ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – After consecutive 10-win seasons, Temple finished 7-6 but won four of their last five under first-year coach Geoff Collins. The Owls capped their late-season surge with a 28-3 win over Florida International University Thursday in the Gasparilla Bowl.
Quarterback Frank Nutile waited until the eighth game to receive his first college start after Logan Marchi was injured, and the redshirt junior made the most of the chance. Nutile's thorough grasp of the offense made the Owls more effective and the team responded to his leadership. He finished 4-2 as a starter after earning MVP honors during the bowl win. Next season he should be the undisputed No. 1 quarterback.
Sophomore Isaiah Wright had just 10 receptions for 194 yards and a touchdown in his first four games. After that, he started becoming a bigger part of the offense and finished the season with 46 receptions for 664 yards and four touchdowns. He also scored a touchdown on a kickoff and punt return. He can be used as a running back and a Wildcat quarterback. Look for the Owls to get him the ball more next season.
After suffering a 31-28 overtime loss to Army, Temple had a bye week and used the time to heal and make a late-season run at a bowl game. Having to go 3-1 in the final four games, the Owls responded with a 34-26 home win over Navy, the team Temple beat in last year's America Athletic Conference championship. Making his second start, Nutile threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns. Not only had Temple bounced back from a devastating loss, but the Owls took a major step in its quest to become bowl eligible.
This year, the Owls showed they weren't up to the task against elite opponents. Against Notre Dame, South Florida and Central Florida, the Owls were outscored, 137-42.
Other than replacing four-year starting quarterback Phillip Walker, the toughest player to replace was left tackle Dion Dawkins, a second-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills. Leon Johnson moved from right tackle to left tackle and had an injury-plagued season. Like Johnson, the offensive like took a long time to jell, although the unit played better toward the end of the year.
Junior running back Ryquell Armstead never played near 100 percent healthy and even though he showed grit by not missing a game, he lacked the true explosiveness of the previous year when he rushed for 919 yards (5.9 avg.) and 14 TDs. Armstead showed explosion in one game, rushing for 151 yards and two scores on 18 carries in the 31-28 overtime loss at Army. He rushed for 604 yards (3.9 avg) and five touchdowns. Redshirt junior David Hood proved to be a capable backup, but the lack of a home run threat from Armstead was sorely missed.
The most disappointing loss came against Army. The Black Knights, the nation's top rushing team, put together a 14-play, 79-yard drive that culminated with a 16-yard scoring pass with one second left in regulation that sent the game into overtime. Temple allowed 67 yards passing on the drive. The game ended when Temple missed a chip shot 27-yard field goal in overtime.
After Temple's opening loss to Notre Dame, the emails were coming in hot and heavy about Geoff Collins following his first game on any level as a head coach. Some stayed off the Collins bandwagon, but after one year, he and his team showed progress.
The Owls were hit hard by graduation. Should they have had a better record? Sure. The Army game, and the 28-24 loss to visiting UConn when the Huskies scored on a pick-six, should have been wins.
That said, Collins had the players buy into his system and the team continued to fight when they were down, going 3-1 in their last four regular-season games to earn a bowl berth and then winning the bowl game convincingly.
Collins should have handled the quarterback situation better, when he was trying to be too clever in letting other (including his team) know the starter before the season opener
He admitted that mistake.
He took over a young team, saw it improve and then recruited a sizable class that should provide one thing this team surely lacked — depth.
Expectations should be higher next season, but ousting defending AAC champion Central Florida and even moving ahead of South Florida won't be easy.