Sharif Finch has gained 30 pounds, but he’s still fast.
Moving from inside linebacker to defensive end in the offseason, the sophomore has joined a group that many defensive players cited as the biggest change from 2013 to this fall.
“We’re really fast off the edge,” Finch said. “Having the speed to get past offensive tackles helped me a lot with my transition to linebacker. Once you get past them, you flip your hips and get to the quarterback, it’s been a lot easier.”
“Sharif has a nose for the ball,” junior defensive captain Tyler Matakevich said. “He’s tremendous off the edge, his athletic ability has been really key to our success.”
The unit, comprised of returning contributors in redshirt-junior defensive tackle Hershey Walton and junior defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, welcomed the additions of Finch and redshirt-junior defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike, who was not on the roster last season due to a sexual assault investigation, the charges from which were dropped in October 2013.
For defensive coordinator Phil Snow, the defensive front’s youth is the most exciting part of the new year.
“The beauty of all of this is that we only have one senior that’s playing,” Snow said. “We’ve got a lot of these guys back and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Snow, who has coached at the NFL and collegiate levels, said he is optimistic about the time he will have to work with his defensive line.
“In college football you can take an 18-year-old and if you can get him for four years of coaching, it’s amazing what you can do with them,” Snow said. “[The key is] to be detailed and coach them hard.”
Snow’s defense entered its bye week ranked in the Top 5 in defensive scoring and in the Top 20 in total defense.
Walker gains ground
Despite a promising performance in 2013, sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker had appeared to regress early in 2014.
Prior to last Saturday’s game against Connecticut, Walker averaged 191.3 yards per game through Temple’s first three contests, roughly 40 yards fewer than his 2013 average.
Behind Walker, the offense has struggled to get in rhythm early, managing an average of two offensive touchdowns in the first half.
Despite the struggles to get an early advantage on the offensive side of the ball, Walker managed to bounce back against UConn, as he was responsible for two touchdowns while completing a season-high 69 percent of his passes by the end of the game.
Walker said he believes the change in production is a result of playing with less anxiety.
“I’ve been playing tense for the past few games,” Walker said. “I felt like I needed to just go out there and execute and work hard.”
Walker also noted that the offense as a whole hasn’t been clicking early in games.
“We came out flat [against UConn],” Walker said. “We have to overcome that as a team and as an offense.”
Gilmore rises to occasion
Jamie Gilmore knew he’d see the field, he just wasn’t sure how.
The junior running back entered camp behind starter Kenny Harper and splitting repetitions with sophomore Zaire Williams.
However, following a promising performance during training camp, Gilmore solidified his spot in the Owls’ committee of running backs.
“I know I’ll be on the field,” Gilmore said during camp. “I just have to be sure to bring something else to the team.”
Gilmore now leads the team in rushing yards with 144, as well as all running backs with 29 carries, one shy of Walker.
The Owls have also featured senior running back Kenny Harper as well as sophomore tailback Jahad Thomas in the backfield, both with more than 20 carries apiece. The backfield has also featured shifty freshman running back David Hood, who has 11 carries for 62 yards thus far.
Hood’s carries, all of which took place during the fourth quarter in Temple’s 59-0 win on Sept. 20 against Delaware State with the second-team offense, have proven to be the most productive.
While mainly against second-team defenses, Hood has averaged a team-high 5.6 yards per carry in the two games he’s seen action against Delaware State and UConn.
Owls shift focus to Tulsa
Coming off the heels of their bye week, the Owls have set their sights on their Saturday homecoming match-up against Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricanes, who run an up-tempo offense, look to challenge the conditioning of the Temple defense.
“[Tulsa] is going to be our first real challenge I think,” Matakevich said. “We have to be ready for their tempo too. They’re a very fast-paced offense.”
After a week off, Matakevich is eager to get back on the field.
“I know these guys can’t wait,” Matakevich said. “We were itching at it this whole past weekend. The whole week we were getting ready for Tulsa.”
Tulsa enters the game with a 1-4 record but ranks No. 30 in passing offense among all Division I Football Bowl Subdivision teams – 54 spots better than Temple.
EJ Smith can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @ejsmitty17