While the “new norm” that Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson proclaimed would be the standard from here on hasn’t quite worked out as planned for the better-known birds who inhabit Lincoln Financial Field, it’s definitely kicked in for the other.
As a result, the Temple Owls, who’d gone to only three bowl games in school history through 2014, are about to play in a postseason game for the fourth straight year. And while they’ll be doing it without the man who guided them there—Geoff Collins, who’s already departed for Georgia Tech—the players he left behind say they have something to prove when they take the field against Duke on Thursday afternoon (1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA.
“Going through a coaching change everyone’s counting us out,” said safety Delvon Randall, who’ll be playing in a school record 54th game. “We’re just here to prove the coach doesn’t make the team. We’re still Temple.”
Besides, this is nothing new for the 8-4 Owls, who only have to go back two years—when Matt Rhule split for Baylor prior to their Military Bowl appearance vs. Wake Forest—to know how to deal with the distraction. Now, as then, special teams coordinator/tight ends’ coach Ed Foley is running the show until the new man—in this case, Manny Diaz—takes over.
“As players, we know coaches can come and go,” said quarterback Anthony Russo, who declared himself healthy and ready to go after sitting out the regular season finale at Connecticut.
“The team remains focused. We’re not going to let the coaching change affect how hard we work day-to-day,” he said. “I have no doubt he’s [Coach Foley] going to coach his tail off and have us in the right positions and be ready to go beat Duke.”
For his part, Foley said he has a better idea how to handle things now than in 2016 when Temple dropped a 34-26 game to Wake, like Duke another ACC team in a Power 5 conference.
“The players have had a lot of input in terms what we’ve done,” said the 51-year-old Foley, who hopes to be retained on Diaz’ staff. “They’ve helped with the process, which is totally different from the last time we were here in the Military Bowl.”
“To get the seniors out of here with a win and a good taste in their mouths is the most important thing. But this Duke team is really good.”
One of those players is Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones, whom many projects will leave Durham after this season for the NFL. The first thing that jumps out about the quarterback is he has a rifle arm. continued
“He’s the first guy we have to stop,” said Foley. “They’re not like teams in our conference. Duke runs the football, but it all revolves around the quarterback. So we have to mix it up.:
Besides Jones, who’s thrown for 2,251 yards and 17 touchdowns, despite missing time with a broken collarbone, the 7-5 Blue Devils’ defense poses problems, too.
“Duke’s defense is solid,” said Ventell Bryant, Temple’s all-time leader in receptions (169) and yards received (2,143). “They play a solid man-to-man. We played an ACC team, Wake Forest, two years ago and lost. So it would definitely mean a lot to beat them.”
With a healthy Russo, who’s thrown for 2,335 yards and 13 touchdowns, along with1,098-yard rusher Ryquell Armstead and first-team All-American return specialist Isaiah Wright, the Owls can beat you in a number of ways. Then you add a defense that’s held 2/3 of their opponents under 20 points while forcing 28 turnovers, which resulted in Temple’s FBS leading 13 non-offensive touchdowns.
They figure to need all of that to beat Duke and make it two bowl wins in a row for a program that has surpassed all expectations in recent years. So much so that the other team that shares the Linc with them can only hope someday their own “new norm” turns out quite so well.