Don’t be surprised if Army West Point breaks off a few big runs early against the Temple defense on Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field
That’s part of the plan, coach Matt Rhule said of the matchup with the Black Knights and their option offense.
“You have to get better as the game goes on,” Rhule said. “We’re prepared to look bad early on defense. We don’t want to, but that’s where our history’s been. You don’t look great early and you just have to try to catch up to the speed of the game.”
The Black Knights’ rushing offense ranked No. 12 in Division I last season, averaging 244.3 yards per game. More than 72 percent of Army’s total yards in 2015 came on the ground.
Army junior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for 468 yards and five touchdowns last season, including two games of more than 100 yards rushing. The team’s other quarterback, sophomore Chris Carter rushed for more than 100 yards in one of the two games he played in last season.
“The biggest problem with the triple is that if one guy doesn’t do what he’s supposed to the ball could come out,” defensive coordinator Phil Snow said. “That’s not unlike the spread offense. … So we have to be real disciplined.”
Temple’s defense ranked No. 24 in stopping the run last year. Opponents ran for 127.9 yards per game. However, Snow’s unit struggled against offenses featuring quarterback runs.
It started when Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Southern Methodist signal caller Matt Davis ran for 102 yards and a touchdown one week later. Then, South Florida running back Marlon Mack and quarterback Quinton Flowers combined for 320 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns in Temple’s 44-23 loss.
Houston ran for 233 yards and three touchdowns to beat Temple 24-13 in the American Athletic Conference championship game. Quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. totaled 148 of those yards and two touchdowns.
Temple had its home opener against Navy and its option offense in 2014. The Midshipmen scorched the Owls for 487 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns, including 187 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
To prepare Temple’s defense for Friday’s game, redshirt-sophomore running back David Hood and redshirt-freshman wide receiver Cortrelle Simpson have been running scout team quarterback.
“Practice everyday is like you’re taking game reps out there,” said redshirt-senior linebacker Stephaun Marshall. “There’s so many keys you have to pay attention to and if you don’t it’s a big play.”
“It keeps everybody accountable,” he added “Playing a team like this you really have to take care of your one eleventh.”
Linebacker Tyler Matakevich is currently playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Owls’ defense brings back Marshall, Avery Williams and Jarred Alwan at the position.
Redshirt-freshmen Chappelle Russell and Jeremiah Atoki and redshirt-sophomore Jared Folks are additions to the unit this year. Marshall thinks they might be able to fix the Owls’ option woes.
“Our speed, it’ll help us a lot, playing with faster guys,” Marshall said. “Definitely with rerouting, we’re out on receivers a lot. You’ve got to reroute, you’ve got to step into place and being athletic enough to do that really helps us out and helps our secondary out.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue