Owls’ fresh defensive line looks to overcome adversity

Temple University football’s new defensive line unit must rely on depth this season.

Temple football players warm up during a practice at Edberg-Olson Hall on Aug. 20. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple University football (0-1, 0-0 The American Athletic Conference) enters this season with only one starter returning on the defensive line as former players Daniel Archibong earned a spot on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad, Ifeanyi Miajeh transfers to Rutgers University and Arnold Ebiketie transfers to Pennsylvania State University.

Add in redshirt-sophomore defensive end Evan Boozer suffering a season-ending ACL tear during fall camp, and the Owls will need to look towards their new transfers and younger talent to disrupt the backfield and produce tackles for loss at the line of scrimmage.

Boozer has played in seven games throughout his career and knew defensive coordinator Jeff Knowles’ system better than the majority of the defensive line pieces. 

“It is a heartbreaking loss,” redshirt-sophomore defensive end Layton Jordan said. 

The team is looking to Jordan and freshman defensive end Dyshier Clary as options to replace Boozer. Both players want to step into a bigger role along with the rest of the depth players. 

Graduate student defensive end Manny Walker is the sole returning starter from last year’s team. Walker won the defensive end competition, pairing up with senior defensive end Will Rodgers, who transferred from Washington State University and will play on the opposite side of the defensive line. 

Defensive line coach Walter Stewart also pointed to freshman defensive tackle Nick Bags as one of the players who could step up. Bags played in three games last season, recording three total tackles. He enters this season as a starter at defensive tackle. 

“Bags joined the team last year at 250 pounds and now weighs 300 pounds,” Stewart said. 

Bags and Rodgers were able to flush Rutgers’ senior quarterback Noah Vedral out of the pocket on multiple occasions, and held Rutgers’ junior running back Isaih Pacheco to 3.2 yards per carry. Rodgers compiled five total tackles, with half a tackle for loss on the day. 

Temple’s defensive line produced 14 sacks across seven games last season — good for ninth in the American Athletic Conference after playing the fewest games of any AAC team — but it is missing over half of that production this fall. 

In Temple’s season opener against Rutgers University (1-0, 0-0 The Big Ten Conference), the defensive line as a whole tallied 16 tackles, a number they must drastically improve moving forward. Although they produced some pressure on Vedral, it led to positive yards rushing for the quarterback.

The defensive line will need to capitalize on any pressure they put on opposing quarterbacks, which will help the linebackers and cornerbacks in the process. The defense’s overall performance was a product of the bad positions they found themselves in due to turnovers on offense and special teams. 

The Owls will look to turn things around when they take on the University of Akron (0-1, 0-0 The Mid-American Conference) on Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. The Zips gave up six sacks against Auburn University (1-0, 0-0 The Southeastern Conference) in a 60-10 loss on Sept. 4. 

Akron’s top rusher, freshman running back Jonzell Norrils, ran for 22 yards against the Tigers, and Auburn’s defensive line was able to disrupt plays. For the Owls, this means Bags and redshirt-sophomore defensive tackle Jerquavion Mahone, who transferred from the University of Kentucky, will need to hold strong in the trenches, allowing Temple’s talented linebackers to make stops. 

As they find their rhythm this season, Temple’s defensive line will look to overbear the Zips’ offensive line and pressure the quarterback in the pocket.

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