Football’s offense adapts with Armstead injured

Ten different players had carries in Saturday’s loss.

Redshirt-junior running back David Hood (right) gets tackled at Connecticut’s 1-yard line after an 11-yard gain in the first quarter of the Owls’ 28-24 homecoming loss on Oct. 17, 2017 at Lincoln Financial Field. | GENEVA HEFFERNAN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Ryquell Armstead didn’t spend practice taking handoffs or catching passes at Chodoff Field leading up to Temple’s game on Saturday against Connecticut.

Instead, the junior running back spent time in the training room at Edberg-Olson Hall getting treatment on a toe on his left foot.

Despite not taking any reps in practice, Armstead scored a touchdown and led the Owls with 31 rushing yards on nine carries in Temple’s (3-4, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) 28-24 homecoming loss at Lincoln Financial Field.

Armstead said he wasn’t going to play in the second half until redshirt-junior running back David Hood limped off the field in the third quarter.

“I just stepped up and played for my team,” said Armstead, who wore a walking boot on his left foot after the game.

“Ryquell was banged up the whole week,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “He gutted through it. … He actually ran well today. I thought he looked pretty good.”

Armstead set career highs last season with 919 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. But he hasn’t been able to stay healthy this season.

Through the first seven games in 2016, Armstead rushed for 403 yards and seven touchdowns. In Temple’s first seven games this season, he has 277 yards and one touchdown.

Coach Geoff Collins said Armstead was “banged up” after Temple’s game against the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 2. On Oct. 7 against East Carolina, Armstead only had four carries for three yards. Collins told reporters after the game that Armstead could barely walk in the days leading up to the game.

Five ball carriers had touches before Armstead got his first carry with less than five minutes left in the first quarter.  Ten different players had rushing attempts against UConn.

Collins said Temple didn’t expect Armstead to play against the Huskies.

Once he got in the game, Armstead began to feel more comfortable running the ball, he said.

Junior running back Ryquell Armstead scores a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter of Temple’s 28-24 loss to Connecticut on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. | GENEVA HEFFERNAN / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Armstead took the first play of the fourth quarter for a 10-yard touchdown run — his first of the season — to make it a one-possession game.

With junior running back Jager Gardner expected to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, the lack of running back depth forced the Owls to improvise.

“We’re down to essentially two tailbacks,” Collins said. “We had to move [redshirt sophomore Travon Williams] from receiver to tailback to try and give us some depth. We had to put [redshirt junior Rob Ritrovato] from fullback to tailback to try and give us some depth. So it’s interesting but you gotta manage it as best you can.”

Sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley, who took reps at running back during spring practices, rushed for seven yards on two carries.

He switched his uniform number from 18 to 23 in the preseason in case he had to play at the same time as redshirt-junior quarterback Frank Nutile, who wears No. 18.

Bradley rushed for 1,467 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at Rancocas Valley High School in South Jersey. He said the coaches gave him carries at running back to alleviate Armstead and Hood’s stress.

“I’m doing whatever I can to help the team win,” Bradley said. “So if that means having the ball in my hands, make plays, I’ll do whatever we need to do for us to win.”

Ritrovato had one carry for 14 yards after he had 14 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown against East Carolina. Hood picked up 29 yards on six carries and scored a touchdown. He also led the team in receiving with eight catches for 91 yards.

Temple’s offensive line suffered another blow in its loss to UConn. Redshirt-senior offensive lineman Leon Johnson left the game on a cart in the first half. Johnson will be evaluated by team doctors and undergo an X-ray examination this week, Collins said.

Redshirt-junior offensive linemen Jaelin Robinson and James McHale each played in place of Johnson at left tackle.

Redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Jovahn Fair, who left the game against the University of Massachusetts on Sept. 15 with an injury, has yet to return.

“That hurts us a lot,” Armstead said. “It’s hard trying to run the ball when you’re losing most of all your line and all of your backs are hurt, but…we’re just trying to keep it going.”

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