Better than the Bucs

A veteran linebacker corps sets the bar high for the Owls’ defense.

The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers featured a dynamic defense that helped carry the team to a Super Bowl victory

Players such as Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and John Lynch helped anchor the unit, which ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed per game and points allowed per game, while also forcing 38 turnovers.

The Bucs’ defense was the standard the Owls’ defensive group set for itself last season.

“In the beginning of the season last year, they showed us the old Buccaneers and they scored nine touchdowns,” redshirt-junior linebacker Avery Williams said. “So we said we we’re going to work to beat that. We are going to be the best defense in the country.”

Williams and his defensive teammates came close to filling their touchdown quota in 2014. The Owls forced their opponents to turn the ball over 30 times and converted those opportunities into six defensive touchdowns, tied for second most in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Unlike its NFL counterpart, Temple was not hoisting a trophy at the end of its season. Despite the impressive defensive statistics and a 6-6 record, the Owls were not invited to a bowl game.

“I just remember that feeling when coach [Matt] Rhule addressed the team and seeing everyone get down after all the hard work we put in,” senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. “Me and the seniors said we are never going to let that happen again and that has been the fire inside me.”

Matakevich, a captain, was the leader of the defense last season. He recorded 100 tackles for the third consecutive season. Matakevich also received first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors, accumulating 117 tackles  including 10.5 tackles for loss.

The linebacker has been put on the pre-season watch list for several awards including the Butkus Award for college football’s best linebacker and the Chuck Bednarik Award for best defensive player.

Rhule said he expects Matakevich to step up his level of play to new heights in his senior season.

“He has to dominate,” Rhule said. “He has to take over games. He’s got to suffocate the opposing offense. He has to be a factor on every play.”

Redshirt-senior Nate D. Smith and Williams joined Matakevich as starters at linebacker last season. Smith collected 71 tackles, trailing only Matakevich in that category for the team lead.

Williams, who missed three games due to injury, totaled 35 tackles last season and finished the season with seven tackles in each of the Owls’ last two games. The Baltimore, Maryland native has made the change from inexperienced to veteran this offseason.

“Last year, I was the young guy,” Williams said. “I was a new starting linebacker and Tyler had to show me so much. Now I feel all the knowledge Tyler showed me can be passed on to all the young guys.”

Redshirt-junior Stephaun Marshall provided versatility at linebacker for the Owls last season. He split five starts between both outside linebacker positions and played in all 12 of the team’s games.

Returning to the linebacker corps is redshirt junior Rob Dvoracek, who missed all of last season due to an infection that complicated his recovery from a knee injury suffered in 2013. He tallied 21 tackles in eight games when he last played in 2013.

With the addition of Dvoracek, the Owls have six veteran linebackers heading into camp.

“No one has a set position,” Williams said. “So when camp comes around everyone is going to be battling and that is going to build team morale and it’s going to make us better as a unit.”

Owen McCue can be reached at or on Twitter @Owen_McCue

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