Roy Martin: Temple - Clemson Preview

by - Correspondent -

It is nearly impossible to pen a worthwhile preview of the Temple game. They are a team so many people know so very little about.

Five of their games have been broadcast on local or regional network, which has made it nearly impossible to see them, and one, the Wisconsin game, was broadcast nationally on ESPNU at the same time as the Clemson/Maryland game. I have yet to see them play and would be willing to bet very few have.

What makes the job even harder is they are one of the worst programs in Division I-A. There is not a whole lot to talk about. They are so bad, in fact, that Sports Illustrated did a four-page spread in their preseason issue that addressed all of the issues facing the Owls and their probable road to a winless season.

Think about it – four pages dedicated to a team that publication assumes will not win a game this year.

Temple has managed to keep it close in only one game this year, that being a 19-16 loss to Western Michigan. Each of their other six losses has come by at least 25 points, with the worst of the bunch being a 70-7 loss to Bowling Green.

Temple is giving up an average of 66 points on the road while averaging just over seven. The Owls have just 13 trips inside the red zone that have resulted in seven touchdowns and three field goals. Their opponents have had 43 such scenarios while managing 34 touchdowns and 2 field goals.

They did not have a turnover against Miami in last week’s game for the first time in their last nine contests. Miami did not put a point on the board during the last 41 minutes, 50 seconds of the game, but they managed 20 points during a 4 minute, 55 second stretch of a 27 point first quarter on their way to a 34-3 victory. His backup did have over 100 yards against Toledo last month when Ferguson was out with an injury.

Temple does have a four-year starter at quarterback in Mike McGann. Running back Umar Ferguson is averaging 22.8 carries per game, a number that would undoubtedly be higher if they were not always playing catch-up. He is also a very good receiver out of the backfield

Offensive tackle John Gross has 30 consecutive starts and has played in 34 games. Defensive end Christian Dunbar has played in 42 games during his career and defensive tackle Antwon Burton received a lot of recognition in many preseason publications.

That is my limited knowledge of Temple.

As for Clemson, this is probably the appropriate time to discuss some of the numbers they have accumulated this year.

Charlie Whitehurst, as many predicted, is having a much-improved campaign under the guidance of Rob Spence. He has completing 67% of his passes as compared to last season’s 50.7%, and he only has four interceptions at this point after throwing 17 in 2004. It should be noted that three of the four were passes that were in the hands of his receivers.

Eight of his receivers have at least seven catches and 16 players have at least one reception. The group as a whole is averaging just over a first down per catch. All of that are reasons why his passing efficiency has increased from 97.3 to 130.6.

The offense has increased their production by 81 yards per game – 40 more on the ground and 41 more through the air – despite a much tougher schedule. An improved offensive line that has given up just seven sacks and features only one senior in the 10-man deep unit is one of the biggest reasons they are more productive.

Another reason is the lack of turnovers. At this point of 2004 the Tigers were one of the worst teams in the country in terms of turnover ratio. They are now ranked 17th in that category thanks in large part to the fact they are one of two teams nationally that has yet to lose a fumble. They also have 24 points off turnovers while they are opponents have only seven.

The running game has received a much-needed boost from freshman James Davis. He is the team’s leading rusher and has a 5.2 per carry average. The fact that Whitehurst has 55 yards on the ground this year and Jad Dean is the only player on the team with negative yards is something few expected.

Making the most of their scoring opportunities has been somewhat of a two-edged sword. Clemson is 11-of-11 in first-and-goal situations (7 TDs, 4 FGs) and nearly perfect inside the red zone. However, they have had to settle for too many field goal attempts. Their third down conversion percentage (34.9%) is why they have had to call on Jad Dean so often.

Defensively, enough has been said and written about the number of miscues that have kept drives alive and/or led to points. The unit looked much better last week against N.C. State and mixed things up much more so than they have all year by increasing the amount of pressure and utilizing a 3-3-5 scheme.

They have twice as many sacks (14) than their opponents and have notched 46 tackles for loss, which is an astounding seven-plus per game. They also have 22 passes broken up (PBU). Oddly enough, that statistical column is head by linebacker Anthony Waters (5) and defensive end Gaines Adams (4).

They have given up more points (22) in four overtimes than they do on average in regulation (19.8). The latter stat is much more respectable than their overall national ranking.

Other than field goals, the special teams have been a sore spot. The Tigers’ net punting average of 28.8 is putrid when compared to their opponents’ average of 39.5. As mentioned in an earlier article, scheme is not as much of an issue as is execution. Changes in personnel, although not public at this point, have been made.

The kickoff return unit is picking up 20.3 yards per attempt as compared to 28.6 for opponents. I was honestly amazed by that number considering how successful NCSU was last week. Again, changes have been made this week; most notably Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham will now be the return men.

The coverage unit should be more successful if they were to get more help from Jad Dean. Only 15 of his 33 boots have resulted in touchbacks. He definitely has the leg to do it more often if he finds more consistency.

Overall, the team has made great strides from last year, but their strength of schedule and new schemes on both sides of the ball haven’t helped make a huge difference in the win column.

The most promising aspects are the youth and depth. Lots of freshmen and first-year players are logging significant snaps. Aaron Kelly, Phillip Merling, Michael Hamlin, and James Davis are just a few of the names that provide lots of hope. The coaches are also doing a very good job of sticking with their rotations regardless of the situation. That will produce big dividends later in the year and even more so in the years to come.

This week’s game could be considered a lose-lose situation. If the staff decides to focus on getting many of the younger guys a lot of playing time, the score may not be as lopsided as most would like. If they focus on scoring a lot of points, they will not get those guys on the field to gain as much experience as they deserve.

Scoring a lot of points does not ensure a better postseason spot and has no effect on the long term standing of the program. Getting guys on the field can and will. That is why focus will be the key this week.

The team needs to come out extremely focused in order to build a comfortable lead as quickly as possible so the starters can give way to those behind them. That should be the case, as Clemson wins much bigger than the score will actually show as they gain a 37-10 victory.

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