Defensive unit’s struggles persist with mobile QBs

Opposing quarterbacks have rushed for 90 or more yards in the previous three games.

Freshman wide receiver Cortrelle Simpson stood in the backfield about five yards behind the center ready for the snap.

Simpson called out a cadence and then rushed for a few yards off the right side of the offensive line during last Tuesday’s practice at Chodoff Field.

As he had several times this year, the wide receiver ran scout-team quarterback for the Owls to help prepare for South Florida sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers, who came into Saturday’s game with 657 yards rushing.

“He helps out a lot,” said junior linebacker Jarred Alwan, the team’s second-leading tackler, after last Tuesday’s practice. “He’s probably better than some of the quarterbacks we’re going to play. … He’s fast. He’s quick too.”

Despite the use of Simpson to prepare for the speed of opposing quarterbacks, Temple’s defense had problems defending pass throwers who can also run with the football.

In Temple’s past three contests, the starting quarterbacks have totaled 696 yards passing, 335 yards rushing and eight total touchdowns.

“It’s always an issue,” defensive coordinator Phil Snow said. “Any time a quarterback runs the football, it adds an extra blocker.”

In Temple’s 44-23 loss to South Florida Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, Flowers ran 18 times for 90 yards and a touchdown.

It was the third time in a row this year an opposing quarterback rushed for more than 90 yards against Temple.

Last season, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who ran for 173 yards and two touchdowns, was the only quarterback to run for more than 50 yards against the Owls’ defense.

“It’s kind of difficult,” Alwan said. “The quarterback creates a whole‘nother gap for us.”

When Notre Dame, the then-No. 9 team in the AP Top 25 Poll, came to Lincoln Financial Field Oct. 31, Fighting Irish sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer completed 23-of-36 passes for 299 and one touchdown in addition to 143 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns.

In Temple’s 60-40 win against Southern Methodist Nov. 6, Mustangs’ junior quarterback Matt Davis had 167 yards passing and a passing touchdown, and he added 17 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown.

“At the end of the day I thought we were in position to make every tackle [against Southern Methodist],” coach Matt Rhule said last Tuesday. “[Davis] made some great runs, and we weren’t able to tackle in space. We have to tackle in space. Guys have to make that one-on-one tackle.”

Kizer broke away for a 79-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of Notre Dame’s 24-20 win against Temple after he faked a handoff to his running back.

Big plays like Kizer’s run have been common in recent weeks.

Flowers had a 68-yard touchdown pass and sophomore running back Marlon Mack had rushing touchdowns of 57 and 48 yards, respectively.

Davis had a 48-yard run, and a 30-yard touchdown pass.

“The biggest thing it does, option football, … is it puts everybody singled up,” Snow said last Tuesday. “So if one guy misses a tackle, it can be a big play.”

The Owls face redshirt-junior quarterback Paxton Lynch and Memphis Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. Lynch has 235 yards rushing this season. He had seven carries for -1 yards in Memphis’ 16-13 win against Temple last year.

Temple ends its season at home against Connecticut Nov. 28. Huskies’ redshirt-sophomore quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has 134 rushing attempts this season for 422 yards and three touchdowns.

The Owls, who current have a one-game lead over South Florida in The American’s East Division, could potentially face a mobile quarterback if they reach the conference championship game.

Navy and Houston, the two leaders in the West division, both have quarterbacks with more than 800 yards rushing this season—Reynolds for Navy and junior Greg Ward, Jr. for Houston.

Owen McCue can be reached at or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.

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