Old issues follow Temple into a new loss

Despite four quarters of good football, Temple’s defense fell into a bad habit at the worst possible time.


Temple Football (2-6, 0-4 American Athletic Conference) lost a 27-20 overtime battle on Saturday against the United States Naval Academy (3-5, 3-3 The American). In Temple’s first overtime game since an October 2018 upset against then 20th-ranked University of Cincinnati, the Owls let a season-long issue cement their defeat.

Since Temple began conference play, the coaching staff has highlighted the Owls’ lack of discipline when defending the run. Temple’s front seven struggles to consistently fill gaps, leaving open run lanes that often lead to explosive plays for opposing running backs. On Navy’s overtime touchdown, the Owls missed a gap assignment and cost themselves a chance to secure its first conference win of 2022.

“[Another] missed assignment,” said chief of staff Everett Withers, who took over coaching duties for Stan Drayton, who was out all week with a viral infection. “When you play a triple-option offense, they eventually work through a sequence of plays that will eventually get to the play that they like the best.”

Temple’s defense played a great game. Navy, as expected, ran the ball on 70 of its 72 offensive plays. The Midshipmen rushed for only 224 yards, averaging 3.2 yards per carry. For an Owls team that allowed 299 rushing yards on 6.5 yards per carry in last week’s loss against the University of Tulsa, Saturday Temple defense’s performed well like they have all season.

Linebackers redshirt sophomore Jordan Magee, redshirt sophomore Yvandy Rigby and sophomore D.J. Woodbury all had career-highs in tackles for the Owls.

However, the first half was far from productive for the Owls’ offense as they trailed 13-3 at halftime. Temple’s first five possessions ended in three consecutive three-and-outs, a muffed punt by redshirt junior wide receiver Amad Anderson Jr. and an interception. 

Temple’s pass catchers had rough days all around. The team had five drops, including a drop by redshirt freshman receiver Malik Cooper that led to true freshman quarterback E.J. Warner’s first interception. A drop by sophomore tight end James Della Pesca in the third quarter cost the Owls a chance to capitalize on momentum and take its first lead of the day.

“Any time you drop balls, that hinders your offense,” Withers said. “We needed that possession.”

Saturday was another instance of Temple shooting itself in the foot. Against a run-heavy team, like Navy, Temple needed to get an early lead and force the Midshipmen to play from behind. 

The Owls were lucky to win the opening coin toss, but did not score during their first five possessions. Along with the drops, redshirt senior punter Mackenzie Morgan had a one-yard punt that hit Della Pesca in the back.

Warner faced heavy pressure on Navy’s blitz packages too. Looking at how much Warner dropped back and Temple’s eighth different offensive line combination in eight games, Navy blitzed in critical situations to keep Temple at an arm’s length.

“If I had to start somewhere where we need some continuity, it would be on the offensive line,” Withers said. “There wasn’t anything different about those blitzes we saw earlier in the game. They just got home.”

The misfortunes of the Owls’ health, especially its offensive line, continued this week. Redshirt senior wide receiver Adonicas Sanders was also out with a knee sprain. In his absence, Anderson had another week of recording more than 100  yards receiving with a touchdown.

Graduate offensive lineman Adam Klein was sidelined with a lower-body injury while redshirt junior Richard Rodriguez was nursing a concussion after he was the victim of a hit-and-run on Thursday night. 

Drayton is back with the team, and Saturday’s game against the University of South Florida (1-7, 0-4 The American) is a must-win for the Owls. With three of the top five teams in The American set to play Temple after that their upcoming USF matchup, this might be the last winnable game for the Owls.

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