Temple University football’s (3-3, 1-1 The American Athletic Conference) first six games have been a whirlwind of offensive inconsistency and glimpses of untapped potential en route to a .500 start to begin the season.
Simply stated, Temple did not play well against its better opponents, and is just scraping by against its weaker opponents.
Week-to-week inconsistency has defined Temple’s season so far. The team’s failure to string together consecutive wins stems from a lack of versatility on offense and a weak run defense. If the Owls hope to be bowl-eligible, they need to stem the alternating win-loss trend they’ve established so far this year.
The Owls are coming off their bye week and are now preparing to take on the University of South Florida on the road on Oct. 23, which begins a key six-game stretch of conference matchups.
Temple is sitting at sixth place out of The American’s 11 teams and maintains a 1-1 conference record after recording a win against the University of Memphis and a loss to the University of Cincinnati.
The Owls have outscored teams 120 to 62 in their three wins this season, but were outscored 141 to 20 in their three losses. Temple’s offensive firepower has been near non-existent against better competition, but the team looked solid in its win against Memphis.
Offensively, some key players have been hurt for stretches, leading to a mix of weapons being utilized by redshirt-freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis and co-offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Mike Uremovich.
Graduate student receiver Randle Jones, who caught seven passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns against the University of Akron on Sept. 11, has not played since week three against Boston College on Sept. 18 due to a knee injury but is expected to return against the Bulls on Saturday.
Redshirt-junior receiver Jadan Blue has also been in and out of the lineup with an upper body ailment, and redshirt-sophomore tight end David Martin-Robinson suffered a shoulder injury in the first game which required surgery and is doubtful to return this season.
These injuries put a spotlight on redshirt-sophomore receivers Jose Barbon and Amad Anderson Jr., who have been Mathis’ key targets during the past four games. Barbon leads the team in receiving yards with 325 and has 26 catches, while Anderson Jr. has 14 catches for 210 yards.
Temple also dealt with a key injury to Mathis, the team’s starting quarterback, who dealt with an ankle issue during the season opener at Rutgers on Sept. 4, a game the Owls lost 61-14. Freshman quarterback Justin Lynch replaced Mathis and went 1-1 as a starter, throwing for 255 yards and two touchdowns against Akron in a 45-24 victory. Yet, in its home-opener a week later, Temple lost 28-3 to Boston College, and Lynch struggled throughout the game.
The offense revolves around a balanced attack with a running back-by-committee approach, and using option plays to utilize Mathis’ scrambling ability.
Temple uses end-around pitch plays and quick motions to catch defenses off-guard. The offensive line has been questionable, forcing Mathis and Lynch to get rid of the ball quickly, which has eliminated deep-play threats.
Redshirt-freshman running back Edward Saydee has seen the most action out of the backfield, with 211 yards on the ground and 87 yards receiving. Redshirt-sophomore running back Kyle Dobbins scored his first three career touchdowns against Wagner College on Sept. 25.
On the defensive side of the ball, Temple’s three main position groups have had three varying results through six games.
The Owls have the ninth-best pass defense in all of FBS, which is led by transfer cornerbacks junior Keyshawn Paul and redshirt-junior Cameron Ruiz who are mitigating the passing attacks of opposing teams so far.
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Knowles trusts his cornerbacks in man-to-man defense, a trust that has produced winning matchups. Temple has also utilized nickel-and-dime packages featuring five to six defensive backs on the field at a time, with safeties graduate student Amir Tyler, redshirt-freshman M.J. Griffin and freshman Alex Odom all getting the majority of playing time.
The defensive line and linebackers have not had the same success as the secondary so far. Temple is giving up 187.8 rushing yards per game and has allowed 16 rushing touchdowns.
On Oct. 2, the Owls defeated the Tigers 34-31, and fans saw Mathis’ skills on display and a defense able to force turnovers.
“We’re finally doing what we do in practice,” Mathis said post-game. “You guys finally got to see it.”
But this performance was followed by an abysmal display the following week against the Bearcats, the now No. 2 ranked team in the nation. Temple lost 52-3 behind Cincinnati senior quarterback Desmond Ridder’s 259 passing yards and three touchdowns. It was the Owls’ second three-point performance this season, the first coming against Boston College.
“We have to coach better and they have to play better,” said head coach Rod Carey following the game.
After their crushing defeat, the bye week could not have come at a more beneficial time for the Owls, giving the team time to recuperate and prepare for their six remaining games.
With a defensive end leading the team in interceptions, four different rushing leaders in the first four games and a combined first-quarter deficit of 60-7, Temple football has had a dysfunctional start to the year.
Key games down the stretch include home matchups against the University of Houston and Navy at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Everything counts,” Paul said. “Every little thing counts.”