When Temple Football head coach Stan Drayton received the call in December 2021 that he would become the school’s 17th football head coach, the former University of Texas assistant coach felt a sense of overwhelming pride.
It’s the same pride Drayton spoke with after Temple’s 49-46 loss to East Carolina University on Nov. 26. While his team finished with the same 3-9 record as last season with former head coach Rod Carey, those nine losses came with fewer blemishes than the regime he succeeded.
“There was a lot of lifestyle changing that had to take place,” Drayton said. “A lot of self-esteem that had to be restructured.”
Temple football may have finished the 2022 season with a 1-7 record in conference play, but four different one-point losses show an improved squad from last season. Several players like true freshman quarterback E.J. Warner and redshirt junior outside linebacker Layton Jordan received national recognition for their play and Drayton has cemented himself as Temple’s coach moving forward.
Drayton’s squad had a rough start to the season, falling 30-0 to Duke University on Sept. 2 in what many, including Drayton, called “first-game jitters.” The team looked lackluster in pass coverage and was stagnant offensively.
Drayton was unhappy with the result against Duke and believed it was a good opportunity for the team to figure out who they were, Drayton said during his post-game press conference on Sept. 2.
Unexpectedly, the Owls would finish the season with Warner under center and boast the third-best pass defense in the conference.
Warner took the starting quarterback position on Sept. 10 in Temple’s second game against Lafayette College after redshirt sophomore and former quarterback D’Wan Mathis was benched. The young quarterback played like a true freshman early on, throwing three interceptions in his first two starts. As the season progressed, Warner became one of the top true freshman quarterbacks in the country.
The American Athletic Conference named Warner their Rookie of the Year, while he also earned 247Sports’ true freshman of the week honors on Nov. 28 after his 527-yard and five-touchdown performance against ECU. Warner took command of an offense in need of an identity, and Temple’s passing attack found its stride late in the season.
“[E.J.] kept getting more comfortable in that pocket and more comfortable with us as individuals,” said graduate offensive lineman Adam Klein. “He’s done an awesome job just being calm, cool and collected.”
Graduate wide receiver Jose Barbon was Warner’s lead target throughout the season, especially after a knee injury kept redshirt senior Adonicas Sanders on the sidelines for three different games. Barbon became the first Owl to have six or more 100-yard games in a season and finished with 71 catches for 910 yards on the year.
Temple’s offense turned out to be better than expected but still needs to improve during the offseason. Warner is evidently smaller than many quarterbacks around the conference, and while his IQ is on par with most of his opposition, he must get stronger in order to compete on the highest level.
“He’s nowhere near the potential I believe this kid has within him,” Drayton said. “He’s gotta get in that weight room, he’s gotta get stronger, we gotta add some elements to his game.”
There was plenty of size and speed on the Owls’ defensive front seven. Temple finished the regular season eighth in the nation in total sacks, averaging 3.17 per game. Jordan led this effort, accumulating nine sacks on his own while sophomore defensive lineman Darian Varner reached 7.5 sacks while missing the final two games.
The defense overall ranked sixth in the AAC to end the season, and with coverage on the backend from redshirt freshman Jalen McMurray and sophomore safety Alex Odom, opposing teams did not break down Temple’s defense easily during the middle of the season.
Despite the team’s success, giving up 70 points to the University of Central Florida on Oct. 13 is no proud feat. This unit needs to improve its tackling and prevent secondary breakdowns, especially when it matters most.
“We are ready for the offseason,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Magee. “Ready to get back next year.”
Without the University of Cincinnati, the University of Central Florida or the University of Houston in The American next season, fans should expect Temple to improve their record.
If things go their way in close matchups, a bowl game may be on the horizon for the Owls next season.