Football team looks to get Ventell Bryant more touches

The redshirt-junior has seven catches for 57 yards in his last four games, but the Owls will face the worst passing defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision on Saturday against UConn.

Ventell Bryant makes a catch during the Owls' 45-20 win against Southern Methodist during his redshirt-sophomore season in 2016. Bryant led the Owls in receiving in 2016, but he has seven catches for 57 yards in Temple's last four games. | PATRICK CLARK / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Coach Geoff Collins pulled Logan Marchi aside to talk to him immediately after the play.

The redshirt-sophomore quarterback ran to his right looking for an open receiver on Temple’s (3-3, 1-2 American Athletic Conference) second drive in the first quarter on Saturday against East Carolina (1-5, 1-2 The American). He unsuccessfully tried to thread a ball through traffic and threw a red-zone interception — his seventh of the year.

Marchi rebounded to finish the day with two touchdowns and a career-high 321 passing yards. He completed passes of 25 yards or longer to five different receivers. But Ventell Bryant, last year’s leading receiver, didn’t factor much into the Owls’ 34-10 win.

The redshirt-junior wideout had seven catches for 79 yards in his season debut against Villanova on Sept. 9. In the four games since, Bryant has seven catches for 57 yards. He had one catch for five yards against the Pirates. Of the Owls’ four receivers who have been targeted at least 25 times, Bryant has the fewest yards per catch.

Collins said sometimes the quarterbacks’ coverage read dictates that the ball goes to a certain receiver even if Bryant is open. On one play, senior wide receiver Adonis Jennings caught a pass down the left sideline, but Bryant beat his defender by seven yards, Collins said. Temple is looking to get him more touches on Saturday against Connecticut (1-4, 0-3 The American).

“His catches will come,” Collins said. “The big thing with him and he’s doing a good job, ‘Don’t get frustrated, keep working as hard as you are. The ball is going to come, and just keep winning your one-on-one battles and then the ball will be there.’ So we’re trying to find different ways to be creative to get him the ball, but a lot of times the coverage and the rotation dictates where to go with the football.”

After surpassing 300 passing yards for the first time in his career, Marchi will face a Connecticut defense that allows the most passing yards per game in the Football Bowl Subdivision on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Huskies’ only win this season came against the College of the Holy Cross, a Football Championship Series school, in their season opener on Aug. 31. Connecticut hasn’t beaten an FBS team in more than a year. The Huskies are 0-10 against FBS teams since their win against Cincinnati on Oct. 8, 2016. The stretch includes a 21-0 loss to Temple on Nov. 4, 2016. Bryant led Temple with four catches for 82 yards.

Connecticut uses a 3-3 stack defense, a formation with three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs, redshirt-sophomore wideout and running back Travon Williams said. The Owls faced a similar defense against Villanova, so it’s like they’re “taking a test twice,” Williams said.

In addition to their passing success against East Carolina, the Owls ran for a season-high 179 yards. The run game helped the passing attack, Williams said.

“You can’t play eight deep,” he said. “Now, you’ve got to be in the box go one-on-one and one-on-one with our receivers, [and] 80 percent of the time we’re going to go get the ball.”

Last season, Bryant had 54 catches for four touchdowns and 895 yards, which ranked fourth in The American. Despite only playing in 11 of Temple’s 14 games, Bryant led Owls’ receivers in targets with 91. The next closest receiver, redshirt senior Keith Kirkwood, had 67.

After being targeted an average of more than eight times per game last season, Bryant has been targeted 5.2 times per game this year. The Owls returned their top three receiving leaders from 2016, and underclassmen have emerged.

Sophomore wideout Isaiah Wright leads the team in receiving with 21 catches for 338 yards. He had eight catches for 74 yards as a freshman. Sophomore wideout Randle Jones, who returned seven kickoffs last season but was never targeted as a receiver, had a 45-yard catch during a second-quarter touchdown drive against East Carolina. Jones and redshirt-freshman wide receiver Freddie Johnson have received more snaps on offense because they’ve played well on special teams, Collins said.

Marchi entered the game against East Carolina with a 42.6 completion percentage and six interceptions in two games against opponents in The American. On Tuesday when he reflected on the interception he threw against the Pirates, Marchi said he has to “throw the ball away and take the field goal” in similar situations.

He is focusing on throwing to the open receiver, but he wants to get Bryant more involved.

“Ventell is a great player,” Marchi said. “So any time you can get him the ball, that’s what we’re trying to do. And his time is coming so we’re going to get him the ball this week, and we’re going to get all the receivers the ball this week.”

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