The Temple Owls football team had quite the season in 2018. I mean just think about how the Owls started the season compared to how it finished. The team under performed in the first two weeks of 2018 losing a couple of head scratchers at home. The first loss came against FCS opponent and city rival, Villanova, by 2 points. And then the second one coming against Buffalo at home. In my opinion those should have been two gimmie wins for the Owls and would have helped in their pursuit to become bowl eligible again for the fifth season in a row.
Heading into Week 3, the Owls set-up for a tough match up against Big Ten opponent, Maryland, on the road, and only the most faithful Temple Owls fans would have told you that they still believed Temple could turn the season around. And even despite all the drama that surrounded the Maryland football program last season I still thought it was a long shot for the Owls to upset the Terrapins. But boy was I wrong. Temple dominated Maryland by a score of 35 to 14, and out gained their Big Ten opponent in total yardage 429 to 195. The Owls defense even forced 2 turnovers. With the win, all hope was restored that the Owls could turn the season around.
The Maryland game was definitely the turning point in the Owls season and it solidified Anthony Russo as the starting quarterback for Temple moving forward. With the victory, the Owls were now 1-2. And the last time the Owls started its season 1-2 they went on to finish the season 10-4 and win the conference championship to get to the Military Bowl against Wake Forest. So still, there was some hope that the Owls could go bowling. After the victory against Maryland, the Owls would go on to win seven out of its next 9 games and post an impressive 7-1 record in AAC play.
Temple was one of the most balanced teams in the AAC last season on both sides of the ball. Senior running back Ryquell Armstead saved his best season for his last. The owl racked up over 1100 yards from scrimmage with 13 touchdowns. In the game against Houston, Armstead rushed for 6 touchdowns which set an AAC record. Wide Receivers Isaiah Wright, Ventell Bryant, and Branden Mack were all big time targets for Russo, and made his transition to the starting position much smoother. Last season the Owls averaged 34.9 points per game which was best for 24th in the nation. Defensively, the Owls were anchored by play makers such as Delvon Randall, Shaun Bradley, Michael Dogbe, and Rock Ya-Sin to name a few. These four players accounted for 282 tackles, 13 turnovers, and 8 interceptions. The Owls also had the third highest rated defense in the AAC in 2018, limiting opposing quarterbacks to only 187.4 passing yards per game. At the end of the season, Owls players Rock Ya-Sin, Ryquell Armstead, and Michael Dogbe all wound up hearing their names called in the NFL draft, which marked the 4th season in a row where multiple Temple Owls were drafted into the Pros.
Something that’s even more impressive is that the group of seniors who just graduated from North Broad Street this past May became the winning est class in Temple’s school history with 35 wins. They are also the only senior class to play in four bowl games.
All this is quite the accomplishment for a football program that used to be considered a laughing stock, at least in recent history, before the Al Golden years. However despite all the success the Owls achieved last season, the biggest news to come out of Temple last season actually centered on their head coaching carousel. On December 7th, Geoff Collins announced that he would be taking the Georgia Tech head coaching job after only two seasons at Temple. The move opened up the door for Manny Diaz to be hired on December 12th as the 30th head coach in Temple’s history.
If you recall, Manny Diaz was a defensive coordinator at Miami the past two seasons. In 2016 when he took over the Miami defense he helped improve the Canes in total defense to 20th nationally from 69th the season prior. In 2018, Diaz’s defense was the second best in the nation, allowing only 268.3 yards per game and limiting opposing offenses to only 18.2 points per game. Manny Diaz and his Defense were some of the few bright spots on a Miami squad that otherwise underachieved in 2018. With all this begin said, Manny Diaz became a highly sought after head coaching candidate once the season ended. I give the Temple Athletics Department, and its Director, Dr. Patrick Kraft, all of the kudos for landing Diaz to Temple, because in my humble opinion, Diaz was a home run hire.
I attended the press conference on December 13th and listened to Coach Diaz unveil his plan for the Temple football program. Diaz said all the right things and convinced the folks sitting in the room that day that he was here for the right reasons, and that he was prepared to put in the work to continue the recent tradition of success at Temple. I believed him, even though all along it seemed too good to be true that Manny Diaz would the next head coach of the Temple Owls football team.
And then 17 days later the other shoe finally dropped when the Owls community was rocked with the news that Manny Diaz had officially accepted the recently vacated head coaching job at his former employer, the University of Miami. It’s funny, I think Manny was busy on a recruiting trip for Temple when he learned the news that his former boss, Mark Richt, was retiring from head coaching responsibilities. When I learned of the news, I knew it was a matter of time before Diaz was back at Miami, and unfortunately, my gut feeling couldn’t’ have been more accurate.
With Diaz departing for Miami this meant that Temple has now seen its last five consecutive coaches take the Temple coaching job to only then leave for a Power 5 head coaching gig. So with Diaz officially now out of the picture 17 days later, Temple conducted a second head coaching search ultimately hiring former NIU head coach, Rod Carey on January 11th of this year.
Carey arrives at Temple with a very impressive record and coaching experience. He’s coached the NIU Huskies in six bowl games, compiling a 52-and-30 win-loss record during that time. Under Carey’s tenure his Huskies also went 38-10 in the MAC. During Carey’s six seasons in Dekalb, the Huskies won the West Division of the MAC four times and also clinched the MAC Championship twice.
On paper, Carey is a quality hire and a welcomed addition to the Owls family, I’m sure. Manny Diaz was a defensive coordinator looking for his opportunity to finally become a head coach, and he got that chance at Temple, which I understand. However, I don’t know what the real advantage is for Carey to leave his post at NIU to come to Temple. In my opinion, it seems like a lateral move, but maybe Carey is hoping to use this opportunity to springboard himself to a power 5 coaching job someday. He’ll definitely get much more visibility, nationally, coaching on the East Coast than he did when his MAC team played on Tuesday nights in Northern Illinois.
It is also important to note that defensive coach Fran Brown returns to Temple this season after a couple of seasons at Baylor under former Owls head coach, Matt Rhule. In addition to his coaching responsibilities Brown has been lauded for being a solid football recruiter, landing several key prospects for Baylor. This past off season, Brown interviewed for the Temple head coaching position the two times it was left vacated, but ultimately lost out both times, however both coaches decided to make him a member of their staff. Brown is a co-defensive coordinator under Carey but many Owls fans believe that he’s ultimately the next head coach in waiting.
This season, Carey is going to be without nineteen players who dressed for their last game during last December’s Independence Bowl against Duke. Certainly the biggest losses for the Owls are the three play makers who are now on NFL rosters. RB Ryquell Armstead leaves Temple as one of the greatest running backs in school history. His departure leaves a huge void for the Owls’ offense and it’s a hole that must be plugged quickly, to help alleviate some pressure off of young QB Anthony Russo who is still developing.
Russo will benefit from the return of five offensive lineman who have all shared meaningful game time minutes, including Jovahn Fair, Matt Hennessy, and Vincent Picozzi. At Wide Receiver, Isaiah Wright returns as an athlete who has big play ability at wide out and as a top return man. Last season, Wright led the country in punt return touchdowns (2) and also led the American conference in kickoff return yards (873). Redshirt Junior Brenden Mack also returns as a top target for Russo this season. In 2018, Mack was second in total receptions among st the Owls receiving corps.
The strong point of the 2019 Owls Defense will be the line backing corps, led by all-AAC MLB Shaun Bradley, and is anchored by Chapelle Russell, Isaiah Graham-Mobley, and Sam Franklin. These four were among the top six tacklers in 2018 and accounted for 258 stops, 17 tackle for losses, 7.5 sacks, three interceptions, and seven fumble recoveries.
I think there’s enough returning talent on the roster combined with Rod Carey’s coaching ability to believe that the Owls will earn its sixth straight bowl bid in 2019. With that said, the players the Owls lost from last season were true difference makers and I believe it will take this new group of Owls some time to come to come together and come into their own. Remember, for this group of Owls Seniors, this is the third head coach, and third system they’ve had to learn while playing for Temple. I believe Rod Carey will guide his men to a 6-6 record during his first season as head coach of the Temple Owls. The six wins will come against: Bucknell, ECU, SMU, USF, Tulane, and UCONN. So if you’re a fan of the Cherry & White, there’s a lot to be excited for this upcoming season; I know I cannot wait to watch it all unfold.
2019 Temple Owls Football Schedule:
8/31 Bucknell (home) – W
9/14 Maryland (home) – L
9/21 Buffalo – L
9/28 Georgia Tech (home) – L
10/3 ECU – W
10/12 Memphis (home) – L
10/19 SMU – W
10/26 UCF (home) – L
11/7 USF -W
11/16 Tulane (home) – W
11/23 Cincinnati – L
11/30 UCONN (home) – W