OXFORD, Ohio – A smile came across Kee-ayre Griffin’s face when he was asked what position he found to be more exciting – cornerback or running back.
The 20-year-old freshman clearly favored the latter, especially after he lined up at tailback for the first time this season and scored his first career touchdown, a 25-yard scamper on his fourth rushing attempt in the football team’s 28-10 win over Miami (Ohio) at Yager Stadium last Saturday.
“I just did what I was naturally born to do,” said Griffin, who was originally recruited by Temple in 2006, but failed to become academically eligible until this season.
In Griffin’s mind, he was naturally born to run the football.
He wasn’t the only player who got a chance to do so, though.
Griffin, who’s been listed at cornerback since the start of the season, was one of eight ball carriers who notched at least one rushing attempt against Miami. The Owls (2-4 overall, 1-2 in the Mid-American Conference) picked up 104 yards on the ground in the first half alone before sputtering to just 12 rushing yards after intermission.
Buoyed by his touchdown run, Griffin led the team in rushing with 36 yards on six carries, while redshirt freshman tailback Joe Jones shouldered most of the load, taking 15 hand-offs for 37 yards. Wide receivers James Nixon, a freshman, and Jason Harper, a junior who was the Owls’ leading rusher last season, also carried the ball, along with tailbacks Ahkeem Smith and Marquise Liverpool, redshirt senior fullback Marcellous Grigsby and redshirt freshman quarterback Chester Stewart.
“We’ve got a lot of players who are ready to carry the ball,” Jones said.
The multiple ball carrier strategy confused Miami (1-4, 0-1), especially early in the game.
The Owls appeared to catch the RedHawks off guard when Nixon rolled down field on a season-long 27-yard rush on the second play of their fourth possession.
On the next play, it was Griffin’s turn.
With less than three minutes left in the first quarter, the 5-foot-11-inch, 187-pound East Orange, N.J. native found a hole and broke away from the RedHawks’ defense on a 25-yard touchdown run that gave the Owls an early 7-0 lead. That play snapped Temple’s eight-quarter touchdown drought and gave the Owls an early advantage that they wouldn’t relinquish on their way to ending their four-game losing streak.
“The O-line got on their blocks, and I saw open field and I just took it,” Griffin said of the touchdown run. “I just had to beat the corner and the safety.”
The decision to try Griffin at tailback was made at Tuesday’s practice after the coaching staff copiously studied the team’s ground game and concluded that the holes were there, but the tailbacks weren’t capitalizing on them, coach Al Golden said.
“Our running backs weren’t running hard,” the third-year coach said. “I think that’s one thing you saw in Kee-ayre’s runs. He got downhill quick and he ran.”
And while the holes were open for the running backs, the offensive line also did an adequate job protecteing Stewart. The quarterback was sacked only once and hurried just a few times.
“We’re doing a fairly decent job of protecting Chester,” Golden said. “He didn’t really start stepping up in the pocket until late in the game, but maybe he’ll learn from that now.”
Stewart learned to regroup quickly after committing an error, when he threw an interception with 1:21 remaining in the third quarter. At that point, the Owls were clinging to a four point lead after Miami scored 10 unanswered points after intermission.
Two possessions later, Stewart hit senior Bruce Francis in stride on a 43-yard touchdown pass that kept the 6-foot wide receiver’s consecutive games with a reception streak alive at 32.
“I knew he was going to bounce back, and he did,” Derenthal said about Stewart’s post-interception performance.
The quarterback’s effort was particularly significant because of the Owls’ lack of a rushing game in the final 30 minutes of the game.
“I thought Miami did a tremendous job shutting it down in the second half, really from midway through the second quarter on,” Golden said.
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Owls ranked 12th out of 13 MAC teams in rushing offense, averaging 97.3 yards per game but only three yards per rush.
Temple will attempt to be more consistent next Saturday in its road game against the defending MAC champion Central Michigan Chippewas (3-2, 2-0).
“We’re going to transition real quickly into this team we’re going to play,” Golden said. “[They’ve] been on top of the MAC for a long time.”
Injured redshirt senior quarterback Adam DiMichele traveled with the team to Oxford and tossed the football back and forth with Stewart and junior Vaughn Charlton prior to the game. DiMichele, who injured his shoulder in the Owls’ loss to Penn State last month, wore his jersey and sweatpants and for the first time since he suffered the injury, was without the arm sling that he had been wearing, a team representative said.
Coach Al Golden didn’t have any specific status updates on DiMichele, but he confirmed that the McKees Rocks, Pa., native is expected to return for Temple’s Oct. 21 game against visiting Ohio.
“He’s moving around better,” Golden said. “As I said to you guys before, they said [he would miss] three to six weeks, but six weeks is for the regular person. He’s not the normal person. He’s as tough as can be. I would bet the under, so I would bet that he would be ready for the Ohio game.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.