Temple football coach Rod Carey says there is real competition for the quarterback job.
Considering that graduate student Anthony Russo was the starter for most of the last two seasons, that was an interesting statement.
Carey said last week that he told Russo that he is the quarterback and that somebody will have to beat him out. But the coach also said there is good competition at the position, which includes redshirt sophomore Re-al Martin, a transfer from Iowa State, and redshirt sophomore Trad Beatty.
Russo, for his part, is up for the competition.
“We’re competing day in and day out, but you know, I’m very comfortable with where I’m at right now ... being a second-year [quarterback] in this offense,” Russo said Friday in a Zoom interview.
Russo understands competition. He was the backup his redshirt sophomore year, when starter Frank Nutile was injured before the third game. Russo played so well that Nutile never got his job back.
Last season, Russo improved statistically, but he had some hiccups. He completed 58.7% of his passes for 2,861 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions for the 8-5 Owls. It took time to get comfortable in a new offense under Carey and offensive coordinator Mike Uremovich.
In his second year in this system, Russo thinks he will be able to do more, but with less. He said that he came to camp 14 pounds lighter. The 6-foot-4 Russo said he now weighs 234 pounds. Uremovich said he wants Russo to be more of a running threat.
“Last year, I kind of wasn’t in the best shape of my life, I wasn’t able to be a threat with my legs,” Russo said. “Sophomore year, I was a little bit more mobile, was able to extend plays a little bit better.”
He is looking to returning to that level.
“I think last year I kind of got away from that because I kind of had my body weight where it shouldn’t have been, but now that I’m back in shape, back where I need to be,” Russo said. “I am confident running the ball.”
Temple often moved the ball down the field last season, but the Owls had great difficulty in the red zone.
“The biggest issues as an offense that we have to improve on, and it has to do with him as well. and that is red-zone efficiency,” Uremovich said.
The statistics bear this out. Temple was 116th out of 130 schools in red-zone efficiency, according to NCAA statistics. The Owls had 50 chances and ended with 37 red-zone scores – (15 rushing touchdowns, 14 passing TDs, and eight field goals).
“Part of [struggling] was play-calling. It always starts with that [and] that’s me,” Uremovich said. “Part of it is execution, that’s the players, and then Anthony had some interceptions down there that we can’t have. He knows that it’s things we talked about.”
Russo said he studied the red-zone difficulties with coaches and teammates, and it is a priority for him. He said he feels all the offseason work has paid off. And few love playing at Temple more than Russo, a product of Archbishop Wood High School.
In fact, Russo said that if the NCAA passes a rule that allows fall sports athletes an extra year of eligibility regardless of how many games they play, he is all in. The NCAA Division I Council made that recommendation last week.
Russo spoke before the NCAA Division I board of directors approved the recommendation, determining that all fall sport student-athletes would receive an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete.