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September 30, 2006

Temple game preview and roundtable predictions

MATCHUP OVERVIEW

Temple and Vanderbilt meet in Nashville this Saturday, and while the teams have combined for just one win this season, expectations for each team could hardly be more different.

Vanderbilt (1-3) has been agonizingly-close to ending a bowl drought that dates back to 1982. The Commodores went 5-6 last year, and this season's narrow misses against Arkansas (a 21-19 loss) and Alabama (13-10) give Vanderbilt legitimate hope that streak will end soon.

Temple (0-4), in the midst of a 16-game losing streak, is struggling for respectability. The Owls have lost 16 consecutive games and have been out-scored 174-10 this season. A quick look at the depth charts illustrates the difference between the two teams.

Vanderbilt, under fifth-year head coach Bobby Johnson, will start 15 juniors and seniors and just two freshmen (one a redshirt) on Saturday.

But first-year coach Al Golden's Owls start a staggering eight true freshmen, one redshirt freshman, no juniors, and seven seniors. Fifteen of Temple's second-teamers are freshman or sophomores, and the Owls have played nineteen true freshmen-the most in NCAA Division I.

Johnson says he can empathize with Golden. "We've been through the things Temple's going through," he said. "They've played a lot of freshmen and we've done that."

The Commodores' veteran defense, led by all-Southeastern Conference candidates Jonathan Goff and Reshard Langford, has kept Vanderbilt competitive as its offense has often struggled. Goff, a middle linebacker, and Langford, a safety, anchor a Vanderbilt defense that's become increasingly-stingy against the run.

Two of the SEC's best running backs-Alabama's Kenneth Darby and Arkansas' Darren McFadden-combined to gain just 136 yards on 40 carries. Last week, Tennessee State's Javarrus Williams-the Ohio Valley Conference's leading rusher-gained just 28 yards on 12 attempts.

A vastly-improved defensive line, led by first-year Commodore assistant Ricky Logo, deserves much of the credit. Junior defensive end Curtis Gatewood had a career-high nine tackles last week, including two for loss, leads the unit with 21 stops.

The Owls' offensive struggles are rooted in a rushing attack averaging just 41.5 yards per game. Jason Harper has gained 154 yards and averages 5.0 yards a carry, but sack yardage-which counts against a team's rushing total-have been costly. Quarterbacks Adam DiMichelle and Vaughn Charlton have combined to lose 93 yards on the ground.

Sophomore DiMichelle (40-of-66 passing, 388 yards) started the first three games for Temple, but has been intercepted five times. Consequently, he yielded his starting job to Charlton (23-44, 188 yards), who started against Western Michigan.

Vanderbilt may also play multiple quarterbacks for a different reason. Johnson is pleased with starter Chris Nickson, but would like to get more work for Mackenzi Adams and Richard Kovalcheck.

Adams saw his first collegiate quarterback action against State last week, completing 3-of-4 passes for 21 yards and leading the Commodores to a scoring drive. However, Johnson hinted that Kovalcheck, a part-time starter in his two years at Arizona, may get first crack at replacing Nickson this week. Kovalcheck has not played for the Commodores this season.

Johnson would also like to get more carries for tailbacks Cassen Jackson-Garrison and Jared Hawkins. Jackson-Garrison, the starter, leads the team with 205 yards, but Hawkins is challenging for more time based on a team-leading 9.7 yards per carry on 15 rushes.

The Commodores shouldn't have much trouble moving the ball on the ground or in the air. The Owls give up 442 yards per game, and rank 116th of the 119 Division I teams against the rush, and 85th against the pass. Only Florida Atlantic (48) has given up more points per game than Temple (43.5).

The teams haven't met since 1935, when legendary Temple coach Pop Warner led the Owls to a 6-3 victory. Temple last beat a current SEC team (Florida) in 1938, losing the 11 contests since.

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Central at Vanderbilt Stadium.


OUR PREDICTIONS

Jake Lowrey, VandySports.com Contributing Writer
How do you know that your football program is at a very low place? When your coach says something like Temple's Al Golden told reporters on Tuesday: "I said this to the guys after the game. You pick up the paper on Sunday, and it's 41-7. It's easy to say 'ok, they got creamed,' but the reality of it was that I think we made a lot of improvement."

The beginning of the presumptively named "Golden Era" at Temple has been barely-controlled chaos, by the design of the coaching staff. Every position on the depth chart has been open for competition all season, especially when it comes to critical positions on offense.

Temple is playing quarterback by committee, trying to find out which candidate will be the first to throw a touchdown pass. Off the field issues have caused a lack of consistency at running-back. On defense, Golden is giving new players a chance to contribute each week, but Temple still has not held a team to under 40 since their opening week loss to Buffalo. Last week's team defensive player of the game had only five tackles, one for loss, and no turnovers caused.

Vandy wins this game barring a complete meltdown on both offense and defense. The only disaster scenario for Vanderbilt is a situation in which bad turnovers result in defensive scores for Temple, and huge problems with Vanderbilt's front seven allow Temple to shorten the game significantly and make a Vandy comeback difficult. It is hard, perhaps even impossible to imagine Temple's offense scoring more than one touchdown - they have only scored one all season.

Expect the early part of Vanderbilt's game to be characterized by an offense careful not to turn over the ball and a defense hoping to pressure the young Temple QB (either of them). Vanderbilt may blitz more than they have so far this season, but once they have a significant lead, the "bend but don't break" philosophy will be appropriately employed.

If there is a key matchup, it is the Vandy defense vs. the Temple offense. And the contest between these two units is to see who can put the most points on the board. Al Golden's patience vs. Al Golden's frustration could also be a key matchup for the rest of Temple's season. Despite Vanderbilt's 1-3 record, it will be hard for any Owl to hold out hope for a win on the road against any SEC team.

My prediction: Vanderbilt 41, Temple 0.

Tommy Crockett, VandySports.com Board Moderator
The Temple Owls are in a shambles. They've only won 30 games since their last winning season back in 1990. Temple began this year on a 12-game losing skid with no wins yet or, just perhaps, even on the horizon. The Owls were competitive filled with new hope when the season opener with Buffalo went down to the wire. Life has become incrementally worse since then.

They have played 19 true freshmen thus far this season and 34 kids have seen their first action ever in collegiate action this year. 8 freshmen have started. The team has one TD all year and that was a defensive triumph as their offense has been wholly ineffective. Well what do you expect when a team that didn't win a game last year loses 31 lettermen?

As to the match-ups the Owls best defensive player is Senior Chris Page, but a safety that weighs in at 175 pounds shouldn't strike fear into the hearts of any Commodores that break into the secondary. I've tried to follow The Owls this season to as much extent as I can and didn't really find any other standouts on the defensive side of the ball.

Tim Brown is a decent running back and Vaughn Charlton and Adam DiMichele have been seeing time under center instead of the expected fight for the QB spot between Colin Clancy, Shane Kelly, and/or Jarrett Dunston. Brown is returning from a two week suspension for this game.

Vandy special teams play will be the biggest difference maker here. Oh, and the fact that Temple cannot stop the run and as Vandy has averaged 210 yards rushing over the last 2 weeks. Don't expect that to change this Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium. Now is the time to get those timing oriented crossing routes working a little deeper for the Commodores. I don't see an offensive TD coming in this match-up from the Owls.

My prediction: Vanderbilt 44, Temple 6

Mike Rapp, VandySports.com Publisher
Okay, I'll leave all the obvious barbs for Biddle and Climer. Temple is a bad team, and yes, Vanderbilt has been there before.

Out of 119 NCAA D1-A teams, Temple ranks #118 in total offense, scoring offense, scoring defense, and rushing, while ranking #114 in total defense. That's a set-up for which even famous alum Bill Cosby couldn't write a funny punch line.

I empathize with Temple's fans; What true Vandy fan can't? It sucks to be bad, and it sucks even more when you know it.

But, you can't feel sorry for Temple's sorry administration. While Vandy's new leadership and motivated Board of Trust has poured money into athletics, Temple has sat silently, wringing their hands about their sorry state of affairs and begging for even more help from their few famous alums who send them checks more out of pity than hope.

Temple was ejected from the Big East not because they are a bad athletics department, but because the school's administration doesn't seem to care. With no realistic hope for improvement on the horizon, the teetering Big East -- sans cash cows Miami and Virginia Tech -- did the unprecedented, dumping the Owls for up and comers Louisville and South Florida. Louisville is now Top 10 in the nation, and Temple carries the ignonimous rep as "the worst football team in college athletics."

The only bright side for Temple is that since being kicked out of the Big East, Temple has been able to replace its non-paying, lightly-attended conference games -- which they would rarely ever win -- with a season filled with rich payday games -- which they have not yet come close to winning. That is increasingly unlikely to change as the season grinds on.

Enter Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt plays its third consecutive home game of its 12-game schedule tonight. While it has little to show for its efforts thus far in the won-loss column, even the usual local sports media suspects have been paying their respects to the Commodores. VU may still be losing more games than they win, but it's now plainly obvious that this is a program on the (ever so slow) upswing. Today is a rare event, where VU will be heavily favored for the second consecutive weekend.

How do you identify keys to the game for Temple? Basically, Temple's best (and only) hope is that Vandy sleepwalks through the first half, commits a bevy of untimely turnovers, makes overly conservative play calls on third down, and hands the Owls the chance to win it on the last drive.

The key for VU is to not allow the above to happen. Vandy needs to take control of the game from the opening drive, stick Temple in a deep hole, and then pin their ears back on defense (as they did against TSU) and break their will.

TSU was a classic trap game. One team needing what everyone thought was a certain W, the other a huge underdog looking for respect. Tonight is no trap. Temple, playing their best game of the year, would not beat Vanderbilt. Vandy has much better size, athleticism, experience, depth and coaching. Temple knows it. Vanderbilt knows it. And anyone with even the slightest bit of football knowledge knows it.

My predeiction: Vanderbilt 52, Temple 0





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