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Temple football’s special teams not so special this season

The Owls were a big-play special teams unit under former coordinator Ed Foley, but that hasn't been the case this year.

Cincinnati cornerback Coby Bryant (7) picked up a blocked extra point and ran it back it 98 yards for a two-point conversion against Temple.
Cincinnati cornerback Coby Bryant (7) picked up a blocked extra point and ran it back it 98 yards for a two-point conversion against Temple.Read moreJohn Minchillo / AP

In his first year as Temple’s coach, Rod Carey has done many good things. For some of the players he was their fourth head coach (counting the 18-day stint of Manny Diaz) and he quickly earned their trust, making a smooth transition into his system.

Among the positives, the defense for the most part has been solid. The Owls also beat two teams that were ranked at the time they played them, Maryland and Memphis. Temple is still the only team to beat Memphis.

There have been other good things, but one had to know the but was coming.

Where Carey, his staff, and his players have fallen short has been on special teams. Last weekend’s 15-13 loss at Cincinnati, which clinched the American Athletic Conference East Division for the Bearcats and eliminated Temple, was an exercise in special-teams frustration.

A low punt snap that ended up with the ball’s being downed on the Owls’ 6-yard line led to a Cincinnati field goal.

The worst came after Temple scored to get to within 13-6. The Owls had the extra-point kick blocked and Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant returned it 98 yards for two points.

Temple will finish the regular season when the Owls (7-4, 4-3 AAC) host UConn (2-9, 0-7 at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

There have been other special-teams snafus. But even more than the mistakes, Temple’s unit went from making some of the biggest special-teams plays in the country last year to one that didn’t come close to having the same impact.

Last year, under special-teams coordinator Ed Foley, the Owls blocked five kicks and scored five special-teams touchdowns, and that didn’t count a TD pass off a fake punt.

This year the Owls have blocked two field goals and one extra-point kick and don’t have any special- teams touchdowns.

The Owls averaged 12.8 yards per punt return and 22.6 on kick returns last year and are averaging 5.2 and 19.8 this season.

And this is where we come back to Carey, who changed the special-teams dynamic at Temple.

Foley, who also coached tight ends and was an assistant at Temple for 11 years, he served as interim head coach three different times. He resigned in July after his job changed. Foley was removed from the field as a coach and given an off-the-field job, with an emphasis on special teams.

Foley left to join former Temple coach Matt Rhule at Baylor, where he is associate athletic director for football services.

At the time, Foley said it was his choice to leave Temple, and Carey confirmed that. In fact Carey said he wanted Foley to stay and that he would have had a big input on special teams.

In July, Carey said that he made the move with Foley because he wanted to have more defensive assistants on his staff. Tyler Yelk, who had an off-the-field job with Temple, was then named outside- linebackers coach, reducing Foley to an off-field role.

Brett Diersen is Temple’s associate special-teams coordinator, but that is not an on-the-field job, meaning he can’t coach in practice. It is similar to the job Foley would have had if he stayed.

Several assistants divvy up the special-teams duties.

Asked if he would change the way special teams are coached after this year’s inconsistency, Carey replied, “I don’t think the way I line the staff has anything to do with the execution of that we had on the field. If that is what you are inferring, I wouldn’t agree with that at all because I have done it like this a long time and this is more the norm. “

Carey was the head coach the previous six years at Northern Illinois, where he had a 52-30 record and won two Mid-American Conference championships.

“We had a bad snap the other night, a blocked kick that they returned,” he continued. “Those are execution issues that we need to coach better and get better at and certainly can and didn’t do a good enough job coaching that in the game.”

Still, Temple had difference-making special teams last year. Foley’s unit won games, not just last year but since he became special-teams coordinator in 2015. For instance, in 2015 Temple led the nation with seven blocked kicks.

Carey is right that it comes down to execution. But one wonders, if Foley were still around implementing his system, if Temple would still be playing meaningful football in the final game of the regular season.