Temple finds much-needed momentum in 41-9 win against Norfolk State

Joquez Smith had a big day, and Temple bounced back after its blowout loss last weekend.

Freshman running back Joquez Smith runs for a 51-yard touchdown. He finished with 142 yards on the ground in Temple's 41-9 win over Norfolk State Saturday. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Head coach Stan Drayton has preached all season that the Owls needed to find a way to get the run game going, and they did just that Saturday against Norfolk State. 

Temple Football (2-1, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) defeated the Spartans (1-2, 0-0 Mid Eastern Athletic Conference) 41-9 at Lincoln Financial Field behind a resurgence from the rushing attack. 

The Owls ran for nearly 300 yards against a Spartans defense that has struggled mightily all year to stop the run.

“[It was] good to bounce back from a tough one last week and find a way to win a ball game,” Drayton said. “It’s always real special when you have a chance to get up on the scoreboard and start working your depth chart a little bit. It is really important for us moving forward that our depth plays well.”

Temple rushed for more than 250 yards in a game for the first time since Nov. 5, 2022, when the team rushed for 277 yards in its 54-28 win against South Florida. True freshman running back Joquez Smith led the way for the Owls’ backfield, rushing for 142 yards and a touchdown. He also added 15 receiving yards and caught the game’s opening touchdown.

Smith provided a much-needed spark to an Owls’ rushing attack that has struggled this season. Temple combined for just 129 yards on the ground in its first two games, which ranked 121st out of 130 FBS teams in rushing yards per game.

The true freshman did a great job taking advantage of opportunities he saw from gaps in the line and ran strong all afternoon.

“He’s tough to tackle, he’s tough to see and he has the ability to make you miss in space,” Drayton said about Smith. “So it’s a good start to a new beginning with that running back. I think he is going to be a special player for us moving along, and those other backs have got to play. I thought they did. We gotta support his play, he is going to be our guy moving forward.”

Temple’s defense also played well, allowing just seven points, with the other two points coming from a safety due to a holding penalty in the end zone. This was the 30th win since 2008 when Temple’s defense held its opponent to less than 10 points.

The defense has been playing short-handed this year. Defensive lineman Demerick Morris hasn’t played yet this season after having surgery, and the Owls played without lineman Jerquavion Mahone and linebacker Yvandy Rigby. Temple also lost outside linebacker Layton Jordan, who was disqualified after a targeting penalty on the Spartans’ second drive of the game.

In Mahone’s absence, the Owls rotated defensive linemen Chevez Trask, Lancine Turay and true freshman Conlan Greene, who took a bulk of the first-half snaps and finished with four tackles.

“Conlan Greene is a tough dude I’m telling you,” Drayton said. “He’s a true freshman no doubt, but he has some grit about him, and he really does care about this football team. He’s going to give you everything that he’s got every snap, but to see him play more consistently doing his job correctly was something that is awesome to see.”

Linebacker Diwun Black, who transferred from Florida this offseason, also had a breakout performance, finishing the game with one sack, three tackles for loss and six total tackles.  

Because of the strong rushing attack, Temple quarterback E.J. Warner was not needed as much as prior games. He threw the ball just 22 times in the win, compared to the 96 passes he had thrown across the previous two contests. Warner was very efficient when his number was called, completing 14 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown.

Warner only played the first three quarters before backup quarterback Quincy Patterson finished the game for the Owls once they went up 29 on their final drive of the third quarter, which ended in a 1-yard touchdown rush from Patterson.

“It’s huge,” said Warner about not needing to rely on the passing game. “I think our run game is super important today, they were killing it. I’m happy if we keep getting yards to just stand back there and hand the ball off and watch them go. That’s what happened most of the game today, so I’ll take that any day of the week.”

While Temple dominated on the scoreboard, it was not a perfect game. The Owls struggled to play clean football, finishing with nine penalties for 71 yards. Three of Temple’s nine penalties were for 15 yards. 

Drayton and the Owls know they need to be more disciplined going forward, especially against No. 22 Miami next weekend.

“It’s discipline,” said Drayton about the penalties. “That’s a tough one to swallow for me because we’ve practiced that so much, being a disciplined football team. For us to jump offsides on a punt situation is ridiculous. We gotta win the field position battle, and that requires us to be disciplined, and that’s something that we have to address big time.”   

Temple will look to build off of the win next week. That will not be an easy task, as the Owls host the nationally-ranked Hurricanes (3-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) on Sept. 23 at 3:30 p.m.

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