STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — After Temple beat Villanova with 301 rushing yards to open the season, the Owls showed they had the ability to utilize their playmakers and win with the power-run game. When they came out against Maryland the next week, they showed that they had the ability to throw for 178 yards when the running game wasn’t working. After losing at Penn State on Saturday, the Owls showed that they really haven’t decided what they can, or want, to do on offense.
Temple threw for 124 yards and ran for 113 more against the Nittany Lions. However, for much of the entire game, the Owls had been held to 59 yards through the air, and managed to get 65 yards and their only touchdown on their last drive.
Redshirt-junior quarterback Chris Coyer finished the game completing 50 percent of his passes for 124 yards, but with numerous missed opportunities. He overthrew junior tight end Cody Booth, who was wide open in the end zone, early in the second quarter.
Overthrowing open receivers, coupled with dropped passes, are mistakes the team cannot afford if they want to be successful at this level.
“We had the opportunity to make some plays that we didn’t make,” coach Steve Addazio said. “In that kind of game we need to make those plays. When you need to throw the ball more and you don’t throw and catch properly, you are behind the clock. That’s the liability of that stuff.”
While he did miss some open receivers, neither Coyer nor Addazio placed the passing inefficiencies entirely on Coyer’s shoulders.
“We need to throw and catch with a much more consistent basis,” Addazio said. “That’s a positive [that receivers are open], the negative is that we just didn’t make the play.”
“We definitely had some struggles in the passing game,” Coyer said. “I need to throw it better, and we need to catch it better. That’s really all there is to it.”
While dropped passes and missed opportunities are a concern, the bigger issue is that the Owls haven’t decided if they want to run the ball behind Coyer, or utilize senior Matt Brown and fifth-year senior Montel Harris. With Harris returning from a hamstring injury, he and Brown both saw significant time for the first time.
“Having both of us in the game is a great combination,” Harris said. “You want to put as many playmakers on the field and that’s what we are trying to do so we can make plays and score points.”
Temple has the talent to stretch the field on any team they play. With Brown, Harris and sophomores Jalen Fitzpatrick and Kenny Harper, the team has the speed to compensate for the size it lacks. Aside from Coyer, Harper possesses the most size of the offensive weapons, weighing in at 225 pounds.
Coyer doesn’t need to throw the ball for 300 yards a game, but teams need to think he can, and be afraid of putting seven or eight players in the box.
The Owls have said all season that their identity will be running the football. Both Maryland and Penn State have proved that they know that and want to shut it down. Without success running the football, the identity hasn’t been established.
“I think we [have an identity],” Addazio said. “Our identity is real simple. We are going to run a power-run game and we are going to run option football and throw the quick game and take some play-action strikes down the field. That’s kind of who we are and what we want to do.”
The offensive strategy thus far has allowed teams to crowd the line of scrimmage, opening up deep passes downfield. Teams are going to dare the Owls to throw the ball deep and beat them in the air, and until Coyer and his receivers can get on the same page and punish teams with the deep ball, the running game will continue to be stifled.
The team has another bye week before it begins conference play. Now that the Owls are in the Big East Conference, teams will outsize them on a weekly basis. If the Owls can make a commitment to running the football and executing play action passes for big yards, they will keep defenses honest. If they can’t, their identity crisis could give them an uphill battle as they take on conference opponents.
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.