Temple’s football season is over. There won’t be a bowl game, there won’t be a game in Hawaii and there won’t be much cause for celebration after the season ends. While Temple finished fifth in a conference they were slated to finish last in, the missed opportunities by the Owls this year had many fans shaking their heads, looking for answers and wanting more from their football team.
Undoubtedly there were bright spots this season. Winning the Big East Conference opener against South Florida at Lincoln Financial Field, senior running back Montel Harris’ record-breaking seven touchdown day against Army and senior kicker Brandon McManus breaking the school scoring record that stood for less than a year gave the team positive takeaways from its first year in a new conference.
Predominately though, the overarching theme of the year was negative. Losing to Maryland a year after the Owls ran over the Terrapins was only foreshadowing the letdowns. Three turnovers, a blocked kick and offensive inefficiencies later, the Owls were headed to Happy Valley at 1–1. After losing to Penn State, the Owls had their first crack at the Big East.
Due to sophomore defensive back Anthony Robey’s blocked kick and Connecticut kicker Chad Christen’s inability to hit kicks of 28, 36, 42 and 45 yards, Temple had somehow beaten the two eventual conference bottom-dwellers and sat at 2–0 in the Big East. They followed these nail-biting wins with four consecutive blowout losses to conference opponents. After beating Army, Temple looked to have a chance to finish the season strong against Syracuse before a fourth quarter collapse ended the Owls’ season with a 4–7 record.
Temple’s season wasn’t a disappointment because they lost games to Big East teams, it was a disappointment because of how they looked doing it. Quarterback play, turnovers, defensive collapses, missed assignments and blown coverage had coach Steve Addazio pulling out what hair he had left and looking for answers from his young team.
Here are some questions he might ask:
Who will fill the running back void?
Senior running backs Matt Brown and Harris had a season in which they struggled to remain on the field, but were dominant when they did. Harris posted 1054 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first and last season as an Owl while Brown added 385 and four scores in the limited touches he was able to receive out of the backfield. When they both depart, Temple will face the unusual situation of having an inexperienced, relatively unknown running back. Freshman Jamie Gilmore and Spencer Reid join sophomore Kenny Harper will be the only returning running backs on the roster who saw any carries this year. The trio combined for 36 carries totaling 172 yards and two touchdowns this year. However, none carried more than six times in a game. While Gilmore and Harper will likely be competing for a bulk of the carries, which one of the pair, if either, can succeed next year in unknown.
Will the defense respond?
The defense was a large disappointment, and in a season in which two freshman were asked to start for a depleted linebacker unit, it was the upperclassmen secondary giving up a majority of the big plays that gashed the team all year. Temple ranked last in the conference in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense and second-to-last in passing defense. If Temple wants to help out its offense in any way, they are going to need to address the problems they have in the secondary. A pair of freshmen linebackers, Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith, were first and second, respectively, on the team in tackles and were a lone bright spot. The front seven will only improve next year as younger players gain experience. If the secondary doesn’t catch up, teams will continue to burn the Owls for big plays.
Who will start at quarterback next year?
Coyer started nine games this year, finished five, and had a sideline seat for the last two. He struggled at times hitting open receivers and extending drives, but shouldn’t shoulder the burden of the offensive struggles. He saw his starting center go down and get replaced with a freshman while simultaneously wondering why the balls he did happen to place in a receivers’ hands wound up hitting the turf. Granger started the last two games, but didn’t show enough to solidify a starting spot. After “winning” the game against Army in which he got really good at giving the ball to Harris, he put the Owls in a position to win their season finale against Syracuse. Two fourth quarter interceptions later, Temple closed the book on its season. Temple hasn’t found an answer at quarterback and for the second season in a row, coach Steve Addazio used more than two trying to find the right match. Rotating quarterbacks isn’t working for the offense, and the Owls have six on the roster from which to choose.
Next season will bring more experience and depth, as the Owls only graduate three starters on offense and four on defense. Whether or not experience will yield results is yet to be determined.
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.