Preserving the Pocket

The Owls’ offensive linemen did not allow a sack for the first time this season in the team’s 37-3 win against Charlotte Friday night.

Senior center Kyle Friend runs off the field during an Owls’ practice Sept. 29 at Chodoff Field. The Owls have allowed six sacks in the team’s first four games. | JD Mousley TTN
Senior center Kyle Friend runs off the field during an Owls’ practice Sept. 29 at Chodoff Field. The Owls have allowed six sacks in the team’s first four games. | JD Mousley TTN

P.J. Walker exited Friday night’s game at Jerry Richardson Stadium with his white uniform soaking wet, but without a scratch from any pass rushers.

In the Owls’ 37-3 win against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Temple’s offensive linemen kept their junior quarterback upright the entire game for the first time this season.

“I take it very personal,” senior offensive lineman Kyle Friend said of protecting Walker. “Whenever you see the quarterback on the ground, that’s not exactly a great feeling. We all take it personal up front.”

During the team’s 4-0 start, opponents have sacked Walker six times on 111 dropbacks. Last season the Owls ranked in the Top 40 of Football Bowl Subdivision teams in sacks allowed per game at 1.75, this year they’re tied for 49th with 1.5.

Walker, who was sacked four times in the team’s 3-1 start last year on 126 dropbacks, has 731 passing yards and five touchdown throws to go with a completion percentage above 60 percent in 2015.

“I feel comfortable,” Walker said. “Just believing in the fact that they’re going to protect me and the running backs are going to pick up their blocks, just to have faith in them, that’s a good thing for me.”

Friend described the offensive line as a “complete position,” which includes run blocking.

Temple’s rushing attack averaged 107.8 yards per game last season, which ranked No. 115 out of 125 FBS teams. The Owls are averaging close to 160 rushing yards per game in 2015.

Junior running back Jahad Thomas has 503 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He is currently the No. 26 leading rusher in the FBS after totaling 384 yards in 2014.

“They’ve done a hell of a job just creating lanes for me to run and be able to get up to the second level,” Thomas said of the offensive line. “We worked extremely hard to run the ball this year, and as you can see in the first couple of games, we’ve had success running the ball.”

Thomas has also played a role in helping protect Walker. This is his first season as the team’s primary running back, which includes pass-protection duties.

“If you can’t pass protect, your chance of playing is not very high here,” Thomas said. “We definitely take pride in it. I know I take pride in it myself personally, not allowing P.J. to get hurt.”

Temple’s offense currently ranks No. 59 in scoring and No. 107  out of 127 FBS teams in total offense. In order for the offense, particularly the offensive line, to improve, Friend said players will need to continue to “practice at a high level and compete.”

“I’ve learned a lot of things from coach [Matt] Rhule and [offensive line] coach [Chris] Wiesehan in my career here,” Friend said. “If there’s one thing that really stuck with me it’s … the way you practice is the way you compete and the way you compete is the way you play a game. As an offensive line, we have to go out there and compete every single play.”

Six different players have started this season on Temple’s offensive line.

Friend, junior Dion Dawkins and redshirt sophomore Brian Carter all have four starts. Redshirt senior Eric Lofton and senior Shahbaz Ahmed have three starts apiece, and redshirt sophomore Leon Johnson has two starts.

Depth at the position has helped give practices the desired intensity.

“Every day coach [Wiesehan] always says there are five spots on the table for anyone to come in and compete for a spot,” Friend said. “ … We can practice at a bit of a higher level because guys are really competing for a spot.”

Owen McCue can be reached at, 215.204.9537 or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.

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