday, and more of the same stuff continued to haunt Temple again – like special teams.

Temple was already down 7-0 thanks to an early Boston College touchdown that was set up by yet another special teams gaffe. The Owls allowed Travis Levy to rattle off a 67-yard return on the opening kickoff, and backup quarterback Dennis Grosel, playing for an injured Phil Jurkovec, found a fairly-open Jaden Williams three plays later for a 19-yard touchdown pass less than two minutes into the game.

Carey said they got that kickoff coverage issue corrected, which they later did, but it was yet another critical error in that phase of the game that put the defense, the younger of the team’s two units, on its heels. That same defense later held Boston College to three straight three-and-outs to start the second half.

Temple went three-and-out on its first two series and couldn’t convert Keyshawn Paul’s first-quarter interception into points. When Boston College got the ball back at the 8:35 mark of the first quarter, the Owls had a chance to halt that drive, but they hurt themselves by getting started with the self-inflicted wounds.

On the third play of that series, defensive end Manny Walker came up with a sack of Grosel that would have accounted for a 1-yard loss, but sixth-year safety and defensive team captain Amir Tyler was whistled for holding. That gave the Eagles a much more manageable second-and-4 situation, Phil Garwo busted out a 20-yard run on the next play, and he capped that drive with a 1-yard touchdown run seven plays later to stretch Boston College’s lead to 14-0 with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.

All told, five of Temple’s 11 penalties Saturday were committed by seniors, and two came from juniors. A false start from graduate student running back Tayvon Ruley on fourth-and-1 pushed Temple into a less-manageable fourth-and-6 on a third-quarter drive that stalled at the Boston College 24-yard line.

“To me,” Carey said, “the two games that we’ve lost here, I think, has more to do with us than with the other team. The other teams are good, but it had more to do with us than the other teams.”

Temple has now committed 23 penalties through three games, tied for the second-worst mark in the American Athletic Conference. Only Tulsa, with 29, has been penalized more.

So why is it happening? Blue, a redshirt junior wideout who’s off to a slow start with just nine catches for 71 yards through three games, put it on the players.

“Guys trying to press. I really think that was one of the biggest things,” Blue said. “Guys trying to do too much. But at the same time, it wasn’t anything the coaches did or anything different. It was just on us as players. We’ve got to execute. We take that all on us at the end of the day. We can’t blame nobody but ourselves. If anybody jumped offside, you can’t blame nobody but yourself. If anybody fumbled, can’t blame nobody but yourself.

“Because we were prepared. We prepared the right way, and our coach put us in the right position. That’s on us.”

Justin Lynch completed 10 of his 11 throws in the third quarter after a slow start Saturday.
Justin Lynch completed 10 of his 11 throws in the third quarter after a slow start Saturday. (Donald Otto)

If the Owls want to continue to call themselves a young team, they can certainly say they are at arguably the game’s most important position: quarterback. When Georgia transfer D’Wan Mathis, a redshirt freshman, started limping through the season opener at Rutgers and later left the game with a lower-leg injury that shelved him for the rest of the game, it eventually thrust Justin Lynch into action.

The staff is understandably high on Lynch. Carey coached his older brother, Jordan, at Northern Illinois, and Justin came to North Broad Street knowing much of the Owls’ offensive concepts already because he was running them at Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School with Jordan guiding him as his head coach.

But Lynch is young to the tune of being an 18-year-old true freshman. He came out of preseason camp as Temple’s No. 2 quarterback, but the staff probably would have liked to have redshirted him and maybe given him some scant late-game snaps if they had their druthers.

Against Akron last week, Lynch was an impressive 19 of 23 passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns to go with one more on the ground. Against a much better Boston College team Saturday, Lynch looked like a true freshman who wasn’t being helped by an offensive line that gave up four sacks, but he also looked like a true freshman who didn’t know where the ball should go, didn’t know how to manipulate the pocket to find a throwing lane, and didn’t always stick with a play before taking off to run.

“His mechanics were all over,” Carey said of Lynch, “and he was rushing things. He said he was fine, but he obviously wasn’t. He was just rushing things. Nerves, jitters, first time home. I don’t know, but he settled down there a little bit.”

When Carey was asked if Lynch was giving up too early on some plays, Carey said it was “just everything. He was rushing, his footwork was bad. It was everything.”

Lynch was not one of the players made available to reporters after the game. Blue, like his head coach, was asked if his young quarterback was giving up on some plays too early.

“That was one of the biggest things that he was struggling with early,” Blue surmised, “but at the end of the day, he’s a true freshman. He did as much as he could with what he could, so I’m not upset at all. I’m not going to lie to you. Of course, we would have loved for him to stay in the pocket and throw the thing 30 yards like we were hoping, but at the end of the day, it didn’t happen like that. You’ve got to be positive and continue to push through.

“When he came to the huddle, we would encourage him and be like, ‘Bro, c’mon. We’ve got you. Look for me. That’s what we tell him. As receivers, we always want to tell him, we’ve got you. Just put it up there for us. If not, hold on to the ball, kick it away and live to play another down.”

Lynch did complete a 29-yard pass to tight end Darius Pittman and a 32-yard toss to Blue, with both throws coming in the third quarter, but Saturday was more of an indication of where he still is in his development in terms of trusting what’s in front of him in several aspects of the game. He finished 17 of 24 passing for 161 yards and was sacked four times.

Blue saw Lynch’s third quarter, in which he completed 10 of his 11 throws, as progress.

“That was one of the things I think he started to do was calm down,” Blue said. “It’s a lot. Can’t imagine what he’s going through – a true freshman, coming in, having to play in front of all of these people. I don’t know what that’s like. I didn’t play until really a little bit my redshirt freshman year. And then as a redshirt sophomore, I took off. But nobody knows what it’s like to play as a true freshman and have to lead an offense of guys that are way older than you and all that. So he did as well as he could. He started to calm down and make throws toward the end.”

As for Mathis, he jogged out of the tunnel and onto the field with his teammates prior to the start of the game. His injury was initially described as “week to week” and then became “day to day” last week, and his status for Saturday’s game against Wagner remains uncertain.

When Carey was asked Saturday how Mathis was progressing, Carey said, “Good. That type of injury where you get the first 80 percent back, and then the next 20 is really hard, and so he’s working on that next 20. I’m hopeful this week, but we’ll see.”

In looking at the whole thing, Carey knows the deal. His team is 1-2, was overwhelmed in the season opener right out of the gate, and simply hasn’t shown much against two good teams in Rutgers and Boston College that are a combined 6-0 to start the season.

“We just have to eliminate (where) we execute at a high level sometimes as a team and then at a low level, and it’s indicative of an inexperienced young team,” Carey said. “I understand that, but I’m not accepting that.”

Carey compared the team’s performance to that of a seesaw with those levels of execution that vary dramatically.

How then, Carey was asked, does the team get the bottom up?

“It’s boring little things that you guys in the media do not like,” Carey said. “It’s day-to-day repetition and work is what that is, and putting them in those situations over and over and over again. And we have and we will continue to. We’ll keep doing it because they want to.”

Carey was about five-and-a-half minutes into his postgame press conference Saturday when he was answering that question. Then he started getting a little bit more into the heart of the matter in terms of how he’s feeling about how things have gone over the last two seasons.

Again, remember that Carey and his staff arrived at Temple after former Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz replaced Geoff Collins and then bolted 18 days later to head back to Miami to become the Hurricanes’ head coach. Carey’s hire broke the streak of Temple hiring an up-and-coming coordinator from a Power 5 conference like Al Golden (Virginia), Steve Addazio (Florida), Collins (Florida) or someone like from the Owls’ coaching tree like Matt Rhule, the current Carolina Panthers head coach who had been a Temple assistant under Golden and Addazio and returned to North Broad Street after a season of working in the NFL with the Giants.

Carey, instead, was a head coach from the Mid-American Conference who had led Northern Illinois to four MAC West Division titles and two MAC championships.

In his first season on North Broad Street, Carey and his staff seemingly pushed a lot of the right buttons. They kept the program’s single-digit tradition, something Addazio had not, and several of the team’s veteran players like current Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Shaun Bradley talked about how Carey embraced them and allowed them to be a player-led team. The Owls did eventually suffer a 55-13 defeat in the Military Bowl to a North Carolina team stacked with several future pros like current NFL running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter and a likely first-round pick at quarterback in Sam Howell.

It was a forgettable bowl performance, to be sure, but Carey wasn’t the first Temple head coach to come up short in a bowl game, and things seemed to be heading in the right direction for the most part.

Then there was last year- COVID, injuries, poor play. The Owls finished 1-6 and several key players like linebackers Isaiah Graham-Mobley and defensive tackle Khris Banks – both of whom helped contributed to Boston College’s win Saturday – left via the transfer portal.

Now this.

Temple would seem to be a year away from being a good team again if it can hold things together. Carey and his staff will have to hope that some of their younger offensive linemen like Quarshie, freshman Jimto Obidegwu and Bryce Thoman can become a foundation for the future and move the line of scrimmage more than this current group has. They’ll have to hope that a young safety like Griffin continues to improve like he has and that young linebackers like Yvandy Rigby, Jordan Magee, Kobe Wilson and Kwantel Raines anchor that area of the field

And, among other things, they’ll have to hope of course that either Mathis or Lynch is the long-term answer as a difference-making quarterback.

There’s more work to do, of course, but this season seems to be more about weathering the storm, winning the winnable games, maybe surprising someone as an underdog and looking for signs of discernable progress, all while blocking out the outside noise and understandable criticism and discontent from fans and alumni.

And that’s what Carey seemed to be speaking to as he neared the end of Saturday’s postgame presser.

“I enjoy this team,” Carey said. “This team is a really good team. They have a lot of good juice. Listen, I said this the other day, and I’ll say it to you guys. I think Covid brought a lot of negativity to this town and to this university in general. And since January, this group had been positive, coming back and wanting to achieve. And even in (the locker room), they’re disappointed as heck, but you can feel the positive energy going on with us. You can see our sideline. You can see where they’re straining out there.

“We’re not getting the result we wanted today, but we’re not going to give in to that. We’re going to go ahead and be positive and fight through it, because this team wants it. This team wants to be great. And so, we just have to keep doing it. I don’t know. Can we be yet? I don’t know. But I know we’re going to go back to work tomorrow.”

Griffin was asked if he felt the team was reflecting was Carey said about them, about being positive considering how things have turned over the last season-and-a-quarter.

“Honestly, we’re always going to stay positive,” Griffin said, “no matter what. Because at the end of the day, we’re still a team. We have to play a different team next week and the week after that and the week after that, together. So, everything we do, we do together. We win together, we lose together.”