The absence of a second-string quarterback was the most noticeable deficiency on the football team’s two-deep roster at the end of summer camp. But the empty slot, which has since been filled by freshman Colin Clancy, overshadowed a team short-handed at numerous positions.
How short-handed? For two games, a true freshman was forced to start at outside linebacker, and this Saturday former starting strong safety Christian Dunbar will shift to right defensive end in place of injured starter Rodney Wormley.
Dunbar last played defensive end in a game in 2003. In his place at strong safety will be reinstated senior Justin Johnson, who was declared academically eligible on Monday.
No single factor can be blamed for the lack of serviceable reserves, coach Bobby Wallace said. A mass of problems caused the Owls to lose much of the experience on their bench.
“We’ve had a lot of issues and a lot of injuries,” Wallace said Tuesday at his weekly media luncheon. “I sat down last spring when spring training was over, and I would tell you that there are 23 players that were counted on to play for us that aren’t with us right now.”
Wallace named Tariq Sanders, Leigh Denman, Andrew Turner, Jermaine Hargraves, Philip Simpson and Travis Shelton as some of the players the Owls have lost for various reasons.
Last Saturday against Bowling Green, nickel back Delonne Wilbourn made his first career start, and it showed. The Falcons’ two starting wideouts, Charles Sharon and Steve Sanders, amassed 12 catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns combined. The Falcons one-upped last year’s thrashing of the Owls in Philadelphia with a 70-7 victory at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Wallace insisted he did not feel the defense was as bad as the scores indicate. Bowling Green’s last two scores came on a 53-yard interception return and a 79-yard punt return, respectively, and a special teams brain cramp two weeks ago allowed Western Michigan to return a blocked extra point for two points.
Even so, the Falcons and Broncos did combine for 10 touchdowns in addition to the offensive and special teams gaffes. On half of those drives, however, the opposing offense took over at the 50 yard line or closer.
“Our defense is just getting real short fields, not that they’re playing great because our third down conversion defense is terrible,” Wallace said. “But the net punting and the turnovers made the score balloon like it’s done before this year.”
The Owls defense has leaked like a sieve on third downs. Temple opponents are 41 for 66 on third down opportunities, a 62 percent success rate. Compounding that is the even more porous fourth down defense, which has allowed opponents to convert 6 of 8 fourth down attempts.
Wallace refused to attribute the horrible conversion defense to the thin bench. About 65 players suit up for away games, he said, leaving the Owls with enough able bodies.
“On third down pass defense, we just can’t make a play,” Wallace said. “We’ve got to have somebody step forward and make a play.”