Offensive line struggles putting pressure on Temple’s defense

After trotting out its fifth different starting offensive line combination in as many games, Temple lost to Memphis in the 2022 conference opener.

Temple's offensive line sets up at the line of scrimmage in Temple's loss to Rutgers University on Sept. 17. ERIKA MONN | THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Football (2-3, 0-1 AAC) lost its conference opener to the University of Memphis (4-1, 2-0) 24-3 last Saturday. Through eight all-time matchups, neither program has beaten the other in consecutive contests. History indicated that Memphis was supposed to win the game because Temple won last year’s matchup. However, there were no signs that Temple’s offense would perform as badly as it did. 

For the second time in 2022, Temple’s offense was kept out of the endzone for a full game. The first time was during the Week 1 30-0 loss at Duke University (4-1, 1-0 ACC). In that game, neither the Owls’ offense nor defense played good football.  

The offense couldn’t move the ball and the defense could barely get Duke to third down situations. In the conference opener, Temple’s defense played as well as a coach could ask — holding Memphis to its first scoreless half since 2017 — before losing its stamina in the fourth quarter.  

Entering Week 5, Temple has scored seven touchdowns on seven red zone attempts this season. On the Owls’ second drive of the game against Memphis, a 78-yard pass to wide receiver Jose Barbon set the Owls up to go 8-for-8. However, the Owls failed to find the end zone on a fourth-down conversion at the Tigers’ four-yard line, marking the first time Temple did not score from inside the opposing 20-yard line this year.  

Barbon had a productive day for Temple, catching five passes for 134 yards. However, the redshirt senior didn’t produce much against Rutgers University (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) and the University of Massachusetts (1-4), totaling only a combined three catches for just 20 yards 

While Barbon played his best game of the season so far, quarterback E.J. Warner played his worst. The freshman completed 18 of his 37 pass attempts and threw three interceptions. Since his first appearance in Week 2 against Lafayette University (2-3, 1-0 Patriot League), Warner’s completion percentage has decreased in every game, while his interception totals have increased.  

Part of Warner’s struggles are due to consistently poor play from Temple’s offensive line. Through five games, the Owls have trotted out five different combinations, struggling to find continuity among the most important unit in a football team. Once again, the Owls displayed an inability to protect Warner or create rushing lanes for a team that still ranks last in the American Athletic Conference in total rushing, rendering the offense completely ineffective. 

On the other side of the ball, Temple’s defense has been firing on all cylinders. After tallying five sacks against Memphis, the Owls now have 20 sacks this season. Through five games, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot’s unit has three more sacks than Temple had in all of 2021 with previous coordinator Jeff Knowles.  

Defenses that are on the field too long eventually tire out, and that was the case last Saturday. Temple allowed all of Memphis’ 24 points in the fourth quarter, but the Owls’ defense cannot be blamed because the offense was 2-of-16 on third downs, which frequently sent them out on the field.  

“We gotta find a way to play complimentary football as a team,” said head coach Stan Drayton. “[The defense is] playing 89 plays compared to, whatever, 50-something-odd plays on offense. That’s just not a good formula.” 

Temple’s only points of the game came from a 47-yard field goal late in the second quarter from Camden Price, a graduate transfer from the University of Miami. Price replaced incumbent starting kicker Rory Bell to make Temple’s first field goal of the season. Bell, a sophomore, is 14-of-23 in his career, including 0-of-2 in 2022. 

Because of the bye week, Temple had 12 days between the Memphis and University of Central Florida (4-1, 1-0 AAC) games. Those 12 days should have been dedicated to scheming an offensive gameplan that focuses on quick passes and run-pass options. Temple needs to get the ball out of Warner’s hands quickly and keep defenses guessing long enough for lanes to open for Temple’s committee of running backs. 

Drayton’s rebuild hasn’t looked bad so far, but it won’t look any better this year or in 2023 without an offensive line. 

The Owls will kick off against UCF at 7 p.m. on Thursday. It will be Temple’s second nationally-televised game in 2022 and first time competing against one of the teams leaving The American for the Big 12 in 2023. 

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