As the Temple Owls were locked into a 7-7 game against the Lafayette Leopards with seven minutes and 53 seconds remaining in the second quarter, head coach Stan Drayton gave true freshman quarterback E.J. Warner the nod.
As Warner trotted onto the field, he took command of an offense that lacked consistency through the five quarters with redshirt-sophomore quarterback D’Wan Mathis under center. What came next was a five minute and 13 second drive that took the Owls 83 yards, capped off by a Warner touchdown pass to redshirt-freshman wide receiver Ian Stewart.
Temple University (1-1, 0-0 The American Athletic Conference) defeated Lafayette College (1-1, 0-0 The Patriot League) 30-14 on Sept. 10 at Lincoln Financial Field. Temple was able to control play behind 146 total yards on the ground and a run defense that only allowed 27 yards to Lafayette’s running backs.
“I’m really excited about our guys handling the pressures within the game,” Drayton said. “I think our defense played some really good football.”
The Owls began the game with some key mistakes. Mathis fumbled the ball on Temple’s second and fourth drives while he also threw an incompletion that led to a turnover on downs with three minutes and 53 seconds left on the third drive.
Mathis exited the game after only completing three of eight passes for 42 yards, earning a 81.6 quarterback rating to go along with zero rushing yards on five attempts and two fumbles lost. Mathis has fumbled the ball four times this season, surrendering three.
“There’s nothing in a winning formula that says you gotta turn the ball over four times,” Drayton said.
Warner, son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, stepped in and took the reins of the offense finishing the first half completing four of six passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. However, each of the four completions were quick out of his hands and led the receivers directly in stride.
Temple’s rushing attack did not skip a beat throughout all four quarters, but it was the occasional lapse in quality playcalling that led to a tie game after the first quarter. Drayton’s offense was running read-options in third and short situations and did not trust the run early on.
Once redshirt-sophomore Darvon Hubbard, redshirt-junior Jakari Norwood and redshirt-sophomore Edward Saydee got the bulk of the touches, Temple’s more physical offensive line paved the way for quality ball movement. Outside of a Hubbard fumble on Temple’s first drive in the second half, the Owls’ rushing ability, alongside Warner’s efficiency, were the main catalysts for Temple’s victory.
On the defensive side of the ball, redshirt-junior linebacker Jacob Hollins, redshirt-sophomore linebacker Jordan Magee and redshirt-junior outside linebacker Layton Jordan imposed their will on the Leopards. They prevented the Leopards from rushing the ball up the middle and pressured freshman quarterback Ryan Schuster nearly every time he dropped back.
“They’re playing fast,” Drayton said. “They’ve all bought in.”
Jordan finished the game with 2.5 sacks while Hollins and Magee combined for 12 tackles as a linebacker duo.
Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver De’Von Fox also had three punt blocks during the game, setting up Temple for two of their touchdowns and forcing one safety late in the fourth quarter.
Temple’s defense played faster than Lafayette, a concept expected when an FBS team faces off against an FCS squad.
In the secondary, redshirt-freshman cornerback Jalen McMurray followed up a solid performance at Duke University (2-0, 0-0 The Atlantic Coast Conference) in Temple’s 30-0 loss with another steady showing. Although Lafayette’s Schuster would find junior tight end Mason Gilbert for a touchdown one play later, McMurray broke up the pass, preventing a score on the Leopards’ first drive out of the half.
While he is not the biggest defensive back, his speed and composure in coverage is a big reason why he was named a single-digit number earner in August.
As the game went on, the Owls settled into a more complete team, missing less assignments and making smarter plays. Warner also found his groove in the game, finishing with 173 yards and two touchdowns through the air. On the other hand, Schuster began making plays in the third as well, finding sophomore wide receiver Chris Carasia for back-to-back completions before turning the ball over on downs.
Warner’s rapport with graduate student wide receiver Jose Barbon allowed for the receiver to catch eight balls for 118 yards. Barbon, Mathis’ favorite target, made several big catches this game including a 29-yard catch down the right sideline that set up a Hubbard score in the first quarter. The same play was replicated with Warner under center in the third quarter, leading to a completion of 22 yards down the same sideline.
“He did not seem like a true freshman to me,” said graduate student offensive tackle Isaac Moore. “E.J. really stepped up today.”
Temple will face off against Rutgers University (1-0, 0-0 The Big Ten Conference) on Sept. 17 at Lincoln Financial Field for their homecoming game.