Owls’ lack of run defense diminishes chances for bowl game

Owls’ football, sitting at 3-4, needs to reach six wins to become eligible for a bowl game.

Members of the Temple Football defensive team huddle during the Owls' game against Boston College on Sept. 18. | AMBER RITSON / TEMPLE NEWS

If Temple University football wants to make a bowl-game appearance this season, they must end the season with a winning record in their final five games.

Six wins has always been the threshold for NCAA bowl-eligibility, although that rule was waived for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means Temple would need three more wins to finish out the year in order to become eligible to make a bowl game. 

The Owls sit at a record of 3-4 after back-to-back losses to the University of Cincinnati (7-0, 3-0 The American Athletic Conference) on Oct. 8  and the University of South Florida (2-5, 1-2 The American) on Oct. 23. 

Temple only had 96 offensive snaps across these two games, scoring a combined 17 points. Cincinnati is giving up 15 points per game this year, while USF is giving up 32 points per game, both numbers Temple failed to reach each game. 

“We need to help them more as coaches,” said head coach Rod Carey. “And we need to play better as players.”

The consistent trend of a shaky run defense and costly turnovers is holding Temple back from making games close this season, though some of the blame can be placed on numerous injuries to Owls’ starters.

Temple needs to implement more blitz packages and trust its defensive backs in coverage, letting cornerbacks junior Keyshawn Paul and redshirt-junior Cameron Ruiz remain on islands on the outside, and moving their safeties into the box. 

Temple can also switch from dime and nickel packages with several defensive backs into packages featuring more linebackers and down-linemen, which would help counter opposing rushing attacks with more tacklers available each play. 

The Owls entered the game against the Bearcats with a record of 3-2, Carey’s second-best record through five games during his Temple tenure. 

Against the Bearcats, Temple’s lack of a run defense was exposed as they gave up 286 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Even with Heisman-candidate senior quarterback  Desmond Ridder under center for Cincinnati, they only had to throw the ball 30 times.

Temple scored only three points that game, their second time doing so this season. 

Yet, Temple managed to look even worse against USF, losing 34-14 even after holding the Bulls to zero points in the first quarter, which was the first time the Owls forced a team to remain scoreless in the first quarter this season. 

Before kickoff against the Bulls, Temple’s defense had a variety of injuries to overcome.

The Owls were without graduate student safety Amir Tyler, junior safety DaeSean Winston, and early in the game, redshirt-freshman safety M.J. Griffin suffered an injury as well. 

Tyler and Griffin are the team’s leading tacklers this season, so without their defensive presence, Bulls’ junior running back Jared Mangham rushed for 152 yards during the contest. 

“It was simply just tackling,” said graduate student linebacker Will Kwenkeu. “Tackling, tackling, tackling.”

Owls’ redshirt-freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis threw two interceptions in the game also, bringing his total to four interceptions through five games on the year. 

Temple has turned the ball over 11 times this season.

The Owls have a 1-2 record in The American, but they need to bring their record to 4-4 or better, if they want to qualify for a bowl game. 

Temple’s remaining schedule features home games against the University of Central Florida (4-3, 2-2 The American), the University of Houston (6-1, 4-0 The American) and Navy (1-6, 1-4 The American).

The Owls will travel to face East Carolina University (3-4, 1-2 The American) in North Carolina, and the University of Tulsa (3-4, 2-1 The American) in Oklahoma. 

In Carey’s first season as head coach for the Owls, he guided the team to a 4-1 record through five games and an 8-5 record overall, taking Temple all the way to a Military Bowl berth against the University of North Carolina. 

Although Temple went on to lose the game 55-13, Carey was seen as the coach who could continue the winning legacy of Matt Rhule and Geoff Collins. While this still may be possible, Carey could only manage one win last season, going 1-6, and Temple has been inconsistent this season as well. 

The Owls’ hopes of a bowl game berth gets slimmer with each loss this season, and if they continue to make the same mistakes, they will need to look towards next year for any sort of postseason opportunity. 

“This is where the world and social media and everybody else starts to try to divide us,” Mathis said. “This is where we got to have each other’s back and come together.”

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