Sept. 21 was one of the most frustrating days Dave Patenaude ever had as a football coach.
The Owls’ offensive coordinator watched his group give away the ball six times and rush for negative yards in a 43-7 loss to a ranked South Florida team in Temple’s American Athletic Conference opener.
“You have negative four yards rushing, no offensive line ever wants to have that happen to them,” coach Geoff Collins said. “Regardless of who is playing, whatever the rotation is, they want to run the ball. Not giving up sacks is great, but as an offensive line and as a competitor, you want to run the ball, you want to push people around. That’s the identity that they want to have, and that’s from them.”
“One thing about offense, if one of the 11 guys screws up, it usually messes up the entire play,” redshirt-senior offensive lineman Leon Johnson said. “Defense you can kind of get away with it, but offense you can’t get away with mistakes even if it’s one person. I believe we’re one block from big plays.”
After last week’s subpar performance, the Owls (2-2, 0-1 The American) will face Houston (2-1) on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. The Cougars’ defense features sophomore tackle Ed Oliver, an Associated Press Preseason All-American who ranked eighth on NFL.com’s list of the 25 best college players entering the season.
Oliver has 3.5 tackles for loss out of 22 tackles this season. He has forced two fumbles, including one that led to a touchdown drive in the second quarter of Houston’s win against Rice University on Sept. 16.
Oliver made Pro Football Focus’ national defensive team for Week 4. He also made Pro Football Focus’ All-American watch. He had three run stops and five quarterback pressures on Saturday in Houston’s loss to Texas Tech. Oliver entered the game with the highest run-stop percentage among interior defenders with at least 24 plays in run defense.
Collins knows how players like Oliver can impact a game at the line of scrimmage. During his tenure as a coordinator at Mississippi State University from 2011-14, Collins coached Fletcher Cox, a two-time Pro Bowl selection with the Philadelphia Eagles. In his first year at the University of Florida in 2015, he coached Jonathan Bullard, who is now a defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears.
Collins said Oliver’s reputation transcends college football, and the Owls have to “know where he is on every single snap.”
“If you can control a game from the defensive tackle position, it messes up everything,” he said.
After the game against South Florida, Temple ranks last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in offensive rushing success rate. The statistic is a measure of a team’s efficiency. Success is determined by if a team gets at least 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, at least 70 percent on second down and 100 percent on third and fourth downs. Temple’s rushing success rate is 20.7 percent.
About 50 percent of Temple’s plays have been runs. But only 26.6 percent of the team’s yards are from rushes, which ranks 118th in the FBS.
Because Temple hasn’t been able to establish the run as well as it would like, it especially couldn’t afford the 8-for-26, 89-yard and four-interception passing performance from redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi and redshirt junior Frank Nutile against South Florida. Patenaude said after Tuesday’s practice that a quarterback decision would come later in the week.
Temple’s 17 points per game ranks 115th in the FBS, and the team didn’t score an offensive touchdown in a game for the first time since Nov. 29, 2014. But Patenaude believes the offense is close to a turnaround.
“I don’t think we’re far away at all,” Patenaude said. “I know that that’s hard to believe based on our performance the other night. …It’s a drop here, it was a missed assignment, it was a throw here, and then if we make a few of those plays, now we start to get a little positive traction, and it’s all about momentum. And we just couldn’t get any momentum.”