Defense enters homecoming football game ‘more confident’

In the last six quarters entering Saturday’s game against Connecticut at Lincoln Financial Field, the Owls have allowed 17 points.

Junior safety Delvon Randall tackles Villanova sophomore wide receiver Zac Kerxton in the third quarter of Temple's 16-13 win against Villanova on Sept. 9. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / FILE PHOTO

After Temple’s 49-16 loss in its season opener against the University Notre Dame, coach Geoff Collins said the defense’s “missed fits,” or inability to close gaps, contributed to the Fighting Irish’s 422-yard rushing performance.

The Owls again got thrashed for more than 300 yards on the ground on Sept. 21 against South Florida.

But in the past six quarters, Collins’ defense, which includes seven new starters, has held opponents to just 17 points. In last week’s 34-10 win against East Carolina, the Owls allowed just 34 rushing yards and intercepted a second-quarter pass by graduate quarterback Thomas Sirk. Collins said his defense has grown more comfortable with each game this season.

“They’ve settled down, gotten better, gotten more confident. …Last Saturday, we were down to three corners, and that’s not easy to do in a tempo environment, and I thought those guys played really really well,” Collins said.

Temple (3-3, 1-2, American Athletic Conference) will face a Connecticut (1-4, 0-3 The American) rushing attack that gains 143.2 yards per game on Saturday at noon at Lincoln Financial Field.   

The Huskies have three players with least 150 rushing yards. Redshirt-freshman running back Nate Hopkins leads the Huskies in rushing yards with 246, freshman running back Kevin Mensah has 182 and senior running back Arkeel Newsome has 153.

Though the Huskies are 1-4 and haven’t won since Aug. 31 against the College of Holy Cross, junior safety Delvon Randall said the Owls can’t overlook UConn.

“When you really look and study them, they can put up points. …They’re a good team, their quarterback is very good, their running backs are good, their receiver is good, they got good tight ends, the offensive line,” Randall said. “They’re a good team, so we gotta come and be ready to play.”

Collins said he faced UConn’s offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, while he held the same position at Auburn University from 2013-16. Auburn set a school record for total yards in 2014.

Collins said the Lashlee’s offense features a lot of motions, unconventional formations and tempo. Collins and Lashlee faced against each other on Oct. 11, 2014, while Collins was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State University. Auburn gained 232 rushing yards, but the Tigers lost to Mississippi State 38-23. Collins’ defense also forced four turnovers against Auburn.

This season, the Huskies average 325.8 passing yards per game, which ranks 12th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

“There’s a lot of challenges with what they present on offense,” Collins said. “I think Rhett Lashlee is a great offensive coordinator. …He does a great job calling the game.”

Injury notes

Junior running back Ryquell Armstead has been dealing with an undisclosed injury, though he was seen on campus with a boot on his left foot last week. Redshirt-junior running back David Hood started against East Carolina in place of Armstead, who carried the ball four times for three yards. Collins said Armstead is “trying to make sure that he’s taking care of his body and putting him in a position to play,” but the team has contingency plans in case he can’t play.

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