It’s been eight years since Pitt and Temple played a football game. From 1974 to 2004 the teams met annually. Pitt had a 25-6 advantage, and it isn’t a stretch to say that everyone of those losses was embarrassing. I remember the last loss in 1998. I sat in the stands and watched Pitt build a big lead only to fade — as they often did that year — and lose in the final seconds 34-33.
Now with Temple being reintegrated into the Big East, there is one more meeting before Pitt heads to the ACC in 2013. Much has changed for Temple. They have shown a degree of competency in recent years. More surprisingly, some actual commitment to trying to field a decent team and play winning football. The biggest surprise is a willingness to spend money — when they clearly have no hope of making it back in the near term.
For example, Temple had to join the Big East in football this year. The Big East sprang them from the MAC early. It still left Temple without a 12th game, which they did not fill. Now they sit at 3-3 with five games left. They want to be bowl eligible, but that means going at least 3-2. They have to play Cinci, Louisville, Army and Syracuse in addition to Pitt. Getting three wins looks iffy — which is why they actually face a must-win against Pitt. Though, their coach won’t say that.
Or do they?
The Owls are trying to add a game with Hawaii.
Multiple Temple sources have confirmed a Honolulu Star-Advertiser report that the Owls are trying to schedule a football game with Hawaii at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium in December.
After rejoining the Big East in March, Temple (3-3) was left with only 11 games on this season’s schedule. Since then, the Owls have been attempting to schedule a 12th opponent, to make it easier to get the six wins needed to become bowl-eligible for the fourth consecutive season. One source said discussions with Hawaii have been on and off since August.
The game would be on December 8. Hawaii is a bad team, so Temple could probably win the game. But the impressive thing is that Temple is still trying to put this together at the end of October. A trip to Hawaii for a football squad is not a cheap venture. More so when you are planning it with a little more than a month before the game. Yet Temple is not only willing to plunk the money down for a trip to Hawaii, it means plunking down more cash to spend on going to a bowl game (assuming they get six wins).
I’m a little impressed that Temple is willing to take those kind of losses to try and promote their football team. And, um,that if they pull this off it may block a Penn St. trip to Hawaii in December would be an added plus.
Onto prep for Saturday. Remember when we actively considered (and thought it to be a good idea) if Pitt would be running 60-70% of the time on offense? Well, guess what? Temple actually does something like that. The Owls run the ball 68.5% of the time. Why? Because their QB is mobile, but not particularly accurate.
In the meantime, Temple’s 116th-ranked passing offense (122.3 yards per game), particularly its quarterback play, is a glaring weakness.
Heading into the matchup with the Panthers (3-4, 0-3), [Chris] Coyer is completing 53 percent of his passes, worst among Big East starting quarterbacks. The redshirt junior ranks seventh in the conference and 81st nationally in pass efficiency with a 121.02 rating. (The nation’s top-rated passer, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, has a pass-efficiency rating of 183.63.)
Furthermore, Coyer is last among conference starters in passing yards (727) and touchdown passes (seven).
When you only pass 31.5% of the time, it shouldn’t be a shock that their best receiver doesn’t actually do too much.
But, Coyer is also second on the team with 332 rushing yards. Last year, Coyer had 608 yards on the ground. Given the Pitt defense’s struggles to contain mobile QBs, this is the real concern for Pitt.
“The big thing is we lost contain on the quarterback too much,” Huxtable said. “That ties in with being disciplined in your rush lanes. You can’t rush blind.”
Huxtable is hoping to get more production from his ends, but T.J. Clemmings and Bryan Murphy are first-year starters.
“This is definitely new to me,” said Clemmings, a talented redshirt sophomore at 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds who didn’t play football until his junior year of high school. “I’m still learning. It’s definitely more mental than physical.”
Huxtable said backup end Devin Cook, a redshirt freshman who leads the team with two forced fumbles but hasn’t played recently, could return to the rotation.
The lack of containment by the ends has been a problem all season (as has their ability to generate any pass rush on the edges). And part of why Aaron Donald is getting few opportunities to disrupt inside. Todd Thomas being able to play behind them now, probably helps a bit, but the ends really need to play a lot better. But Thomas is admittedly playing his way back into game shape.
Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said the biggest challenge for Thomas — who has more than enough athleticism to play either linebacker position — was just getting up to speed in his conditioning after missing most of fall camp.
“Todd said to me, ‘Coach, my legs are killing me,’ ” Huxtable recalled. “It’s camp for him. Last week’s practice was his fall camp.”
Not to mention playing at the weakside linebacker position for the first time.
“I felt good, actually,” Thomas said. “I’m not used to the linemen coming up on me quick, having to shed blocks. I’m usually out in space, so it was a little different, but it’s football, so you’ve just got to make plays.”
Coyer was briefly benched in favor of back-up Juice Granger — a redshirt junior without experience — in their loss to Rutgers. So there might be a little bit of platooning.