In postgame comments after his team had lost at home to Buffalo, then-Temple coach Geoff Collins’ dejection was obvious. Relentlessly upbeat and hopeful, Collins’ disappointment with the Owls’ 36-29 defeat, with the game-winning touchdown score in the final minute, was clear in his tone and body language.
After the loss to Buffalo on Sept. 8, 2018, the Owls were 0-2 with a road trip to Maryland up next.
“We’ve just got to continue to get better and better and better, just like we did last year, just like we’ll continue to do,” Collins told Philadelphia media. “It’s 1-0 every week and try to play our best football as we move forward.”
Temple did as Collins vowed, beating Maryland and finishing the regular season 8-4, a turnaround that undoubtedly made it possible for him to get hired as the replacement for Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.
A year later, Collins and the five assistant coaches that he brought with him from Temple are trying to guide their new team on the same course. After a loss two weeks ago to The Citadel dropped the Jackets to 1-2, Tech dove into an open week bent on improving and finding its stride.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence over the last couple of years, winning four out of the last five my first year (at Temple), eight out of the last 10 my second year, and we have a mentality that we’re trying to get better every single day, every single phase of our program,” Collins said Tuesday. “And the guys have bought into it and done a really, really nice job with that.”
After self-scouting the offense for strengths and weaknesses and two practices focused on the basics, offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude pronounced that his unit is playing better than it did against The Citadel.
“And that should be the case because we just continue to work on all the things that we need to work on across the board, whether it be things in the pass game or run game with the O-line or where are our fits, who are we blocking, just basic things,” he said.
Patenaude said that the offense has been “a mixed bag” through three games. Patenaude has shuffled three quarterbacks and worked with a beat-up offensive line. The run game appears ahead of the pass game. Quarterback Tobias Oliver stood out in the loss to the Bulldogs, earning a grade of 90.
“And nobody really grades out as a 90,” Patenaude said of Oliver, who ran 11 times for a team-high 92 yards and completing two of three passes for 27 yards.
A year ago, the Temple offense was inconsistent through two games before players showed improvement in the fundamentals and grew more knowledgeable in the offense while Patenaude said he was able to identify the offense’s strengths.
“And the biggest thing offensively is confidence,” Patenaude said. “Confidence and execution and guys just kind of started feeling it a little bit, and just got on a little bit of a roll. I think that that’s kind of what we’ve been able to do this week.”
Quarterback Anthony Russo was elevated into the starting lineup before the third game and was the starter the rest of the way. Temple’s passing efficiency rating was 110.7 in the first two games and 132.8 for the final 10 regular-season games.
Patenaude sees an offense about to move forward.
“I’m excited about where we’re going,” Patenaude said of the Tech offense. “I’m not paying attention to any of the outside stuff. I can see what we’re doing and how we’re getting better, and that’s exciting for me.”
Tech’s defense played effectively against South Florida before it was chewed up by The Citadel for 350 yards of offense – 320 on the ground – as penalties helped keep the defense on the field for 41:50.
Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said the lesson from a year ago, when he held the job of coordinator for the first time in his career, was not to let the poor play in the first two games influence performance in the remaining games.
“You stay the course, you maintain your messaging, you continue to hold them to a high accountability level and just continue to go,” Thacker said.
After giving up 5.3 and 5.0 yards per play in losses to Villanova and Buffalo, respectively, the Owls did not give up more than 4.4 yards per play over the next six games. The defensive third-down rate went from 52 percent in the first two games to 39 percent over the next 10.
In Temple, Tech will face Russo, who leads a passing attack capable of downfield shots and also keeping Russo protected. Further, the Owls are trying to find their own way forward, having lost again to Buffalo on Saturday.
The Jackets, too, know a little bit about bouncing back. After starting last season 1-3, Tech won six of its next seven. In practice last week and again Tuesday, the Jackets’ energy level was high. The mood was upbeat.
“We don’t panic,” Collins said. “We know we’re going to get better.”
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