The football team’s season has reached halftime, folks.
With the Homecoming victory over Northern Illinois marking the sixth of 12 games for the Owls, the scoreboard reads Opponents 5, Temple 1.
The Owls have fought valiantly in all of their games, save the 42-7 debacle against Buffalo, but have dropped some games in frustrating fashion.
The game against Connecticut immediately comes to mind, as a potential game-winning touchdown reception by junior wide receiver Bruce Francis was ruled incomplete and the Owls dropped the game, 22-17. The controversial call, as many thought Francis dragged his foot inbounds and maintained possession, was upheld by replay officials.
Turnovers have hurt the Owls in their quest for wins. Two turnovers in the third quarter during the Bowling Green game, in which the Owls fell, 48-35, led directly to 14 points for the Falcons. That put the Owls in a large hole and shifted the momentum of the game.
The next week, Army forced five turnovers, including a fumble in Temple’s end zone to help ground the Owls.
Special teams, an area that has needed special attention all season for the Owls, also played a huge role in the loss to Army. Army opened the scoring with an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Black Knights also tacked on an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown later in the game.
Temple’s special teams have made other teams look very special.
Averaging just 3.8 yards per punt return and just over 18 yards on kick returns, the Owls haven’t been very productive. Throw in the two touchdown returns at Army and kick return specialist Travis Shelton’s costly fumble at Bowling Green and the special teams have been extremely ordinary.
Still, the offense has improved in bunches since last season. Quarterback Adam DiMichele has established himself as the leader of this offense. He set a new career-high in completions and touchdowns in a game this season, while showing off his scrambling ability and buying time in the pocket.
Junior wide receiver Bruce Francis has emerged as the top receiving threat, with 24 receptions for 391 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore running back Jason Harper, who rushed for a career-high 118 yards against Connecticut, has become the main rusher with 322 yards on 95 carries.
Freshman Daryl Robinson found a groove at running back against Northern Illinois, rushing for 71 yards on 14 carries for a 5.1 yard average. He opened the season with a touchdown versus Navy in his first collegiate game.
So, the team has had its bright spots.
Yet despite the improvements, turnovers and costly mistakes are still being made. Seventeen turnovers – nine fumbles and eight interceptions – in six games have put the Owls’ defense in compromising positions all season.
Yes, opponents average a shade more than 32 points a game versus Temple, but overall the defense has been stout. Opponents convert just 35 percent of their third-down opportunities against the defense. And the defense is ranked second in the conference in total defense.
Red-shirt sophomore safety Dominique Harris leads the team in total tackles with 49, while freshman Amara Kamara is second with 41 stops.
Sophomore defensive tackle Andre Neblett has been a menace in the middle, with 4.5 tackles for loss and a team-leading four sacks. The man next to Neblett, junior defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, has also been a major factor with three tackles for loss, three sacks and three fumble recoveries, including his 66-yard rumble for a touchdown against Northern Illinois.
Junior defensive back Georg Coleman has two interceptions to lead the team.
The Owls need to pick up some consistency in the second half of the season, if they look to complete their goal since the start of pre-season: winning the MAC title.
The goal is still attainable, though it’s an uphill battle.
But the special teams have to become more of a help than a hindrance, the offense needs to capitalize on opportunities, and the defense needs to keep up its play.
If that happens, perhaps the Owls can make a serious run.
Terrance McNeil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.