Anthony Russo doesn’t just look the part. Temple’s quarterback sounds the part. Russo’s confidence does not veer toward cockiness, that’s not it. He’s just willing to tell you what needed to get better, what has gotten better, what still needs to get better.
For lack of a better word, call it leadership.
Sure, Russo looked good Saturday inside Lincoln Financial Field. He was facing Bucknell. His first pass of his first season-opening start was incomplete. His second pass was incomplete. Third and 15, time to complete one, Russo did. Third and eight, another. Third and fourth, another, for a first-drive score. By the end of the opening quarter, Russo was 11 for 15, 179 yards. (*But it was Bucknell.)
All the numbers, which added up to 56-12 Owls, maybe weren’t as important as the fact that Temple’s offense was immediately pleasing to the eye. Plenty of misdirection to go with the change of speeds. It will be interesting to see what it means when the competition now ramps up, but the new coaches obviously understand they all have personnel they can use in all sorts of ways.
For his part, the redshirt junior, a big-time recruit out of Archbishop Wood High who had to wait his turn at 10th and Diamond, has the kind of mindset where making third-down conversions means he didn’t get it all right on first and second down.
“We can’t put ourselves into those situations," Russo said. “Play a good opponent and they’re going to make you pay for those missed opportunities.”
Bingo, right there. Russo had a strong afternoon -- 32 of 41 for 409 yards and four touchdowns, to four different receivers. But Russo is looking at how it has to be against Maryland in two weeks. That’s not disrespecting Bucknell as much as dealing with the reality of the day. Bucknell is picked seventh in the seven-team Patriot League.
“Proud of the way we came out and fought," Russo said.
Asked about scoring on their first four drives, Russo lauded the play-calling from offensive coordinator Mike Uremovich who “put us in a great position to make plays, get the ball downfield, [have a] mixture between run plays, pass plays, shifts, motions, all that stuff.”
The QB talked up his offensive line, and pointed out that running back was maybe a question mark coming into the fall, but was strong, with Jager Gardner getting his yards, and true freshman Re’Mahn Davis immediately emerging as a weapon. As for the receivers, it’s assumed Temple has some guys who will make plays, with four different Owls racking up receptions of at least 24 yards. (*But it was Bucknell.)
There was one play where it didn’t matter that Temple was playing Bucknell. A pass to the sideline, jumped by a defender, a 36-yard pick-six for Bucknell’s only TD.
“I kind of got greedy there, wanted to work the boundary," Russo said. “That’s something that I’ve got to fix … won’t make the same mistake twice.”
Asked about going more up-tempo this season, Russo, back from a calf injury, said it went well. “At times, it could have been faster," he said. “That’s just getting into the games, working on it even more.”
A couple of times, Russo said, they were ready to snap when Bucknell was still getting defensive signals from the sideline. A good sign. Russo mentioned one time Branden Mack was supposed to run a go route but there was no cornerback out there so he simply turned around and Russo got him the ball.
“I’ve never been in anything this fast-paced," Russo said. “I think it works to our advantage.”
How does that all come together?
“Just having meetings with just the signals," Russo said, adding that the calls are coming in quicker, and in past years they didn’t know the signals as well, so they were looking over, “three, four, five times.”
Just 45 minutes or an hour, each night during summer camp, the script was written up for the following day, and the guys signaling the plays would come in the room and go over the signals.
“Once we’ve got on the field, we’ve seen this signal five, six, seven different times," Russo said. “It allows us to go even faster.”
In-game, there are conversations before a series, Russo said. Here’s the first play, the second play, maybe some others that might work.
“I think he’s kind of just salivating at that, knowing he can call so many different plays," Russo said of the weapons at Uremovich’s disposal. “We barely even touched the potential of what we can do in this offense, with different shifts, different motions, different personnel.”