Romond Deloatch couldn’t believe he got a sack.
The redshirt-senior tight end lined up at defensive end on the last two plays of the first half in the Owls’ 48-20 win against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on Sept. 24.
He made an impact again defensively with 11 minutes, 17 seconds left in the second quarter on Saturday against Southern Methodist. Redshirt-senior defensive lineman Haason Reddick sacked Mustangs’ redshirt-freshman quarterback Ben Hicks and forced a fumble. Deloatch scooped up the ball with one hand and carried it eight yards to the end zone.
The score put the Owls (3-2, 1-0 American Athletic Conference) up by 28 points in the first half of their 45-20 victory against the Mustangs at Lincoln Financial Field. The Owls scored 21 points off six turnovers to win their conference opener.
“I thought the defense and special teams started out really nice for us and allowed our offense to get going,” coach Matt Rhule said. “That’s, you know, a team. Whatever side’s not playing at a high level, the other side picks them up.”
Temple fell behind on the third play of the game when Mustangs sophomore defensive back Jordan Wyatt returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown.
The Owls’ offense benefitted from the turnovers the defense forced. A 27-yard interception return by redshirt-senior defensive back Nate L. Smith, who started at safety in place of injured junior defensive back Sean Chandler, set up the Owls in Mustangs’ territory late in the first quarter.
Two plays later, senior quarterback Phillip Walker completed a seam route to Deloatch, who took the ball down to the one-yard line for 34 yards. Redshirt-sophomore linebacker Jared Folks, making his second career start, also had an interception.
“Our defensive line kind of dominated up front and that allowed our secondary to play a lot better and allowed the linebackers to make easier reads,” redshirt-freshman linebacker Chapelle Russell said. “If the gap is open, we just shoot it and make more plays. Our D-line, I think they dominated the game today and helped the defense play a lot better.”
Rhule wanted improvement from his defensive line after only getting one sack against Charlotte. Pressuring Hicks, a young quarterback only making his fourth career start, was a priority for the Owls’ defense, Reddick said after Tuesday’s practice. The defense sacked Southern Methodist’s two quarterbacks four times and routinely pressured Hicks, making him uncomfortable in the pocket.
Hicks completed 52.4 percent of his passes, going 22-of-42 for 199 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 199 yards is Hicks’ lowest total in his four starts and his completion percentage was his lowest since his first career start against Baylor University on Sept. 10.
Before Saturday, the Mustangs hadn’t reached the red zone since their first drive in the first quarter last week against Texas Christian University. The Owls’ defense only allowed three red zone trips and two offensive touchdowns, which both came after turnovers by the Temple offense.
Temple’s defense limited Southern Methodist’s offense to 288 total yards, more than 100 yards below their average coming into Saturday’s game.
“Just same old Temple defense,” Deloatch said. “Rushing the passer, trying to get the quarterback. Haason Reddick did a lot with that today. Praise [Martin-Oguike], Jacob Martin, all of those guys did real good, Avery Ellis, they did good getting to the quarterback and I was just happy to be there to pick the ball up when the ball was on the ground. And I gotta thank those guys, because if it weren’t for them, if it weren’t for that sack, I wouldn’t have had that touchdown.”
After losing to Penn State, the team has won back-to-back games for the first time this season. The Owls have won three of their last four games, allowing 18.5 points per game in that stretch. Temple’s defense ranks No. 13 in Division I in passing yards allowed and No. 20 in total defense.
“Early in the season we were making a lot of mistakes and now this time we’re really locked in,” Russell said. “It’s conference play and we know what’s at stake and we want to win the conference, so we’re just coming out every day playing as hard as we can and once again we’re having good results.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.