As Temple’s offense racked up four first-half touchdowns against Stony Brook University, the team’s leading rusher last season watched from the sideline.
Senior running back Jahad Thomas, in full uniform on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, sat out for the second straight game with a dislocated thumb.
“I wish he was out there with us at this time, especially last week, and especially this week because I want him to enjoy this win as much as we did, and I think he is,” senior quarterback Phillip Walker said. “He’s still rooting for us, and helping us on the sideline. He’s talking to the running backs.”
The running backs who played in Thomas’ place helped the team accrue 177 yards rushing and two touchdowns in a 38-0 win against the Seawolves. The Owls averaged 4.5 yards per carry and gained 58.8 percent of their total yards on the ground.
Sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead, who started for the second straight week in Thomas’ place, led the Owls with 14 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown. Eight different players carried the ball for Temple, including freshman Isaiah Wright.
Coach Matt Rhule intended to get Wright, who was recruited as a wide receiver, into the game against Army, but did not. He made sure that he and offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas got Wright touches Saturday. Wright finished as the team’s second-leading rusher Saturday, carrying the ball seven times for 42 yards.
He got three straight carries with four minutes, 20 seconds left in the first quarter, taking the ball 25 yards from the Seawolves’ 30-yard line to the 5-yard line to set up a touchdown pass to Keith Kirkwood.
Wright’s play impressed Armstead, who also saw time as a true freshman last season.
“He brings a lot that I see in myself,” Armstead said. “He’s a great back and he showcased it today. He’s just gotta get some more confidence, and he’ll be a great back for us.”
“Isaiah is somebody that I just want to take under my wing and really help so he can be the best that he can be,” Armstead added.
Redshirt-freshman wide receiver Cortrelle Simpson, who often plays scout team quarterback when the team is preparing for an option-style offense, also contributed to the rushing attack. His 36-yard run on an end around, coupled with a personal foul penalty, moved the ball into the red zone to set up Armstead’s tie-breaking touchdown in the first quarter. Simpson finished with 40 yards rushing on the day.
Rotating running backs helped Temple keep its players well-rested on a hot day and kept Stony Brook’s defense guessing.
“All of our running backs know what to do, we were fresh out there just rotating us in and out,” said sophomore running back Jager Gardner, who had four carries for 15 yards. “It’s like a five-headed bull.”
“It’s hard for the defense to key on one person, so I mean getting us in and out of there like that I mean it’s hard for the defense to get to us,” Gardner added.
After beating Football Championship Subdivision opponent Stony Brook, the Owls face a bigger test on the road against in-state rival Penn State. The running back rotation could change depending on player availability.
“It kind of depends on Jahad [Thomas]. … I thought Jager [Gardner] ran the ball well, [redshirt-sophomore running back David Hood] got some yards,” Rhule said. “We got a bunch of guys who can run the football so I think it kind of depends on who’s healthy and who’s not.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.