Heading into Saturday’s Homecoming game against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, coach Matt Rhule said allowing big plays on defense and offensive line play were the biggest issues through the team’s first three games.
When sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead bounced a run up the middle to the outside, stiff-arming a defender on the way to the end zone for a third quarter touchdown, senior offensive lineman Dion Dawkins and redshirt-senior offensive lineman Brendan McGowan high-fived and celebrated at the five yard line.
The touchdown, which put the Owls up by 31 points at the time, was a minute detail in the Owls’ 48-20 win, but was a sign of improvement.
“That was the most we’ve ever rotated our offensive line, ever,” Rhule said. “We played Jovahn [Fair] at the guard, we played Jovahn and [Matt] Hennessey. At the other guard we played Brian Carter and Adrian Sullivan and we rotated Jaelin Robinson on the second or third series at tackle and the fifth series. We feel like that depth is coming and those guys are going to be really good, so you kind of have to live with some things.”
Behind the Owls’ offensive line, the team rushed for a season-high 210 yards and four touchdowns against the 49ers. The unit also limited the impact of redshirt-senior defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, whom Rhule called an NFL player last week. The 2015 second-team Conference USA selection had two tackles against Temple.
Despite being a 27.5-point favorite, the Owls trailed 7-3 after the first quarter. The team moved the ball successfully on its opening drive, but had to settle for a field goal by junior kicker Austin Jones after a false start by Dawkins slowed momentum. The 49ers defense forced a three-and-out on Temple’s next possession.
The Owls set the tone for the rest of the game on the first play of the second quarter. Senior quarterback Phillip Walker, who missed the previous play after leaving with an injury, connected with junior wide receiver Adonis Jennings on a 51-yard post route for a touchdown. Temple scored 28 points in the quarter and never trailed after that point in the game.
“I think our practice as an offense is getting better, and I think we are going to be a lot better towards the middle of the season, as the season goes on,” Walker said. “Just because you know, we’ve got so many weapons on offense and so many guys that can make a lot of plays and it shows.”
The Owls started 1-for-5 on third downs through the early part of the second quarter, but went 4-for-7 the rest of the way. It was a much cleaner game for Temple, compared to the team’s performance against Penn State when it committed 13 penalties. The Owls only committed one penalty in the second half and one offensive penalty in the entire game. For the second year in a row, the offensive line did not allow Charlotte’s defensive unit to get any sacks.
The Owls’ quarterback had no turnovers for the first time this season. Walker completed 15-of-26 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He frequently operated out of a single-back shotgun set in the first half. He also got the chance to roll out of the pocket and throw on the move a few times. Walker rolled to his right and threw across the field to senior running back Jahad Thomas for a 44-yard completion that set up Armstead’s touchdown run three players later.
“He’s a senior now, feeling more comfortable now, just getting his feet set,” Thomas said. “When you don’t have people breathing down your neck all the time, you can be comfortable out there. I’m quite sure that’s the reason why he’s playing so well these last two games.”
Temple begins conference play on Saturday against Southern Methodist, a team that allows an average of 449.8 yards per game. The Owls had to score 60 points to beat the Mustangs in Dallas last year.
Temple is averaging 20 points per game in its losses and 43 points per game in its wins. The team is looking for more consistency going forward.
“We had some ups and downs but that’s part of football,” said redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Brodrick Yancy, who led the Owls with four catches, 70 yards and a touchdown. “So I think we’re finding our team, finding out who we’re really are, so we can be ready to play the conference.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.