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Game Preview:
Virginia Tech at Temple
by Will Stewart,, 11/8/01
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Virginia Tech at Temple
Saturday, November 10th, 2001, noon

Two teams who had much higher hopes for their seasons will meet Saturday in mostly-empty Veteran's Stadium, playing before no TV cameras. Each team will try to slap the other down even further and add more ruin to seasons gone awry.

In the case of the Temple Owls, they brought back 19 or 20 starters this season, depending upon whom you listened to, and 26 senior lettermen. This was to be the year that they finally broke above the four-win total, perhaps even posting their first winning record since 1990, when they went 7-4.

But an off-season decision to boot the Owls from the Big East Conference took the wind out of this team, and they have resorted to their old ways of losing out of conference games to MAC teams and getting pounded in conference by everyone but Rutgers. The decision has since been amended such that Temple will play in the league through the 2004 season, but the deal is done: the Owls are on the way out of the Big East.

Meanwhile, a Hokie football team that started out 6-0 and was flying high has been brought crashing down to earth. Since dominating Boston College early in game 6 and taking a 34-0 lead, the Hokies have been outscored 80-21 and are looking to stop the freefall. Dreams of Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, and dreams of just going to a BCS bowl, are far behind in the Hokies' rear-view mirror. They're now in damage-control mode, seeking just to get back on the winning track.

Coach Frank Beamer has shaken the lineup a little bit, trying to spark a team that he says is not flat, but which certainly seems to have lost its fire. True freshman running back Kevin Jones gets the starting nod in this game over Keith Burnell, and defensive ends Jim Davis and Cols Colas are bumped up into first place on the depth chart over Nathaniel Adibi and Lamar Cobb, respectively.

Losses to Syracuse and Pittsburgh hurt the Hokies, but a loss to Temple would be nothing short of catastrophic. Can the Hokies rebound? And if they do, against a Temple team that has been a disappointment this year, will it mean anything?

Temple Fast Facts

Temple is 2-6, 1-4 in the Big East. They started out as expected, beating Navy at home, and then their chance to have a strong start faded with losses to MAC members Toledo and Bowling Green. In the interim, the Owls' September 15th game with Connecticut was postponed to November 24th, taking away a chance for an early-season, confidence-building win. In recent games, it has been business as usual in the Big East for the Owls, as they have lost by scores like 33-10, 45-3, and 38-0 to their conference brethren. Here's a look at their season thus far:

Date Venue Result (2-6, 1-4 Big East)
Aug. 30 home Temple 45, Navy 26
Sept. 8 home Toledo 33, Temple 7
Sept. 22 away Bowling Green 42, Temple 23
Oct. 6 away Boston College 33, Temple 10
Oct. 13 home Temple 30, Rutgers 5
Oct. 20 away Syracuse 45, Temple 3
Oct. 27 home Pittsburgh 33, Temple 7
Nov. 3 road Miami (Fla.) 38, Temple 0

Last season, Temple was 4-7 in the regular season, including 1-6 in the Big East. They were ranked preseason #67 by Athlon Magazine this year and were picked by the Big East media to finish seventh in the conference this season.

Head Coach: Bobby Wallace is in his fourth year as head coach at Temple and his 14th year as a head coach overall. His Temple record is 10-31, and he's 92-67-1 overall. Prior to taking the Temple job, he was the head coach at Northern Alabama for 10 years, where he won three straight NCAA Division II championships from 1993-1995.

The Last Time: The Hokies downed the Owls 35-13 in Blacksburg, but struggled doing so. Tech held a 21-13 lead in the third quarter, and the Owls were driving. Tech's Eric Green killed the drive with an interception, and Tech went on to put up the last 14 points of the game for a somewhat deceiving score. In the game, Tech held Temple to 116 total yards, including -15 yards rushing. Michael Vick was 14-28 with 2 interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD, and no Tech player had more than 56 yards rushing (although the Hokies did have 214 yards as a team).

Depth Chart: The Owls are currently starting 8 players on defense who started last year, and their entire starting defensive lineup consists of juniors and seniors. On offense, they have six returning starters from last year, including their top running back (Tanardo Sharps) and fullback (Jason McKie) from last season. One unexpected twist to the Owls' season is that instead of starting senior QB Devin Scott, who orchestrated Temple's monumental upset of the Hokies as a freshman in 1998, Temple starts true freshman Mike McGann. McGann is struggling, completing less than 50% of his passes while throwing just 3 TD's against 8 INT's.

Best Offensive Players: In all honesty, it's hard to pick out Temple's best offensive players with a straight face. Why? Because the Owls rank 91st or lower in all major offensive categories: 110th in rushing yards per game, 91st in passing yards per game, 113th in total offense, and 110th in scoring offense.

Having said that, their best running back is Sharps, who averages 3.3 yards per carry (106 carries, 350 yards) and hasn't scored a touchdown all year. Their best receiver is Dillard, who has 32 catches for 492 yards (15.4 ypc) and just one TD. McGann, the true freshman QB who has started the last 6 games (Scott started the first 2), is 86-184 (46.7%) for 921 yards, 3 TD's, and 8 INT's.

Best Defensive Players: Defensively, it's a different story. Temple isn't bad, boasting the #27 rushing defense (120.5 ypg) and the #31 total defense (325 ypg). Their scoring defense is 92nd, however, at 31.9 points per game, which isn't helped by the 5 non-offensive touchdowns they have given up.

Temple's leading tackler is free safety Jamal Wallace, with 58 stops. Linebacker Taylor Suman is right behind him with 54. On the line, tackle Dan Klecko is having a good year, with 4.5 sacks, an impressive 16 tackles for loss, and 22 QB hurries. End Raheem Brock is right on Klecko's heels statistically with 4 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and 11 QB hurries. Together, Klecko and Brock make an impressive DL tandem (to give you a point of comparison, Tech's leading sackers are Jim Davis with 3.5 and David Pugh with 3; VT's leading TFL defenders are Ben Taylor with 16 and Pugh with 11; and VT's leaders in QB hurries are Taylor and Nathaniel Adibi with 11).

In an interesting statistical twist, Brock, a defensive end, has 10 pass breakups, leading the Owls by far in that category.

Special Teams: Freshman punter Jace Amore averages 39.5 yards per kick, and placekicker Cap Poklemba is a mediocre 6-10 kicking field goals (2-4 from 40-49 yards), with a long of 42. Temple has had 2 punts and no field goals blocked this year, but they have given up a punt return and a kickoff return for TD's.

Offensive Philosophy: Temple runs a pro-style I-formation with a fullback and tailback lined up behind the quarterback. They'll go with a three-receiver, one-back formation from time to time, but the 4-wide spread is not really a part of their offense. They have 304 rushing attempts versus 247 passing attempts, so they're balanced offensively. Their fullbacks have 52 carries, or about 6-7 rushes a game. Their top four receivers in terms of catches are all wideouts, followed by the tight end, fullback, and tailback.

Defensive Philosophy: Like so many teams, Temple runs an 8-man front, attacking defense. They have good speed at most positions, and Klecko and Brock are as good as many DL's in the Big East. They get off blocks well and play solid defense, good enough that the team would win more games, if the offense wasn't so weak this year.

The Lowdown

Temple's strength on defense is something to be concerned about, particularly their run defense, but their weakness on offense is an indicator that the Hokies, reeling or not, should win this ballgame. By a wide margin? Maybe not.

Playing Temple in Veteran's Stadium is difficult. The stadium is virtually empty and noiseless, and that lulls visiting teams to sleep, giving them the feeling as if they're almost playing a scrimmage, a game that doesn't count. And that's dangerous, particularly when the visitor is a team like Virginia Tech that hasn't been "up" for its last two games.

Back in 1997, the season that has been compared to this one, Tech traveled to Temple and defeated the Owls 23-13 in a game that was closer than that. With the Hokies holding a 20-13 lead, Temple fumbled twice in the fourth quarter inside the Tech 20 yard line, one of them coming at the 6. The Hokies tacked on a late field goal to make the final margin 10 points.

In that game, Tech ran the ball 47 times for 214 yards and threw it just 16 times, completing 8 for 100 yards. The Hokies generally struggled all game long and could very easily have lost the contest.

This game could be very similar to that one, in terms of the Hokie offense relying on the run and struggling against the Temple defense. But one difference between now and then is that the 1997 Temple offense, led by QB Kevin Harvey and RB's Elmarko Jackson and Stacey Mack, was much better than this year's edition.

If the Hokies lose this game, all hell is going to break loose. If they win, regardless of the margin, the jury will still be out as to whether they've recovered emotionally from the Syracuse and Pittsburgh losses.

One item worth noting is that Kevin Jones will be getting his first collegiate start, back home in front of the family and friends. KJ has been running hard lately, just not enough (only 10 carries in the last two games combined). It will be interesting to see what he does, given a chance to get in the flow of the game.


As I mentioned last week, I'm pretty much flying blind here. This Tech team is venturing into uncharted territory as far as inconsistent play, and that makes it nigh impossible to predict games.

I have a hard time seeing the Hokies losing this one, and I'm certainly not going to predict that. Could it happen? Sure. No one envisioned Pittsburgh slapping Tech silly, but it happened. Is it likely? No.

If Tech comes out flat, uninspired, and jams the ball into the middle of the line with the running game over and over, this one could be a dogfight. Temple has the defensive linemen and DB's that can stop the run and give the Hokies trouble in the passing game. In this instance, I see Tech winning by the familiar score of 23-13.

If, on the other hand, the Hokies find some inspiration and play hard and with emotion and imagination, they could win this game by a score of 35-3 or 42-3.

I'll pick it somewhere in the middle, but like I said, I'm just guessing.

Virginia Tech 27, Temple 7.


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