by Jeff Ouellet, 10/24/02
Saturday, October 26th, 2002, 1:00 Eastern
TV: None, nowhere, not even locally. Don't ask.
Saturday forecast: (as of 2:00 pm, 10/24/02):
Every year I think to myself "oh no" right before Tech has to play Temple. I mean these guys just get better and better during the season, and with that matchup zone they are a nightmare come tournament time . . . oh, wait – you mean the Hokies are playing Temple in football? And we’re in the Big East Basketball Conference now, not the A-10? Judging by attendance numbers, though, only about 15 students found out, and they apparently thought the switch in conferences meant the Hokies no longer played in Cassell.
Well, back to football – there’s a certain element of ambivalence when the 7-0, third ranked Virginia Tech Hokies are playing Temple (3-4 overall, 1-1 in Big East play). Temple has been so bad for so long, with the notable exception of some of the Paul Palmer years, and the inadequacy isn’t limited to their talent. Temple has substandard facilities, a marginal fan base, and is a generally tough sell to recruits. The Big East has even voted to kick them out starting in 2005. With all that being said, it would be easy for the Big East Football Conference’s red-haired stepchild to lie down, but they haven’t. They play hard, and that’s a tribute to their kids and their coach.
Speaking of coaching, Temple’s Bobby Wallace doesn’t get enough credit nationwide, but most coaches understand that this guy knows what he is doing. He won three straight Division II national titles at Northern Alabama and went 41-1 over that same three-year period. He’s much better than many of his Big East brethren at bigger name schools, and I’ll go on record right now as saying that Wallace will eventually end up with an SEC job, perhaps Auburn after Tommy Tuberville gets the ax (Wallace was an assistant for Pat Dye in the early 1980’s) or more likely at his alma mater, Mississippi State, where he was the defensive coordinator in 1986-87.
On offense, the story for the Owls begins with 5’10", 190 SR lb. running back Tanardo Sharps. Sharps prepped at Fork Union (Va.) before making a splash at Temple as a sophomore in 2000 when he ran for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sharps did not have great numbers last year, but he touched the ball less too. He is a very good back who cuts well and runs hard given his relatively small frame. This season he is ninth in the nation in rushing yards per game with 125.3, with a solid per-carry average of 4.9 yards, and he also is second on the team in receptions with 18 catches. Sharps is the type of player that could be on an NFL roster a long time by being a third down back.
The quarterback for the Owls is 6’6", 210 lb. SO Mike McGann. McGann started seven games last year as a true freshman, in some ways mirroring Ryan Cubit of Rutgers (who played well against VT last week), and he has had some growing pains this year. He is only completing 47.7 percent of his passes, but Wallace seems pleased with his progress and McGann won Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors when the Owls upset Syracuse 17-16 two weeks ago. He has a solid arm and a quick release. Wallace praised McGann this week during his pregame conference call for getting rid of the ball quickly, as Temple has only surrendered eight sacks all year in seven games.
The leading WR for Temple is SR Zamir Cobb, who has 30 catches for 346 yards. Cobb has scored six total touchdowns, tying Sharps for the team lead, and seems to be the go-to guy in the passing game. Temple runs a spread offense, sometimes with as many as four wideouts, and Cobb gets a lot of balls thrown his way as he is the player in the "X" WR position. Although I haven’t seen Temple much this year, manning the "X" position typically means a player is often in the slot or on the move, trying to create a mismatch on a safety.
On the offensive line, Temple is solid. They are led up front by 6’3", 300 lb. SR LT Dave Yovanovits, a potential NFL player if he slides down to guard, and he guards McGann’s blind side. Also worth noting is that this is an experienced group – Temple returns all five starters from last year and all five of them have started every game this year. That type of continuity helps, and it shows by Temple’s low sack total (only eight allowed in seven games) and Sharps’ running statistics.
Despite some talent, Temple’s offense statistically is below average. They are 98th in the country in total offense, and 90th in scoring offense with 22 points per game. They will have a tough time moving the ball against a stout Hokie defense, but look for them to attack using their slot receivers in the passing game. I would also anticipate Wallace trying to exploit the absence of Vegas Robinson by doing some things to put Sharps in man-to-man with first time VT Backer starter (and R-FR) James Anderson. Anderson has great athletic ability, but I suspect Wallace will try to exploit his inexperience.
The Philadelphia Sack Exchange
Temple’s best player is 6’1", 276 lb. SR DE/DT (depending on the circumstance) Dan Klecko, son of former NFL star and Temple alum Joe Klecko. Dan is a handful and won Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors by registering four sacks in a 38-24 win last week for Temple over UConn. Klecko also had a career high 12 tackles and five tackles for a loss. In fact, Klecko registered more yards in tackles for losses (-39) than UConn had in total rushing yards (+21). Keep in mind that last week he played almost the whole game at defensive tackle. That’s a boatload of plays for one DT to make in a game. Unfortunately, however, Temple didn’t recruit any progeny of Mark Gastineau, so Temple doesn’t have the second generation of the New York Sack Exchange.
Temple’s three leading tacklers are all defensive backs: SR FS Jamal Wallace, SR corner Terra Leftwich and SR corner Yazid Jackson. Normally, that would be a terrible sign, but Temple deserves a lot of credit for holding up well against the run. The Owls are 12th nationally in run defense, allowing only 96 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry.
Admittedly Temple has played some less than stellar competition, but even their numbers against Miami were decent. The Canes ended up with 164 yards on 37 carries, a solid 4.4 per carry average, but certainly nothing like the numbers VT showed against Marshall, BC or Rutgers. So, there is reason to think Temple will hold up okay against the run.
Schematically, Temple uses a 4-2-5 defense that lends itself to stopping the run. The Owls are not as solid in pass defense, yielding 255 yards per game (98th nationally). This should be another opportunity for the Hokies to work on their improving passing game.
Temple has two good kick return specialists in JR Makonnen Fenton and Cobb. Fenton won Co-Big East Special Teams Player of the Week last week (along with DeAngelo Hall) for returning the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown against UConn. On the year he averages a gaudy 32 yards per return. Cobb averages a solid 11.8 on punt returns, so the Hokies should have their work cut out for them on coverage. Temple’s punter is averaging 40.2 yards per kick so he is solid, but their placekicker is only 6-of-11 with a bad habit of missing easy ones (he is only 1-4 from 20 to 29 yards).
It is no secret that Temple does not have the horses to compete with VT for a whole game unless the Hokies make a lot of mistakes. The Owls may play tough for a half, as they did against Miami when they only had a 24-14 deficit at halftime, but VT is bigger, stronger and faster than Temple. My guess is that Randall will hurt Temple early, and that the Untouchables will have great success later in the game as Temple’s defense gets tired.
Temple is going to try to run the ball, and they may have a little success doing so if they can spread out the Hokie D. Given the success a few recent opponents have had, expect a heavy dose of inside patterns by the Temple wide receivers, particularly slants and posts. However, it is going to be very tough for Temple to sustain drives against VT’s overall team speed, and I really can’t see Temple putting up too many points on the defense.
Prediction: VT 38, Temple 13