When Duke takes on Temple Thursday afternoon in Shreveport, La., it will be the first time the Blue Devils and Owls have ever met on the gridiron. Temple, after starting the season with a pair of losses to FCS side Villanova and Buffalo, finished the year on a hot streak—the Owls won six of their last seven games to end with an 8-4 ledger, losing only to No. 7 Central Florida.
Our Mitchell Gladstone talked with Mike Zingrone, sports editor and football beat writer at The Temple News, to preview the Owls, who will be playing without their head coach, Geoff Collins, after he departed for the same job at Georgia Tech a few weeks ago.
Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
The Chronicle: What's the scouting report on quarterback Anthony Russo and why has he had such a good year for Temple?
Mike Zingrone: It's sort of interesting with him because his first few years of college, it was a question of, 'What can this guy be?' He was a hyped-up recruit coming into college because he was from the Philadelphia area and had some other looks. But he's matured a lot this year and he's becoming a leader. In the past, Temple lacked maturity and leadership from its quarterbacks, but Russo's really stepped up and he's a guy his teammates can rally around.
In the summer, watching him practice, he looked like he was the best quarterback on the field by far over backup quarterback Frank Nutile. In my opinion, it looked like he should've been the starter from Day One, just talent-wise, but I think the big thing was the way he stepped up as a leader. And he has a lot of arm talent, that's what's really come around with him. While Russo's a little bit more athletic and mobile than Nutile, Russo's got the arm strength by a mile and I feel like that's why the offense has been so successful under him.
TC: What's been the key to the Owls' run as they come into this game winners in six of their seven most recent games?
MZ: It has to be the offensive and defensive lines. The Villanova game in the season opener, they got manhandled. One of the biggest things I've been looking at this year—and the UCF game is probably the outlier—is time of possession. Villanova had the ball for 38 minutes compared to Temple's 22, and that was mainly because the defensive line couldn't get any pressure and the offensive line couldn't block anybody. That's probably the biggest thing that's changed. The win against Maryland, they manhandled a Big Ten team in the trenches, and I feel like they've carried that the entire year. After the Villanova game, Temple scored at least 24 points every game for the rest of the season, and that Temple Tough mantra is built on dominating teams at the line of scrimmage.
TC: Knowing what you know about interim head coach Ed Foley, who's been around the program for a long time, how much of a difference does it make with him running the show in place of Geoff Collins?
MZ: It's a different situation this time around than in the past when Matt Rhule left for Baylor. A lot of the players on this roster saw what it was like to go through a coaching change two years ago. I don't think it's going to make too big a difference this year. Foley knows what he's doing when it comes to practice, he's more comfortable, he knows how to lead his team now. The players are a lot more ready to handle the situation, so I don't think it's the biggest thing. Foley's always in your face screaming and he's Mr. Energy—and that really goes well with this Temple team because he's a perfect fit.
TC: By the time people get ready for this game, they're going to know about Russo as well as running back Ryquell Armstead. Who is a player that people might not know about but could have a big impact on the game?
MZ: I'm going to give you a few names here. My personal opinion of a player who I think is extremely underrated is Sam Franklin. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and he's every bit of it. He's got an NFL body and a prototypical linebacker or edge rusher, and he's everywhere for this team. He practices with the safeties, he can play slot cornerback, he can play middle linebacker, outside linebacker, but where he's mostly been playing is edge rusher.
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The second name is Dana Levine. He got hurt during the Villanova game, missed four games, and the last two games, he's really been getting on the stat sheet. The Connecticut game he had nine tackles, he won the South Florida game for Temple—he had the big strip-sack recovered for a touchdown.
But the No. 1 player that doesn't get nearly as much credit as he deserves on this Temple team is Matt Hennessy, the center. (Note: Hennessy's brother, Thomas, served as Duke's long snapper from 2013-16, helping the Blue Devils make all but one of their 188 PATs in that time and win their first bowl game in more than 50 years.) He's probably the Owls' second-best offensive player behind Armstead, if not their best player. I was surprised that he didn't make the American's All-Conference team, but he makes all the calls and the way he carries himself, he's a great center and a potential NFL player.
TC: What's the one area where Duke is going to have the potential to attack Temple?
MZ: It's going to have to be what Daniel Jones can do with his feet. Villanova's quarterback wasn't the most mobile but he was an underrated runner and could extend plays, and that's what really hurt the Owls. Temple's defensive line is coming around and that's probably the biggest reason for their turnaround this season, but if you can beat the defensive end's contain on a pass rush, that will go a long way when it comes to the Owls. Daniel Jones is going to have to make a lot of plays.