Temple's resume takes serious hit in loss to Duquesne

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Temple's resume takes serious hit in loss to Duquesne

BOX SCORE

As a general rule, it's not often you see the home team whistled for borderline contact in a one-point game with 2.9 seconds to play.

But that's really no excuse. Temple should have never found itself in that position -- save for the fact that it always does. For the first time in their program's history, the Owls have had each of their last four games decided by just one point. And this is the one loss that's going to really hurt.

Despite a career-high 35 points from senior Khalif Wyatt, Temple, a 17-point favorite, lost to Duquesne, 84-83, at the Liacouras Center on Thursday night (see Instant Replay).

Duquesne, which had not won a game in conference this year (0-9).

Duquesne, which had lost its last 11 games in a row.

Duquesne, which had an RPI of 217 entering Thursday night.

With all that in mind, Wyatt was asked if this was the toughest loss of his four-year Temple career.

"All of them are tough," he said, looking straight down, head hung. "All of them are tough."

This one is going to prove a little tougher when it comes to Temple's NCAA tournament hopes, however. The Owls have made the dance the last five years but now find themselves 16-8 overall and 5-5 in the Atlantic 10. They won't know how sharply their RPI of 42 will fall until Friday, but they do know they sit behind eight other teams in a conference that might  receive half that number of bids. Never mind that they still have to play UMass, La Salle and VCU.

"We're a good team," coach Fran Dunphy said, "but we're not nearly good enough at this point.

"When I was asked [earlier this year] what kind of team we had, I said, 'I think we can be good, but I don't know that we can be great,' and it's proving to be a little bit prophetic. Although, at this point, we're too inconsistent to even be called good."

Dunphy's said something to that effect multiple times this year. He's made that comment about as often as he's said that his team needs to improve defensively. Temple allowed Duquesne to shoot 49 percent from the floor and make 10 of 23 looks from three Thursday night. The Dukes shot an even more impressive 67 percent on 17 of 27 attempts in the first half to take a six-point lead, 43-37, into the break.

"They shot it so well in the first half," Dunphy said. "Our defense improved in the second half, but not good enough."

Temple stormed out of the locker room on a 17-3 run to go ahead eight but immediately ceded its advantage when it allowed the Dukes to score the next nine. From there, Duquesne rebuilt its lead to find itself up 79-71 with 1:25 to play. Wyatt and junior transfer Dalton Pepper cut that margin to just two with four foul shots and a Pepper three from the left wing with 33 seconds remaining.

After the Dukes' Jeremiah Jones missed two free throws with less than 20 ticks to play, Wyatt went down the other end, made a layup, converted his ensuing foul shot and actually put Temple ahead 83-82 with just 7.2 seconds remaining. The Owls looked like they were going to escape with their third straight one-point victory.

That was until Pepper, who finished with a season-high 13 points and was instrumental in keeping Temple in the game, was whistled for a questionable foul on guard Derrick Colter with 2.9 seconds remaining.

"I have no idea. I haven't seen the tape and I was too far away to get a sense of it," Dunphy said. "There's not much we can do about it at this point. They're three really good officials. So if they blew a foul on that, that's what it was."

Wyatt wasn't as diplomatic.

"I thought Dalton was playing pretty good defense," Wyatt said. "I don't think a call should be made at that point in the game, but that's what the refs saw. They made a good call -- I guess."

The game was in Pepper's hands one last time when he caught a full-court heave from T.J. DiLeo and a launched a clean, albeit high-arcing look at a three as time expired. The ball landed softly on the rim, ricocheted off the backboard and ultimately fell to the floor.

Temple has found a way to win so many tight games this year, including a magic show against Dayton last Saturday that featured two phantom calls and five missed foul shots in the final minute. On Thursday, the Owls' penchant for playing unnecessarily close games against lesser opponents finally caught up to them.

"It would have been a great win in so many ways, but we didn't play well enough to feel great about ourselves at this point," Dunphy said.

Two earlier home losses to Canisius and St. Bonaventure this season haven't looked particularly good on the Owls' resume, but those two teams boast RPI figures of 105 and 122 -- not 217. Temple still has enough games and wins available against quality opponents to salvage its at-large credentials, but it's left itself so little margin for error. Dunphy was asked if his team was starting to feel the pressure of missing the tournament for the first time in six years.

"I hope so," he answered. "I hope so. It's a good thing when your back is against the wall, and you respond.

"We'll find out [how we bounce back]. We'll find out on Saturday (at UMass). We have a tough game. We have really seven tough games coming up, six of them in the league and Detroit is really a good team, too. So we have presented ourselves with a very, very difficult challenge as we move forward in the last seven games."

With new name, new number, Phillip Walker remains key for successful Temple season

With new name, new number, Phillip Walker remains key for successful Temple season

One would think that Temple’s all-time leader in touchdown passes, completions and total offense might not want to change much.

Think again.

Entering his senior season, Owls quarterback Phillip Walker is embracing plenty of changes, starting with his own name.

“It was a maturity thing for me,” Walker said last week during the team’s annual media day of the decision to ditch the nickname P.J. for his given name Phillip. “The older I get, the less I wanted to be called P.J. 

“It’s just something that I wanted to do. I didn’t mind being called P.J. or anything like that, but I feel like the more I get older and older and the more I’m about to get into the real world of being done with football in a year or whatever or at the next level or anything, I’d rather be called Phillip than P.J.”

While the name switch may take a while for Walker’s teammates to get used to, it shouldn’t be an issue for Matt Rhule. Temple’s head coach has routinely referred to Walker as Phillip over the years … when he was upset with the QB’s performance on the field.

“He told me, ‘Coach, you can keep calling me P.J. but I’m going to try to go by Phillip to everybody moving forward,’” Rhule explained. “I call him Phillip. When I get angry, I call him Phillip a lot. I call him P.J. probably on the practice field. There was a tweet I said I’ll call you Phillip if you call me Matt. I called Coach Paterno Joe. That’s what we did at Penn State, so he tweeted Matt and I are getting ready for a great year.

“I’ll call him Phillip. I’ll call him Walker. I’ll call him P.J. I’ll call him a lot of other things.”

The Owls are most proud of the fact that they can call Walker a leader. The quarterback has made great strides during his time on North Broad Street, both on the field and in the locker room.

No one knows just how far Walker has come more than starting running back Jahad Thomas. The two, who attended Elizabeth High School in New Jersey together and won a state sectional championship in 2012, are close friends and roommates.

“Unbelievable. I’m really at a loss for words on that question because where we’re from not too many guys get that opportunity,” Thomas said of his trek from high school to college with Walker. “To see friends and someone that’s like a brother to me just go through the journey that I’ve been through – the losing seasons, the ups and downs throughout our careers and our lives, the different paths that we took to get here – for us to just have that type of bond and to have another four years coming into college, playing here and winning that [American Athletic Conference East Division] championship, it’s just greatness. 

“Somebody like that you really cherish just outside of the field, not only for what they can do on the field but for who he is and what type of role he plays in my life. I’ve been excited for him since high school, since we started playing together, his freshman year playing, getting to start versus Louisville. Just seeing him blossom after that, man, it kind of brings tears to my eyes.”

The advancement in Walker’s maturation is exactly what TU is hoping for, but the quarterback isn’t about to pretend he is a finished product by any means.

Walker (5-11, 205) was able to throw for a career-high 2,973 yards with 19 touchdowns and cut his interceptions to eight — down from 15 — in 2015. However, his completion percentage was 56.8, a number he wants to bump up to 65.0 percent this season.

Getting Walker, who trails Henry Burris by only 121 yards and 72 attempts for No. 1 on Temple’s all-time list, to check the ball down when necessary is something quarterbacks coach and new offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas has stressed during the summer.

“I’ve gotten better at [checking the ball down] throughout the past couple days of camp,” Walker said. “It’s just something that Coach Thomas preaches every single day — completions, completions, winning plays. Just going up there with a purpose at the line of scrimmage, knowing what’s going on, knowing when to make checks, knowing when to change the plays and things like that, just having a purpose and knowing what to do on the field.”

Those decisions to check the ball down instead of forcing the big play are what TU hopes can take Walker to a new level on the field. And, frankly, the team will need it to have any chance of repeating last season’s historic success.

The Owls lost defensive back Tavon Young, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and linebacker Tyler Matakevich to the NFL draft. Those are three key pieces to a fearsome 2015 unit that helped lead the team to its second 10-win season and fifth bowl game appearance in program history.

That means the 2016 squad will flip its focus from having a powerful defense to being a force on offense, as Walker looks to become the first Temple quarterback ever to lead his team to two bowl games.

He’ll do so with one more change: a new number. Walker ditched his No. 11 and will play his senior season in a single-digit jersey, given out by the staff to the Owls’ toughest players. Walker will don No. 8, previously worn by stalwart LB Matakevich.

From the heart and soul on defense to his counterpart on offense.

“He’s the key. Phillip’s the key to us being a dominant offense,” Rhule said. “We’ve been really good on defense for a while. We’ve never really been a dominant offense. It’s not just his play. It’s him demanding that guys do things right all the time. There’s always been guys on defense who have demanded that we play at a certain standard every rep, every play of practice. What you’re seeing right now is you’re seeing guys like Phillip and like Jahad demanding that from the offense.”

“I put a lot of pressure on myself every day just to be out there to be the best player on the football field, be as good as I know can be each and every day,” Walker said. “I know if I’m at my best then guys around me will be at their best.”

Experience a day in the life of Temple football's training camp

Experience a day in the life of Temple football's training camp

Before their classmates even stepped foot on campus, Temple football was going through what was possibly their toughest test of the season—three weeks of training camp.

Coach Matt Rhule and the Owls gave us a behind-the-scenes look at what the players and coaches go through during a day of camp in the video above. We were there through the meetings, meals and walk-thrus before the team eventually departed for the Phillies game. It was a 12 + hour day for the players, but with walk-thrus replacing actual practice, this particular day was considered a “light” one.

This Temple squad still have veteran leadership returning from last season, but they have to replace multiple NFL draft picks on defense. Everyone from seniors to freshmen will be looked upon to keep up the Owls' strong defense going (see story)

Rhule is in his fourth season as the Owls' head coach. After going 2-10 in his first season, Rhule has brought Temple to a 10-4 record a year ago, highlighted by an appearance in the AAC Championship Game and the Boca Raton Bowl. However, the Owls are already moving past their strong 2015 (see story).

For a look at Temple's training camp, check out the video above.

Temple's defense counting on several to replace production of NFL draft picks

Temple's defense counting on several to replace production of NFL draft picks

With just over a week to go before the season opener vs. Army at Lincoln Financial Field, it’s tough to pin down a way or even a few words to describe the 2016 incarnation of the Temple Owls.

There’s still veteran leadership on the offensive side of the ball with quarterback Phillip Walker and running back Jahad Thomas back for their senior seasons.

But the program has now reached the point where head coach Matt Rhule, entering his fourth year at the helm, and his staff can really start molding the Owls into their vision. Members of highly-rated, athletic recruiting classes of recent years continue to filter their respective ways into important roles.

At this time last year before the season opener against Penn State, the pulse of Temple’s team was clear — experienced, ferocious defense.

But even with star linebacker Tyler Matakevich (Pittsburgh Steelers), defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis (Washington Redskins) and cornerback Tavon Young (Baltimore Ravens) graduating and moving on to the NFL, there’s some very talented and experienced players to fill their roles as the Owls continue to evolve.

So that invites this question: Who’s being counted on to produce and fill the shoes of those who’ve moved on?

Let’s start with the obvious hole in production at linebacker without Matakevich, who finished his Temple career with 493 tackles and punctuated that stellar career with last year’s Bronco Nagurski Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player.

Redshirt senior Stephaun Marshall will slide over to SAM linebacker and take Matakevich’s old WILL linebacker spot. While Matakevich was a generational talent, Rhule is confident Marshall will be able to contribute to the Owls’ defense.

“He’s moved to be a productive guy,” Rhule said Tuesday during Temple’s media day. “I think he’ll play really well.”

Being a productive player is something Marshall, a Montclair, New Jersey native, is used to. In 38 games with the Owls over the past three seasons, Marshall has recorded 113 total tackles, 11 pass deflections, 2½ sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one interception. He’s also used to moving positions — he started his collegiate career as a safety before moving to the SAM spot in 2014.

And Marshall will be set up nicely to increase his production in 2016. In defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s aggressive scheme, the WILL spot is known to be the most productive on the field. Previous guys at that spot under Snow include former NFL players Pat Tillman (241 tackles) and Adam Archuleta (203 tackles) at Arizona State, and, of course, Matakevich at Temple.

Another player to keep an eye on at the WILL linebacker spot is redshirt freshman Chapelle Russell, who’s currently No. 2 on the depth chart behind Marshall. Still, Russell could see some time as Rhule and his staff have gushed about his potential for a long time now. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Russell is an athletic specimen.

“Chapelle Russell has infinite talent,” Rhule said Tuesday. “He’s got tremendous upside. It’s just gonna be whether he does it. He’s a redshirt freshman. Some days he’s out there and makes every tackle. Some days his shoulder bothers him a bit or something like that or it’s Coach Rhule told him he couldn’t wear this pair of socks and he’s not quite at the same level. We’re just trying to get him to be the same guy every day.”

As far as the defensive line is concerned, there’s no true answer yet on the inside to replace Ioannidis. Senior Averee Robinson, redshirt junior and North Carolina transfer Greg Webb, redshirt sophomore Freddie Booth-Lloyd and true freshman Karamo Dioubate are all in the mix to play key roles at defensive tackle.

The Owls are set up nicely at defensive end, though, with Praise Martin-Oguike and Haason Reddick back for their senior seasons.

Martin-Oguike had 30 tackles, four sacks and an interception last season. Reddick, a former walk-on from Camden and Haddon Heights High School in South Jersey, made noise last season with 45 tackles and five sacks, all while paying his own way to school without a scholarship.

“I got here and he wasn’t even on the team,” Rhule said of Reddick on Tuesday. “All he’s done is battle for his spot. He played last year at an all-conference level while not being on scholarship.”

Reddick was put on scholarship after last season. During this preseason camp, he was awarded jersey No. 7, an achievement as the Owls annually award single-digit jersey numbers to those voted toughest by teammates.

Sharif Finch, who had an interception against Penn State last year, is also in the mix on the defensive line.

The cornerback situation is a bit more unsettled at this point.

After last season, the Owls seemed set there with star Sean Chandler, who had four picks in 2015 and returned two of them for touchdowns. But the staff decided to move Chandler, a junior, to safety during the offseason to better utilize his athleticism and because it felt it would be the better position for his pro prospects going forward.

What’s left at corner after Chandler’s move is a mish-mash of depth. There’s no shortage of players who have the potential to make an impact, according to Rhule.

Redshirt senior Nate Hairston and redshirt junior Artrel Foster both saw time there last season and played well. Redshirt sophomore Derrick Thomas and redshirt freshman Kareem Ali are also in the mix.

But it sure sounded Tuesday like Rhule is waiting for one or two of them to stand out during the early part of the season.

“Thomas is playing at a high level. Foster was playing at a really high level but he just has some nicks right now, so he’s fighting to get back. Hairston is coming on and Ali is coming on, too,” Rhule said. “I think our corners, we feel like we have a lot of depth.

“The thing about playing corner is you have to get beat. You have to go into a game and really get beat and then respond to it. We have a lot of guys who have the talent to do it, they just haven’t gone into a game and got run by yet. How they respond is a true marker of how they are as a corner.”

The cornerback question may not get an answer for a couple of weeks, at least. Army runs the triple-option offense and rarely throws. On the schedule after Army is Stony Brook, an FCS squad.

That leaves the Sept. 17 game vs. Penn State at Beaver Stadium as the first true test for Temple’s corners. And for the defense as a whole.