Strong defensive play has been key throughout the Owls’ two-week shutout streak.
Usually it’s the football team’s offense that gets the attention. There’s the drama with the quarterback situation each year, and sophomore running back Bernard Pierce entered the year with a lot of hype surrounding him, with his team-sponsored website and his likeness on billboards throughout Philadelphia.
The offense has usually been the sexier storyline, but during the last two weeks, the defense has stolen the show with its first back-to-back shutouts since 1971. Granted, they came against Buffalo and Akron, teams that are a combined 2-15, but it’s an achievement nonetheless.
“I don’t think we could have done this in the last few years with the guys I’ve had. With all due respect, we’ve had a lot of good defensive players and good defenses, but at some point, they would have lost their focus,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “They wouldn’t have been able to hang in there for 42-0 in the fourth quarter last week, or they wouldn’t have been able to come back against a team if they saw that their record was 0-8. They would have felt good about themselves.”
D’Onofrio pretty much outlined the only concern this team really has at this point: complacency. It’s difficult to find things to critique when the team has posted back-to-back shutout and blowout wins, so the only thing to worry about is the team becoming content with its performance and lifting its foot off the gas.
And with their slate of November games coming up, the Owls can’t let up. The Mid-American Conference may not be the most threatening conference in college football, but the Owls’ final three opponents each bring something to the table that could give them trouble.
Next week’s opponent, Kent State, is probably the worst of the bunch with a 4-4 overall record, but the team has a 3-2 conference record and has a run-stopping defense very similar to Temple’s.
The following week’s home finale against Ohio is a huge game as well. Last year, the Bobcats beat the Owls, 35-17, to deny them a spot in the MAC title game. Right now, with their 4-2 conference record, the Bobcats are tied with the Owls in the MAC East Division standings.
Miami-Ohio, the Owls’ final regular season opponent, also boasts a 4-1 conference record, and the Owls barely defeated the RedHawks, 34-32, last year. Basically, if the Owls want to go dancing in Detroit for the MAC title, they can’t overlook any of these games.
The Owls have already gone flat after a stretch of two good games. After a good showing against Penn State and a win over Army, Temple played its worst football of the year and lost, 31-17, to Northern Illinois. The Huskies may be a decent team with a 7-2 record and a 5-0 MAC record, but when Temple scored wins against Connecticut, Army and held Penn State without a touchdown for three quarters, the team should have beaten Northern Illinois.
“I think we were all disappointed with the outcome at Northern Illinois,” D’Onofrio said. “I think we were more disappointed with the fact that we didn’t execute very well. I don’t think we played with passion or with the energy that we play defense with around here, and we challenged those guys after the game, and it’s about getting better everyday.”
The defense has shown some obvious improvement with the two previous shutouts, which will be important as this team will have the task of propping up an offense that has been good enough to win games, but hasn’t exactly been lighting things up. After all, it took an entire half for the Owls’ offense to score a touchdown against a winless Akron team. While it’s unreasonable to expect more shutouts from this unit, the defense can be expected to remain consistently good as the Owls enter their final stretch of games.
“I know things look good right now, but there’s still some stuff that if we don’t get it corrected, it could show up and get [us] beat down the road,” D’Onofrio said. “The [games] are not all going to be shutouts. [They]’re going to have to go punch-counterpunch down the stretch here. Someone is going to make a play on [them] and score. [They]’re gonna have to come out and make a big stop, and they’ve got to be ready to do that.”
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.