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Owls enter season with new faces, questions

| Friday, September 1, 2017

Just a few days before the season opener, Temple finds itself in a similar position to the one Notre Dame was in this time last year — in the midst of a struggle for the quarterback position.

However, there is an added layer of interest for the Owls, as it is head coach Geoff Collins’ first season at the helm after taking over for Matt Rhule, who took the head coaching position at Baylor after leading Temple to its first two 10-win seasons. Collins — whose 23 years of coaching experience are highlighted by two years as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State followed by a stint at the same position at Florida — is looking to help the Owls pick up where they left off. This is something he believes will be made easier by the fact that he had extensive knowledge about Temple and the entire Temple philosophy due to his relationship with Rhule before accepting the head coaching job.

The Irish and Owls special teams units lineup up across from one another during Notre Dame’s 24-20 win over Temple at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct. 31, 2015, which was the last time the two programs met. Entering this season, the Owls special teams unit will feature two starting kickers, and a starting punter has yet to be named. The Observer | The Observer
The Irish and Owls special teams units lineup up across from one another during Notre Dame’s 24-20 win over Temple at Lincoln Financial Field on Oct. 31, 2015, which was the last time the two programs met. Entering this season, the Owls special teams unit will feature two starting kickers, and a starting punter has yet to be named.

“It was a great transition. The best thing about this program is these kids,” Collins said in a Sunday teleconference. “They’re unbelievable as far as how they work, their attitudes on a daily basis. They’re positive to be around each other, they want to get better, want to find an edge in everything that they do. Me and Matt Rhule have known each other for 20 plus years as well; he’s one of my best friends in the world, so I knew a lot of the things that were going on here for the last 10 years and a lot of the philosophies, a lot of the cultures that were already in existence.

“Being an SEC defensive coordinator for so long, every year you get approached for a different job, but this was the one because I knew the background, I knew the culture, I knew the place here and I knew it was going to be a seamless transition. I came in here and the kids have been amazing. Our coaching staff has really bonded with these players. There’s a sign in every single coach’s room that says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” and that was a big thing for us to build that trust early. And our coaches did a fantastic job and our kids did the same thing and it’s been really, really good and really positive.”

However, picking up where they left off will be slightly more difficult without quarterback P.J. Walker. And the Owls still have no clear replacement for Walker. Instead, they have four valid options. Collins has narrowed the quarterback competition from four to two over the course of the offseason: senior Frank Nutile and junior Logan Marchi. And while he did say in a Tuesday press conference that he did know which of the two would get the starting nod Saturday, something Irish head coach Brian Kelly never admitted to last season when he found himself in the same position, he did not expand on the answer, leaving everyone guessing as to which of the two will be under center in Notre Dame Stadium this weekend.

Collins did not rule out the possibility of any of the four quarterbacks, Nutile and Marchi, as well as sophomore Anthony Russo and freshman Todd Centeio, taking snaps throughout the course of the game.

“There’s two quarterbacks that are getting most of the reps, but we are also working specialized packages with some pretty unique things with some other guys, so it’s going to be exciting,” Collins said Sunday. “The team’s routing around the guys and I know our receiving corps and our running backs and our tight ends want to do their part to make sure that they complement whoever is under center throughout the game.”

Collins feels confident with each of the quarterbacks’ ability to step up when called upon because of the attitude the Owls have taken in preparation for the season: Each and every player needs to be ready to take the field on gameday if called upon.

“I think the way our guys are preparing, really every guy in the program, are preparing like they’re going to play the entire game, like they’re the guy,” Collins said. “And I think that the development of a player accelerates when every kid in the program is thinking that way. We’re doing that at linebacker, at DB, across the board. We want every single one of our kids preparing and getting ready like it’s their shot, because you never know, it might be.”

Collins added that, down the line, he is not necessarily planning on selecting just one starter, and that the Owls could be rotating between multiple starters for the entire season.

“The way college football is set up, every week is a different week, so obviously we will move toward that if the situation presents itself,” Collins said. “Whatever’s the best for the team and how the offense is moving. The situation at running back, the situation at receiver, all of those things will come into play on a weekly basis and whatever gives us the best chance to win, if it’s one guy or two guys, we’re going to do what’s best for this program.”

Quarterback is not the only question mark on the Temple depth chart. Collins is planning on starting two kickers and Saturday’s punter is still up in the air.

“We’ve got two different kickers, one inside a certain distance and one outside a certain distance, but it will be two different kickers that will be taking those kicks for us,” Collins said. “And then for kickoffs, same situations there.”

Collins noted that playing a program with a storied history and reputation like Notre Dame’s in the season opener has helped Temple prepare throughout the offseason, because it has kept the entire squad with its eyes forward and motivated.

“It’s been a great preseason, we’ve got a great group of kids, they’re physical, they love playing football,” Collins said. “We’ve got great discipline. We had a lot of bonding opportunities during preseason and we came really, really close together as a coaching staff as well. It’s always exciting to start the season with such a legendary program that’s done a great job, great coaching staff, great players in an environment that’s one of the most storied environments in college football history. So, the spring ball, the preseason, the summer workouts, having such a good opponent to keep in your mind as you prepare has been great preparation for everyone in the program.”

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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