Well, the boys went 2-0 over the weekend. Could nitpick here and there, and maybe even whine a little bit about Temple RB Ryquell Armstead once again proving that skill, toughness and being chiseled out of granite does not automatically keep you from being injury prone.
But we progress …
The Owls, now 3-3 after obliterating East Carolina, 49-6, last Saturday, despite questions about their discipline, strategy and Armstead’s health, pose the greatest threat this side of No. 23 South Florida to American Athletic rival Central Florida’s chances at repeating as conference champ, thanks to a deep roster and a strong-armed QB in Anthony Russo whose potential stretches well outside the box of what most believe capable at Temple.
Illinois, meanwhile, is 3-2 courtesy of a 38-17 drubbing of down-and-out Big Ten foe Rutgers the same afternoon, and, frankly, almost laughably because you don’t expect such things with the Illini, but they possess one of the nation’s best run-oriented backfields. How good is it? Well, put it this way, Mike Epstein had a pretty unproductive day … only to cap it with a 42-yard scoring burst that sealed the deal.
Both of my schools — gulp — are good enough to challenge for a bowl bid. This year. Seriously. Temple, in fact, could challenge for the AAC crown — yeah, even with the 10th-ranked Knights standing in the Owls’ way Nov. 1 and the Bulls the same two weeks later. Temple is that good when it plays well, which, usually, happens when Armstead is feeling right.
TEMPLE 2015 REVISITED
Ironically, the team that could give the Owls the most trouble in the AAC is the most similar to, well, themselves, circa 2015.
Temple caught the nation’s attention that fall, and even managed to steal a few moments of attention from Philly fans during — gasp — the Eagles season. Started the campaign 7-0, beat Penn State, played Notre Dame to a virtual standstill and peaked at No. 20 in the national polls before finishing 10-4.
Cincy, circa 2018? The Bearcats are 6-0, even tossing in a couple nail-biters that earmarked that Temple ’15 squad. They’re balanced on offense (RB Michael Warren II and QB Desmond Ridder are virtual carbon copies of Jahad Thomas and P.J. Walker in terms of production), and they’re stingy on defense — just the way those Owls were.
Of course, standing in their way of starting 7-0 like Temple did … will be Temple ’18 on Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field.
by Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
Won’t make any bones about it.
Even for me.
Still, with that, comes a reality check … if you want to maintain any semblance of sense or sanity.
To wit, to me, you’re not going to find better quarterbacks than Penn State’s Trace McSorley and West Virginia’s Will Grier. Different, yes. Better, no.
That being shared, The truth of the matter is neither of them were going to challenge for Heisman honors this fall on an even playing field. Both had obstacles in front of them that Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins did not, mostly in perception.
Not only in regards to ability, but their teams.
Face it, despite the nation getting geeked up over McSorley’s “Vince Young in the Rose Bowl” reenactment two Saturdays ago for a few hours, the Nittany Lions’ senior needed either A) to put up those kinds of numbers (286 yards passing, 175 rushing) each week in 2018 to be seriously considered or B) to win that game against Ohio State or, more likely, C) both A and B.
Wasn’t going to happen with the Lions’ share-the-wealth approach, and didn’t happen thanks to James Franklin and Co.’s last-minute decision-making implosion.
Grier? He actually had a little more leeway than McSorley in that he wasn’t pigeonholed as the smallish, over-achieving scrapper — which is kinda comical since the PSU signal-caller is far more athletic and more physically imposing, just shorter. Grier has been a “known” for half a decade, and brought about him some mystical-type cachet in that he was really good as a freshman at Florida, but the Gators didn’t want him.
Oh, well, WVU’s gain. Big time.
He produced immediately, and has made the Mountaineers quite dangerous. Plus, he put up gawdy numbers — and wins. But, now, you take a look at his latest effort (332 yards, 4 TDs passing against Kansas), and it’s the negatives that stand out. He did have three picks in the game. He missed some throws. WVU didn’t win big … and for Grief to be a Heisman contender, it needs to against most teams.
Thing is, there is nothing to knock Tagovailoa, Murray or Haskins about. They’re been spectacular. The teams — outside of Alabama, of course — haven’t always been. But that never was going to factor for their individual hopes.
You think Murray and Oklahoma losing to Texas last Saturday, or Haskins actually getting outplayed by McSorley (much like Ohio State did most of the night against Penn State) mattered? Think again.
That’s just the way it is.
But don’t feel too sorry for guys like Grier and McSorley. At least they ain’t McKenzie Milton, who’s in the midst of posting pinball-wizard numbers again while leading Central Florida to another unbeaten season, or Laviska Shenault Jr., the Colorado wide receiver who’s the best player by far the eyes behind these words have seen this season but remains mostly anonymous throughout the country.
Reality, people. It is what it is.
by Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
The irony is almost palpable.
You hear James Franklin speak Saturday night, you listen to his words, you take a moment or two to let them sink in, take a deep breath … and, then, well, you kinda chuckle.
Here he was, minutes after seeing his Nittany Lions’ hopes at a College Football Playoff berth implode before the month of October kicked off, the type of body blow that would leave many a contender doubled over and unable to continue, and the head coach who embodies arrogance and boorishness straight out of the Donald Trump School of Elitism was more concerned with how he and his charges were viewed than accepting what just happened.
Yeah, damn right the Lions are not elite … and reason No. 1 is the coaching staff’s performance at crunch time. Led by Mr. Great But Not Elite himself, Franklin.
Exhibit A came on Penn State’s final offensive play against Ohio State — a fourth-and-five at the Buckeyes’ 43 that saw running back Miles Sanders get swallowed up for a two-yard loss almost simultaneously with him taking the handoff. Ballgame over.
The call was not one borne of ingenuity. The Lions run that play ad nauseam with Sanders, and did so Saquon Barkley, too. It rarely has worked with either, especially in key moments. Looks kinda like a delay. Sorta like a run-pass option. But all it is, is some lame blast up the gut that never seems to catch anyone by surprise, except Franklin’s coaching staff when it doesn’t work.
Keep in mind that PSU quarterback Trace McSorley may have audibled into the play after waiting through timeouts by both teams and then surveying the OSU defense. Thing is, that’s still on Franklin and his staff because they have it drilled into the kid that the play works, or that it’ll catch defenses off-guard.
It hasn’t, and it won’t.
It was ridiculous that play was even on the table at that point, with the host Lions down one, having blown a 12-point lead with just eight minutes to go, and McSorley proving to be PSU’s best and most creative option all night, having made the Buckeyes look silly more often than not when scrambling out of the pocket.
Plain and simple, that situation called for a run-pass option, with one guy, and one guy alone, running the show: McSorley. He’d already ran for 175 yards and passed for another 286, frankly, looking like a far more legit Heisman candidate than his overly ballyhooed former backfield mate now with the New York Giants ever did.
Here’s the reality of it all: Franklin entered the game believing he had the lesser team, and at every juncture when OSU was ready to fold, the Lions blinked in a way that modeled their coach’s faith, or lack of it.
Could’ve blown out the Buckeyes in the first half.
Could’ve put them away multiple times in the second half.
Could’ve cut their hearts out with a conversion on that aforementioned fateful play.
Never happened. Not once.
PSU had the better quarterback, the better receivers (despite the hype), the better ground game, the better passing game, the better defensive line … going into the game.
But, really, you’d never know it because there always seemed to be an underlying fear in how things were called from the sidelines, and then played out on the field.
So, please, next time — and there will be a next time, no doubt — spare us the post-game Brett Kavanaugh act.
You want irony, here it is…
While Franklin and Co. could be ripped for overthinking and sticking to the “traditional” running attack, Temple and Illinois, my two schools, could be ripped for the exact opposite.
Sure, only the Owls were in action this past weekend, but both coaching staffs have been brutal with either A) not sticking with the run or B) not sticking with the hot hand on the run.
Temple is far more guilty of A; Illinois B. Either way, they’re annoying.
Yo, Geoff Collins, you got a big-time, NFL-caliber stud at tailback in Ryquell Armstead. Truth be told, he’s better than the guy you just faced in Boston College’s AJ Dillon. Use him. Keep using him. None of this Anthony Russo misfire after misfire thanks to his erratic arm and the receivers’ erratice hands when you got Armstead going for 7 or 8 yards a pop.
Kid had 171 yards and four TDs on 24 carries against the Eagles.
Illinois has two quality backs in Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein (both average 6.8 yards per carry). The perform best when they’re both on the field. So, Lovie Smith, just keep them both on the field at the same time and knock it off with trying to cross up teams.
THIS AND THAT ...