Owls’ defense searching for answers

The Owls allowed 329 yards rushing in a loss to Army.

Coach Matt Rhule walks the sideline during the Owls’ 28-13 loss to Army on Sept. 2. Rhule resigned as the Owls' head coach in December after accepting a coaching position at Baylor University in Texas. | GENEVA HEFFERNAN FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

Matt Rhule thought his defense had turned a corner late in the second quarter.

Senior defensive lineman Sharif Finch blocked a punt after an Army three-and-out deep in its own territory with the student section screaming behind them. After a field goal by junior kicker Austin Jones put Temple up by three points, the Owls’ defense forced another punt with one minute, 10 seconds left in the first half.

Rhule’s defense looked to be finding its form after Army ran 27 plays for 116 yards and a touchdown on its first two drives of the game.

Temple’s stinginess wouldn’t last. Army outscored Temple 21-3 in the second half to earn a 28-13 victory.

“I was like, ‘OK, we’ve settled down,’ and then we came out of the half,” Rhule said. “We made all the adjustments at halftime, and we made some good ones and they worked at times. … I wouldn’t say we got beat by the option. We got beat by their offensive line, and fullback and quarterback.”

Army sophomore running back Andy Davidson and junior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw combined to rush for 171 yards.

Sophomore running backs Jordan Asberry and Darnell Woolfolk also contributed out of the backfield, collectively rushing for 103 yards.

Four different players had 50 or more yards rushing, as Army’s triple-option offense heavily featured the run. The Black Knights only ran five pass plays in the entire game.

“It’s a little different, Army, the way they play football, it’s not like any other team,” Finch said. “You’re playing the triple option. You don’t play that every week, so you gotta take a different approach to this kind of game.”

“It’s frustrating because we know it’s coming,” redshirt-junior defensive lineman Jullian Taylor said. “And we were just not being detailed enough to stop the option.”

The Owls ranked No. 21 in Division I in rushing yards allowed per game in 2015, but defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s unit struggled against mobile quarterbacks. In games against Temple, Houston’s Greg Ward Jr., Southern Methodist’s Matt Davis, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and South Florida’s Quinton Flowers each ran for 90 or more yards.

The triple-option has also given Temple trouble in the past. In the Owls’ 2014 home-opener, a 31-24 loss, Navy rushed for 487 yards and converted 6-of-10 tries on third down.

Temple’s defense had trouble getting off the field again on Friday night. Army converted 50 percent of its third down opportunities, was 2-for-2 on fourth down and had the ball for more than 35 minutes.

“We didn’t come ready for a fight enough,” senior defensive lineman Averee Robinson said. “Army came in ready to fight and we came in like we were entitled and expected to win. … In the third and fourth [quarters] we were steely-eyed. We didn’t look like we wanted to play football anymore.”

The Owls’ defense has its next test Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Stony Brook University, which earned a 13-9 victory against FCS-ranked North Dakota University in its first game. The Seawolves averaged 300.8 total yards per game last season.

The Seawolves, which have been playing in Division I since 1999, earned their first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent in 2012 when they beat Army. Stony Brook has held leads in 6-of-7 FBS games.

“We’re 0-3 right now,” said redshirt-senior linebacker Avery Williams, who had a career-high 12 tackles Friday. “We’ve lost a conference championship, a bowl game and then this game. We’re 0-3. It’s never good losing. It hurts … I want it to hurt the rest of the season. I don’t care if we go undefeated the rest of the season. I want people to remember this game, remember how hard they’ve got to work and how hard they’ve got to detail themselves.”

Evan Easterling can be reached at evan.easterling@temple.edu.

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