Season analysis: The current state of the Temple Football program

The Owls entered the season with bowls and titles in mind, and they fell short. Is this program headed in the right direction?

With only three victories and only one conference win, Temple football has had four losing seasons in a row. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

At the beginning of August, Temple Football linebacker Jordan Magee sat down at the front of the media room in Edberg-Olson Hall and answered questions during Temple’s Media Day. Magee was entering his sixth year on North Broad Street and spoke with an air of confidence as he relayed his expectations for his squad.

Magee talked passionately about his teammates, particularly new players like safety Tywan Francis and linebacker Diwun Black, and how much he believed in them.

“Coach [Stan] Drayton is doing a lot to know what we’re doing on the field, outside of the field, in the classroom,” Magee said. “The atmosphere feels different. Everyone is saying it. You see it around. Of course, that wasn’t the season we wanted last year, but we’re back into it this year, and hopefully things work out for us.”

Magee also uttered the words that set the bar for his squad for the rest of the season, which ultimately came back to haunt them.

“Everybody has a part to play and a role to do,” Magee said. “If everyone can do that, our main goal is a [conference] championship. I feel like we’ll accomplish that.”

Temple’s goal was clear: win an American Athletic Conference championship for the first time in seven years. However, the Owls fell short, finishing with just three wins and only one in conference play. They finished toward the bottom of the AAC standings.

With its 45-21 loss to Memphis on Nov. 24, Temple wrapped up its second season with Drayton at the helm with the same number of wins as last season. The Owls fell short of expectations, and 2023 brought a lot to dissect about the future of the program.


Despite their shortcomings, the Owls had some bright spots this year. Most of their strongest performances were propelled by one player: sophomore quarterback E.J. Warner.

Warner proved to be the heart and soul of the offense in his first full season as QB1. In the two games he missed, Temple was outscored 100-14 in back-to-back losses to North Texas and Southern Methodist. The Owls looked comfortable with the ball and confident going down the field when Warner was in the game.

Warner finished the year with 3,076 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 turnovers. He broke program records for the most 400-yard games, most games with five or more touchdowns and climbed the ranks of Temple’s all-time passing yards list.

“That’s our E.J.,” Drayton said after Warner’s 400-yard and four-touchdown performance against Navy on Nov. 4. “He’s a very good study, he kinda knew where there was gonna be some holes. We had a really good week in practice and got things timed up in the throw game.”

Temple was the 24th-best passing offense in the country and fifth-best in the AAC this season. The Owls averaged 277 yards per game in the air, which was an improvement from 2022.

Tight end David Martin-Robinson was a big part of Warner’s success as well. Martin-Robinson broke the record for most catches in a career by a Temple tight end on Nov. 18 against UAB, and he finished with 537 yards, which was top 20 in the conference.

Magee and Francis anchored the other side of the ball. Magee led the Owls in tackles with 80, and Francis earned the most honorary single-digit nominations of the season, given to the player with the best week of preparation. Francis had two of Temple’s four turnovers, including the game-sealing interception against Akron in week one.

“The single digit was very, very big for me,” Francis said on Sept. 2. “Single digits mean so much to the culture and to the football family. It was an honor for me to wear it tonight. I just had to go out there and do what I planned on doing throughout the week. I just had to go out there and get the job done.”

In his second year as head coach, Stan Drayton led Temple to only three wins and once again missed out on a bowl game. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS


Although Temple found sporadic success, namely in its blowout win against Norfolk State and close battles against UTSA, USF and Navy, the team suffered significant low points.

Their issues began on defense, which battled injuries all season and struggled to find depth in key areas, particularly at linebacker and defensive line. Defensive lineman Demerick Morris played just two games up front, and defensive lineman Allan Haye, a transfer who was starting to find a groove, went down with a season-ending injury against Tulsa on Sept. 29.

The Owls were depleted and had a hard time defending the run, which caused issues on both sides of the ball. They struggled to get off the field, which caused late-game fatigue and limited their time of possession.

“I give all the credit to the D-line,” Magee said after Temple’s win against Navy. “They did a great job stuffing them up front, and it makes it easier when you don’t have lineman climbing at you, and linebackers and safeties can just get off and make plays.”

Temple’s defense finished the year in the bottom 10 in rushing and total defense in the country. The Owls forced just four turnovers and finished last in the nation in turnover margin at -20.

Those struggles also affected the offense, creating a cycle that couldn’t be broken. As the defense struggled, the offense had more pressure to perform and couldn’t keep up with opponents.

In particular, Temple could not run the ball. The Owls have just a handful of games in Drayton’s tenure where they’ve surpassed 100 rushing yards. The unit regressed even more this season, finishing 121st of 130 teams in rushing offense. Temple couldn’t find a surefire starter in the room, and its offensive line, which was touted as the most improved unit heading into the season, battled injuries and severely underperformed.

The Owls had five losses of at least 17 points and were outscored 428-253 throughout the season. They showed resilience at times, but they got in their own way with simple mistakes and miscommunication.

“What’s troubling is we play well in spurts,” Drayton said. “And then there’s times when we play God-awful in spurts. We’ve just got to find a way. We haven’t been able to put 60 minutes of good football, complimentary football together, and that part of it is frustrating, but when the lack of discipline in key moments shows up, those are the things you have to address.”

The Owls are facing just one question heading into the offseason following their fourth straight losing season: what now?


Fifty new players joined Temple’s program this season, and several went on to become starters. While players, like Francis and Black, established themselves as key difference makers, others, like offensive lineman Diego Barajas and safety Kamar Wilcoxson, struggled to adapt.

Drayton is entering his second full offseason as the head of Temple’s program, and he has some decisions to make about the makeup of his roster. The Owls have some key young pieces to build on, but like any team, they will be losing important players and need to find solutions.

Temple may lose Magee and Yvandy Rigby, its two best linebackers. Both have remaining eligibility, but they could explore their options in the NFL Draft or through the transfer portal. D.J. Woodbury and Corey Yeoman, who would be next in line on the depth chart, have played well, but are a discernible step down from the two single digits.

The offensive and defensive lines are different stories. The offensive line has an influx of players, but none stood out as clear starters moving forward. The unit lost Rich Rodriguez and could lose Victor Stoffel from the starting lineup after the season. The Owls heavily recruited at the junior college level but did not find pieces that fit, so Temple could focus its attention here.

Morris and Haye could return from injury and lead the room on the defensive line, but Temple needs to find more depth to support them, especially players who can help against the run.

A final spot that needs addressing is the secondary. Outside of cornerback Jalen McMurray, the Owls don’t have a corner that can lock down an opponent’s top receiver. Elijah Deravil improved during the year, but Temple would benefit from another talented player supporting the secondary, especially to protect against the deep ball.

Temple’s number one priority this offseason needs to be retaining Warner. Despite the team’s struggles, Warner has proven he can play at the Division I level and Power 5 programs with money and a gap at the quarterback position could be hungry to have him join, and Temple needs to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Warner came to Temple largely because of his relationship with offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, who coached Warner’s older brother at Kansas State. The duo have made strides this year, but that could be all for naught if Warner, or Langsdorf for that matter, decide to move elsewhere.

With many gaps and question marks, it’s tough to tell what Temple Football will look like next in a few months. However, the Owls had some good signs despite the negative parts of the year, and they have an opportunity to build on the positives for a brighter future under Drayton.

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