by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 10/5/00
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Don't Expect an Improved Temple Team to Catch Tech Napping.
Every year, we keep hearing that Temple is getting better. This year, it looks like it's actually true.
Believe it or not, the Owls are just a few scores away from being 5-0. As it is, they've got wins over Navy, Bowling Green, and Eastern Michigan, and close losses to Maryland and West Virginia.
In recent years, one of Temple's biggest problems has simply been not knowing how to win close games. Sure, they've gotten hammered many times, but they have also been close in a lot of their losses. Temple has a habit of hanging with teams, and then fading late to lose, as they have in their two losses this year.
One notable exception, of course, is the 1998 Tech-Temple game in Lane Stadium, when the Owls actually won over the heavily favored Hokies, 28-24. But even then, the Hokies were one dropped Ricky Hall pass away from handing Temple yet another close loss.
Forgotten by many Tech fans is the 1997 game in Philadelphia, where two Temple fumbles deep in Tech territory kept the Owls from a possible win in a 23-13 Tech victory. The Owls rolled up 184 yards rushing behind Elmarko Jackson and Stacey Mack, and as unbelievable as it is, Temple came that close to having two straight victories over the Hokies (but you can argue that a 1997 Temple victory might have led to the revenge-minded Hokies to a win on that Black Saturday in 1998).
The party line on Temple is well-known. The Owls have some talent (more than fellow Big East doormat Rutgers), they just rarely play up to potential and suffer from not having a true home venue. Temple is one of those programs that has so much negative momentum that it's hard for them to snap out of it and win some ball games.
Temple's current coach, Bobby Wallace, is in his third year now, having won just four games total in his first two years. Last year, the Owls got a couple of wins, shocking Boston College 24-14 and stomping Rutgers 56-28. But Temple was also shut out four times and averaged just 13.9 points per game. They were soundly beaten by the good teams they played: Kansas State (40-0), Marshall (34-0), Virginia Tech (62-7), and Miami (55-0).
So no one is saying that Temple is ready to play with the big boys. But Bobby Wallace is a good coach, they've got a balanced offense and an improved defense, and they're showing signs of life. They're 3-2, and 5 wins isn't out of the question this season, if they can win over Rutgers and pull an upset somewhere in their other games.
At quarterback, the Owls have Devin Scott, one of the heroes of the 1998 Tech game, but just as importantly, they have Glendale (CA) Community College transfer Mike Frost.
Scott, the primary quarterback, has posted some impressive numbers this year (79-120 for 948 yards, 5 TD's, and 4 INT's), and he got the lion's share of playing time in their first four games.
But in their last game, the WVU loss, Coach Wallace pulled Scott and put in Frost. Frost rallied the team from a 23-10 deficit to a 24-23 lead, only to see WVU's Cooper Rego score with 5:22 to get the win for the Mountaineers.
The Temple coaching staff was very impressed with Frost at the junior college level, and that good first impression seems to have carried over into his Temple career. Frost is 14-25 for 143 yards, 2 TD's and 0 INT's in his limited action.
But the big news is at running back, where true sophomore Tanardo Sharps is turning heads and reminding everyone of former Owls star Stacey Mack, who now gets his paychecks from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sharps averages 7 yards per carry and leads the Big East with 121 yards per game. But despite having the leading rusher in the Big East, Temple as a team is sixth in the Big East at just 180.8 yards per game.
At receiver, the Owls are led by Greg Muckerson, who has 21 catches for 269 yards. Apparently, Mr. Muckerson has recovered from the two crushing licks that Tech linebacker Ben Taylor dealt him in last year's Tech romp. Muckerson will no doubt be aware where #40 in maroon is at all times Saturday.
The weakness of Temple's offense is probably its offensive line. The Owls are young and thin on the O-line. Their preseason depth chart listed one senior, five sophomores, and four freshman in the two-deep. One can only wonder where the Owls would be right now if they had an experienced offensive line. 5-0, perhaps?
In any event, the scoring woes of last year appear to be behind the Owls. Temple is averaging 26.2 points per game, almost double last year's average. And their total yardage is 404 yards per game, way up from last year's 264.3 per-game average.
So in a nutshell, Temple can pass fairly well, and in Tanardo Sharps, they feature the top running back in the Big East, one who is averaging a tenth of a yard per carry more than Tech's productive Lee Suggs (6.9 yards per carry).
But the bottom line on Temple so far is that they're producing a lot of yards and a lot of points, but their offense has not been able to reach deep when they really need it, as they did against Maryland and West Virginia. That probably goes back to the youth of the offensive line.
But remember, they'll be playing against a Tech defense that has yet to gel, and which has lost starting cornerback Larry Austin to a knee injury.
The Temple defense is having a pretty good year so far. To this point, the Owls rank 18th in the country in total defense, and 21st in run defense. The Owls look quicker and more active on defense the few times I've seen them this year, and against Navy, they held the Middies to under 100 yards rushing (73) for the first time since Army did it in 1994. Temple also held Maryland's Lamont Jordan, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, to just 62 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Not only that, but until a late collapse against WVU, they had held the Mountaineers' Cooper Rego to (-5) yards rushing in the first three periods. Unfortunately for Temple, Rego racked up 91 yards on 9 carries in the fourth quarter and led WVU to the win.
Still, considering that they have played against Maryland's Lamont Jordan and the run-oriented Navy offense, the fact that Temple is only giving up 96.6 yards per game rushing is pretty impressive.
Sure, Temple hasn't played any heavyweights like Tech yet, but the Owl defense is definitely improved. They're giving up an average of just 296.4 yards per game so far this year, versus 404.7 last year.
Here's an interesting trivia item about the Temple defense: they had the top two tacklers in the Big East last year in linebackers LeVar Talley and Taylor Suman. They had 131 and 129 tackles, respectively, and both players are back this year. Talley is picking up where he left off, with 57 tackles in 5 games. That's an 11.4 tackles per game average, and it leads the Big East. Suman is tied for second on the team with 37 tackles, along with free safety Jamal Wallace.
Temple's top 7 tacklers are all linebackers or defensive backs. You don't find a defensive lineman in Temple's tackling statistics until you get to the eighth player on the list, which is where you find #92, defensive tackle Russell Newman (for comparison purposes, Tech's Chad Beasley, #4 on the Tech team with 25 tackles, is the only Tech DL in the top 8 of Tech's tackling statistics).
Newman is far and away the Owl's best defensive player with regards to two statistics: sacks and tackles for loss. He has 11 tackles for 53 yards in losses (no Hokie has more than 3 tackles for loss), plus 4-1/2 sacks (no Hokie has more than -- get this -- one sack). Newman also leads the team with 4 quarterback hurries, so look for #92 to be their most active defensive lineman.
That role was supposed to go to sophomore defensive tackle Dan Klecko, the son of former New York Jets great Joe Klecko. Dan Klecko has 3 tackles for loss to go with his 3 QB hurries, but he has been slowed by ankle and knee injuries that caused him to leave the WVU and Bowling Green games early, and to miss the Eastern Michigan game entirely. Klecko is listed in the Temple game notes as a starter in the Hokie game, so along with Newman's #92, look for Klecko's #73.
In the defensive backfield, the Owls are led by Jamal Wallace and Lafto Thompson, with 37 and 34 tackles respectively, but neither player has an interception this year. As a matter of fact, Temple only has 2 interceptions this year, both of them by linebacker Chonn Lacey. By contrast, the Hokies have 9 interceptions in 4 games.
According to the NCAA statistics posted on CNNSI.com, Temple has given up 218 yards passing per game, and that puts them at #81 in the country.
Temple's sophomore punter, Garvin Ringwelski, is 7th in the Big East with 36.0 yards per punt, ahead of Tech's Robert Peaslee (34.9 yards per punt). In the place-kicking arena, the Owls also have a sophomore kicker, Cap Poklemba. Poklemba is 4-7 on field goals, with a long of 41, but he is only 2-5 from 30 yards and beyond.
The Owls use the same player as a long snapper on both field goals and punts. His name is Kevin Czaban, and for those of you who are wondering, he's no wide-eyed freshman -- he's a junior.
It doesn't matter how good Temple's run defense is, they won't be able to stop the Hokies powerful running game. The Owls simply can't matchup well with a Hokie offensive line that is demolishing opponents. And the Hokie passing game, which has been struggling this year, may get a lot better against Temple's relatively soft pass defense.
It will be a long time before Temple can sneak up on Tech again. The Hokies are not likely to take the Owls lightly again for a few years, not as long as there are players and coaches around who remember the 1998 game.
One wild card in this game is the weather. A cold snap is coming, and the weather forecasts for the Blacksburg area range everywhere from "rain and snow, with a high of 40" to "mostly cloudy with a high of 54." For the record, the Weather Channel link at the top of the page sides with the "high of 54" outlook.
Poor weather will help to neutralize the Hokies' speed advantage and turn this into a power game. If that happens, Tech will still have the advantage, but it could slow the Tech offense down.
Again, predicting Tech's score is easy -- just guess somewhere around 50 points. The hard part is predicting Temple's score. For me, the bottom line is, yes, Temple is a better team, but the Hokie offense is incredibly potent this year, and that will add up to another Temple loss, probably by a wide margin.
Tech 52, Temple 13.