Inside the Nest Host
No fans. No cheerleaders. No band. Then at gametime, with the national telecast ready to go, there were no players, coaches or referees either. Temple’s season got even odder on Saturday afternoon after a 50-minute delay thanks to a Covid scare just minutes before kickoff.
“Honestly I didn’t think we were going to play and then got told we were going to play,” Head Coach Rod Carey said. “We had five guys an hour before the game going into Covid protocol. I didn’t know what to expect.”
Coach Carey might not have known what to expect, but the result was pretty much as expected with the Owls (1-6, 1-6) dropping their 5th-straight game, 28-3 to the visiting ECU Pirates (2-6, 2-5).
According to Carey, his team learned just 45 minutes prior to the game that one of its players might be positive with Covid-19. The game was officially delayed just three minutes prior to kickoff. When all of the dust settled, the Owls did have a positive test. And they did end up taking the field minus CB Christian Braswell, CB Kimere Brown, DE Arnold Ebiketie, LB George Reid, and CB Nate Wyatt -- all now in Covid protocol.
“We didn’t really know (if we were going to play),” Defensive Tackle Dan Archibong said. “(Carey) just kind of said we may get canceled, we may not, so keep your head in the game.”
All five players were scheduled to play on special teams in addition to their primary positions on defense. Temple allowed a 95-yard touchdown on a kickoff return to ECU’s Tyler Snead without nearly half of its starters.
And while the health of the Temple players was the biggest concern, it wasn’t their only concern. Heading into Saturday’s matchup, freshman Quarterback Matt Duncan was scheduled to start his first game in college football. But about an hour before kickoff, it was announced that Duncan was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Freshman walk-on Kamal Gray, the team’s 5th quarterback at the start of the season, found out that he'd be the starter around 8:40 Saturday morning, just 10 minutes before the team meeting. Wide Receiver and former high school Quarterback Branden Mack and Running Back Tayvon Ruley were listed as the number two and three quarterbacks on the depth chart.
“I’ve imagined this moment my whole life,” Gray said, who finished 10/21 passing for 95 yards and 2 interceptions on the day. “Little different without fans or anything, so it was just kind of another football game. I went out and just tried to do my job the best I could. I always try to keep my composure because the team feeds off me. If I’m riled up and too antsy, they’re going to feel that way too.”
Gray played the entire first half with mixed results. His first red-zone interception late in the half led to a late ECU score and a 21-3 halftime lead for the Pirates. As a result, Mack started at quarterback for the first two drives in the third quarter.
“Just wanted to calm down Kamal,” Carey said. “Let him see the game, and Branden brings a little different element that we didn’t have with Kamal. That was it.”
“It felt pretty good,” Mack said. “It was pretty exciting. I got to go out there and show my athletic capabilities. Wide receiver is my position, but it just felt good to be back there and switch something up.”
The plan is to have Anthony Russo back from the Covid protocol list next week against nationally-ranked Cincinnati, but Carey warned that we may not see the same quarterback fans saw from Russo in October.
“From what I know, (Russo) comes out of protocol on Tuesday,” Carey said. “I don’t know what kind of shape he’s in. I don’t know where his arm’s at.”
The season finale versus Cincinnati will likely be Temple’s toughest of the year. The Bearcats come to town with a New Year’s Day bowl game, and maybe even a spot in the college football playoffs, on their mind. Meanwhile, the Owls already know they’ll be without several players due to injury in addition to the ones in Covid protocol.
WR Jadan Blue, CB Linwood Crump, OL Joseph Hooper, OL Adam Klein, OL Vincent Picozzi, and SAF Amir Tyler all missed Saturday’s game with injuries. This list doesn’t even include guys like WR Randle Jones and LB Isaiah Graham-Mobley, which likely means they’re done for the year. RB Tayvon Ruley was also injured during Saturday’s game and did not return.
“It’s building character,” Mack said. “We’re learning how to fight through adversity, because that’s all we’ve been fighting through all season.”
“It’s definitely chaotic,” Archibong said. “I think it’s kind of how this year has been. Just 2020 man. Chaotic.”
Saturday’s game will be at the Linc. The time and TV network are still TBD.