WRITTEN BY: TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA – There hasn’t been much to smile about inside Temple Football’s practice facility lately. Three weeks ago, the defending American Athletic Conference champions laid an egg at home to a lackluster UConn squad. Six days later, they collapsed in a walk-off overtime loss to Army at West Point. Two steps backward and no steps forward—a few moral victories that unfortunately don’t appear in the left column of the standings.
But after an essential bye week, some Owls are grinning again. And it’s because their upcoming rematch against the Navy Midshipmen evokes fond memories of last season’s triumph over them.
“All the confetti on the field,” Temple safety Delvon Randall said following Tuesday’s practice in response to what he recalled from his team’s 34-10 title win at the Naval Academy last December. “It was my first championship ever. I never won a championship in high school, and it was a blessing to win a championship in my sophomore year of college.”
Perhaps those memories and feelings are a little sweeter now based on where the program currently stands. The dream of defending their crown this winter has expired, and the hope of becoming bowl eligible for a fourth consecutive season is dwindling.
Instead of vying for more hardware, Temple (3-5, 1-3) will have no choice but to win three of its final four games to taste postseason football, and a primetime loss to Navy (5-2, 3-2) on Thursday night (8 p.m., ESPN) at Lincoln Financial Field would most likely put the season on ice.
The stakes may not be championship-level high, but they’re high enough for Randall.
“Right now, we’re 3-5. We can’t go to the championship,” he said. “Us playing [Navy] last year in the championship is like a championship game right now. That’s how I’m looking at it. This is another opportunity to play against a hard-nosed team, to just come out and ball and prove that we can still be Temple ‘Tuff.’”
A NEW FEELING FOR NUTILE
In place of injured quarterback Logan Marchi (undisclosed lower-body injury), Frank Nutile will start at the position for a second consecutive game. In Temple’s 31-28 loss at Army, the redshirt junior completed 20-of-29 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown in his first career start.
“Frank did a really good job providing leadership,” Owls’ head coach Geoff Collins said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “And he always prepares well, but I thought he really prepared well for the game. He was all into the gameplan. He was in here as much as the coaches were, so I was really proud of him and how he performed.”
Although Temple has only scored 30 points or more in one game this season, the best of their offense came out against Army, as they finished the afternoon with 506 total yards (289 passing, 217 rushing).
“It’s tough that we didn’t get the win [vs. Army], but I think we did a really good job running the ball and passing the ball,” Nutile said. “So, I think there was some good stuff to take out of it and I think we also learned a lot. I think watching the tape, we’ve made a lot of corrections going into this week.”
ONE MORE DOSE OF TRIPLE-OPTION
Like Army, Navy is notorious for its triple-option scheme on offense. Although Temple’s defense limited the Midshipmen to just 10 points in the championship last season, this year’s unit is not close in talent level or status. Against Army, the Owls allowed 248 rushing yards, and Navy is averaging 376.1 rushing yards per game, which is ranked No. 1 in the country.
Temple’s secondary was also burned at West Point, allowing 141 passing yards on eight completions. Navy is averaging only 94.6 passing yards per game, but they have a weapon in 6-foot-4, 224-pound wide receiver Tyler Carmona, who has three touchdowns on eight catches this year.
-Temple halfback Ryquell Armstead, who rushed for a season-high 151 yards and two scores at West Point, told reporters on Tuesday that he’s as healthy as he’s been all year. Armstead had been dealing with a lingering toe injury.
-Quarterback Zach Abey leads Navy in rushing yards (1,142) and touchdowns (13). He’s also completed 19-of-51 passing attempts for 606 yards with six scores and five turnovers.
-Both teams have lost two straight games and are in search of bowl eligibility. Navy’s most recent losses have come against Memphis (30-27) and Central Florida (31-21). In those two games, the Midshipmen also committed eight turnovers.
-Navy is averaging 33.4 points per game, while Temple is averaging 20.9. In average total yards, Navy leads, 470.7 to 372.6.
-Temple defensive lineman Dan Archibong will wear No. 1 this week.
-Entering Thursday, Navy is listed as an 8.5-point favorite in this contest.
If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.
Michael is an award-winning radio host at WHIP Radio. He has been a staple host on WHIP’s Wake Up Call, and has recently occupied the role of Program Director for the station.