Owls look for their wings after half a season

Six games into the Stan Drayton era, Temple football knows exactly what it can and can’t do on the gridiron.

Quarterback E.J. Warner throws the ball to his teammates at the Temple vs. UCF game. | ZAMANI FEELINGS/TEMPLE ATHLETICS / COURTESY

Stan Drayton is officially halfway through his first season as Temple’s head football coach, and it’s clear that his responsibility with the Owls is a rebuilding job.

The Owls are now 2-4 and were blown out in their two conference games to date against the University of Memphis (4-3, 2-2 American) and the University of Central Florida (5-1, 2-0 American).

Temple lost 70-13 at UCF last Thursday night and the Knights 70 points were six shy of the most that Temple has ever allowed in a game. The game further justified why programs like UCF, the University of Houston (3-3, 1-1 American) and the University of Cincinnati (5-1, 2-0 American) are moving on to the Big 12 while Temple is staying in The American.

“The American is no surprise to me,” Drayton said. “We know that these teams can turn out to be very good. I expect good football to come out of this conference.”

Temple has been in a rebuilding position many times before. The program is 75 years old, 3-9 all-time in bowl games and has an all-time win percentage of .440 after last Thursday’s loss. Combining that with Temple’s reputation as a basketball school, there is a board of regents constantly looking for a coach to restore the program before leaving for a better job in three or four years.

Luckily for Drayton, the last coach to inherit a losing Temple team, Matt Rhule — who left Temple after four years to coach at Baylor University — has some free time to advise Drayton after being fired by the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 10. Rhule assisted the committee that hired Drayton to Temple, so his phone will most likely be available for Drayton to call.

So far, the first-year coach has passed a few tests. By every metric imaginable, Drayton’s defensive staff is better than Rod Carey’s last season as the Owls entered the week as the third-best scoring defense in The American.

However, Carey didn’t leave Drayton much of an offensive line to work with, contributing to Temple’s more than lackluster performance on the ground. But, the passing attack is more dynamic and efficient than it ever was with Carey in the post-Anthony Russo days. This season, freshman quarterback E.J. Warner is averaging 208 yards per game on 56 percent passing.

After experiencing an adrenaline rush once Warner became the starter, Temple has gone cold and looks more like the bad team that Drayton was hired to fix. 

“We’ve got to move on from the UCF game as a football family and realize the respective journey that we’re on,” Drayton said. “There’s going to be rough spots along the journey that’s worth it.”

The Week 1 loss at Duke University (4-3, 1-2 ACC) was an awful performance for Temple with D’Wan Mathis, a Carey recruit, under center. Mathis played poorly once again in the home opener against Lafayette University (2-4, 1-0 Patriot League), leading to Warner taking his job. In Week 3, Warner and Drayton’s Owls lost 16-14 to Rutgers University (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten). Mathis and Carey lost 61-14 at Rutgers in 2021. 

Since then, Temple’s weaknesses have grown more apparent. The Owls have trotted out six different starting offensive line combinations in six games this season. Without continuity, opposing defenses have been able to attack the unit and push Temple’s offense quickly off the field, contributing to the Owls’ dismal 14.67 points per game and -9 average margin of victory this season.

However, neither Warner nor the running backs are hurt the most by the offensive line’s performance. Temple was ranked 18th in total defense before its game at Memphis. During that matchup, Temple held the Tigers scoreless in the first half before allowing 24 second-half points. 

Against UCF, the Owls trailed 14-13 early in the second quarter before the offense stalled out, leading to the Knights’ 70-point performance. When the offense constantly punts, the defense stays on the field longer than any unit should be asked to. Eventually, fatigue settles in and one of the nation’s top defenses begins to look like an inaccurate representation of itself. 

“We’ve shown in spots that we can play defense with anybody,” Drayton said. “When our defense is clicking and we know exactly where we’re going, and we’re cutting it loose, we’re eliminating mistakes, we can play with anybody.”

Drayton’s staff seemingly has the defense figured out. On special teams, new specialists redshirt-senior punter Mackenzie Morgan and graduate kicker Camden Price reinvigorated the unit. Morgan is averaging a healthy 41.5 yards per punt and Price, despite not playing until the Memphis game, has made all of Temple’s 2022 field goals. 

Now, Temple must use the latter half of this season to figure out how to schematically improve the offense. It will take the staff another one or two recruiting classes of its own to improve the offensive line and running backs room. 

“We’re learning that there’s some good things that exist within this program,” Drayton said. “From a recruiting standpoint, we’ve got to get some guys in here. We’ve got to continue to grow and develop the men that we have in our program, and we’ve gotta get healthy in spots.”

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