Through its first two games and the first half against Penn State, Temple’s offense struggled to find its identity.
The Owls’ offensive philosophy of lining up and trying to outmuscle their opponents just didn’t fit the personnel on Temple’s roster and as a result, Temple ranked No. 124 out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in yards per game heading into the Penn State game on Sept. 17.
“We realized, ‘OK, we’ve got a lot of good players, let’s use them,’” coach Matt Rhule said the week after a 34-27 loss to Penn State. “We’re trying to utilize the backs, we’re trying to utilize the wideouts in a way to make people defend more field. … We trust our players.”
The change has worked.
After averaging 276 yards per game in the team’s first two games, Temple’s offense is averaging nearly 400 yards of offense in its last three contests. They’ve put up more than 40 points in their past two wins, including Saturday’s 45-20 win against Southern Methodist.
“It’s just us trusting in each other and the coaches going out there and believing in us and giving us opportunities to make plays,” senior quarterback Phillip Walker said. “We told the coaches we want them to trust us and that’s what they’ve been doing.”
A sudden explosion of big plays has helped Temple’s offense.
In the team’s first three games, Temple had three plays of 30 or more yards — a 36-yard run by redshirt-freshman wide receiver Cortrelle Simpson, a 32-yard catch by redshirt-senior tight end Colin Thompson and a 67-yard catch by redshirt-senior tight end Romond Deloatch.
After having three pass plays of 40 or more yards against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte a week prior, Temple broke off five plays of 30 or more yards against Southern Methodist. Sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead had three of them on his way to a 159-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance.
“There’s so many guys that were always capable of making plays, just giving them the opportunity to make the plays,” Walker said. “Putting the ball in their area, letting them make big plays and big catches or whether it’s handing the ball off.”
The Owls don’t have a shortage of players with big play ability. Six different receivers have catches of 40 or more yards this season. Senior running back Jahad Thomas and Armstead both have six touchdowns on the season. Both scored two on Saturday.
The key in the offensive turnaround has been finding a way to use them. Rhule tried to ignite the offense on Saturday by putting dynamic freshman wide receiver Isaiah Wright in the wildcat formation. Wright had two carries for 10 yards on the Owls’ first scoring drive.
The Owls have also tried things like using Armstead and Thomas on the field at the same time in two-back sets, and running run-pass options with Walker, or moving Deloatch around the field.
“Because we know that coach is 100 percent behind us and he’s letting us play football, now we don’t have to think and worry about messing up,” said Wright, who finished Saturday’s game with seven carries for 23 yards. “It’s just leading to effective play.”
Rather than trying to stick with a particular offensive style, Rhule said his team continues to adapt throughout the game.
On Saturday, Southern Methodist tried to take the run away, and the Owls tossed it over their heads. Walker connected with Ventell Bryant for a 42-yard touchdown pass.
Then, the Mustangs adjusted to protect against the deep ball. That’s when Armstead and Thomas went to work. The pair of backs combined for 239 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday. Armstead rushed for 95 of the team’s 139 yards in the second half.
“We’re just going to take what people give us,” Rhule said.
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.