AAC preview: Temple

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps master plans are overvalued. Sometimes things just don't work out the way they were planned and you may be better off anyway.
That is the story for the Temple Owls football team this year and they are sticking to it. It was not by plan, but they are now in the new Midwest-dominated American Athletic Conference -- with a new athletic director, head coach and offense.
The Owls' new head coach is Matt Rhule, replacing Steve Addazio, who couldn't pack fast enough once he found out he had the Boston College job. Accompanying Rhule is a new, more balanced offense and a young, energetic coaching staff that intends to bring the same aggressive recruiting attitude that enabled Temple to reach respectability when Al Golden was there.
Arriving also is Dr. Neil D. Theobald, who came over from Indiana to become Temple's new president in January 2013, and Theobald brought along with him Kevin Clark, who is Temple's "interim" athletic director, taking over for former AD Bill Bradshaw, who retired in June. It was Bradshaw that got Temple back into the Big East, but after one year the original Big East wasn't the Big East anymore.
The Owls will be charter members of the new American Athletic Conference, which looks an awful lot like what Conference USA used to look like. Rutgers and Louisville will be members before leaving the AAC in 2014, when Rutgers joins the Big Ten and Louisville the ACC.
Rhule inherits a program that went 4-7 last season and had myriad problems moving the ball and stopping opposing teams through the air.
Rhule is familiar with the situation. It's slightly better than the mess he entered when Golden made him part of his Temple staff in 2006. Golden's original Temple crew took over a winless 0-11 program that was expelled from the Big East for not being competitive.
Rhule knows it's going to take some time to rebuild Temple. He's already made the move at quarterback, naming strong-armed 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior Connor Reilly as his starter, with experienced senior Clinton "Juice" Granger backing him up.
Chris Coyer, last year's starting quarterback, has been moved to H-back in Rhule's new system, which promises to be far more balanced than the run-oriented attack the Owls had under Addazio.
Defensively, the Owls were pretty bad, ranking 90th overall out of 120 teams and 100th against the run, giving up 199.82 yards a game. But teams really exploited Temple's woeful pass defense, which ranked 115th in defense pass efficiency, allowing opponents to complete almost 60 percent of their passes while coming up with just four interceptions.
One of Rhule's first challenges was aimed at sophomore linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who had a team-high 101 tackles as a true freshman last year. Rhule wants more tackles for losses from Matakevich. Sophomore corner Tavon Young had two of Temple's four picks in 2012 and has shown some promise as a ball hawk.
Coyer has accepted his new role as H-back, and he's been a big plus in aiding Reilly and Granger in making a smooth transition into Rhule's system.
"It's definitely new, I'm doing a lot of different things and you hear quarterbacks being called all of the time and you kind of turn your head for a second," Coyer said. "I still think like a quarterback and I still try to think about what's going on. I know what everyone is doing on every play and can correct guys what to do on certain plays. It helps our team when they have players to look toward on the team, not just coaches."
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: It's a great delight to Temple alumni that the Owls open at Notre Dame on national TV on August 31. It's a great recruiting tool for Rhule, though Notre Dame's return trip to Temple has been moved back to 2015. The Owls then drop off to host Houston the first week of September, then Fordham the following week. Temple concludes September with a trip to Idaho and could very well close Rhule's first month as a head coach 3-1. The reality sets in with games against national power Louisville and a trip to Cincinnati. Temple also has two open dates, Sept. 21 and Nov. 9.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Temple's been a run-oriented team for some time and that seems to be a strength again, though the Owls' two most experienced backs, Kenny Harper and Jamie Gilmore, had a combined 33 carries in 2012. The offensive line is more suited for run blocking than pass blocking -- right now. Tyler Matakevich heads a good linebacking corps that includes Blaze Caponegro, and a solid defensive line, spearheaded by 300-pound senior nose tackle Levi Brown. If Reilly can get some time, and shows some accuracy passing, the Owls could have some balance on offense. If the passing game can come together, and some players that have shown potential can play to it in the secondary, the Owls have a chance to possibly win seven games. That's the completely optimistic, nothing-can-go-wrong scenario.
AREAS OF CONCERN: There are plenty. The offense will be under heavy scrutiny opening at Notre Dame. If Reilly can find some consistency and get the time to throw downfield, the Owls may be pretty good. But that's a big question mark -- and a huge area of concern. The other troublesome area is the Owls' pass defense. Temple may start two freshmen, Jihaad Pretlow and Stephaun Marshall, at strong safety, while junior Anthony Robey and senior Zamel Johnson could be the starters at corner. Robey started every game last season and did not record an interception. Johnson, a transfer from Hofstra, broke up four passes. The run defense was also shoddy. Sophomore LB Tyler Matakevich needs to be more proactive in attacking, taking better angles and creating more problems behind the line of scrimmage than making tackles down field.
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.

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