Temple shows potential in homecoming loss to Rutgers

In E.J. Warner’s first career start, Temple looked like a rebuilding program that is taking steps in the right direction.

The Temple Owls were defeated by Rutgers University 16-14 on September 17th at Lincoln Financial Field. ERIKA MONN/ THE TEMPLE NEWS

True freshman quarterback E.J. Warner made his first career start in Saturday’s 16-14 Temple loss to Rutgers University (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten). The last time that Temple University played a Power 5 team, it resulted in a 30-0 Week 1 loss at Duke University (3-0, 0-0 ACC) on Sept. 2. Prior to that matchup, Warner was the fourth quarterback on the depth chart. Now, he has leaped all the way to the starting spot. 

Both Warner and former starter redshirt-sophomore D’Wan Mathis, have played against the same FCS opponent and started against Power 5 schools. Temple has only scored one touchdown with Mathis on the field, a touchdown that Mathis himself didn’t even score. Before being replaced by Warner, Mathis was 14-of-29 passing. Since taking over, Warner is 33-of-51 with three touchdowns and an interception.  

Mathis was shut out and lost by 30 to an ACC team that finished 3-9 in 2021 and lost two fumbles to FCS Lafayette University (1-2, 0-0 Patriot League)  in Temple’s home opener. Warner went 14-of-19 passing for 173 yards and two touchdowns against the Leopards’ defense and lost by two points to a Big Ten Conference team that finished 5-8 in 2021. 

To further compare the two, Mathis played Rutgers in 2021 as Temple lost 61-14 to the Scarlet Knights. Before leaving the game with an ankle injury, he was 8-for-25 passing for 148 yards and an interception.  

On Saturday, Warner went 19-of-32 passing for 215 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Rutgers returned six of its 11 defensive starters from 2021, so Mathis and Warner’s performances can be compared fairly. 

Mathis did not dress on Saturday as first-year head coach Stan Drayton made a “game-time decision” that Mathis would not play. Drayton noted during Monday’s media availability that Mathis has begun practicing as a wide receiver. Considering Mathis wasn’t hurt against Lafayette, the coach likely made a healthy scratch for a player learning a new position.  

With Warner now confirmed as the team’s starter, the Owls have a sense of direction on offense in the program’s rebuild. Temple now knows it has a capable passer with a high football IQ and another three years of eligibility remaining after this season.  

Graduate wide receiver Jose Barbon is averaging more than 11 yards per catch, redshirt-senior transfer wide receiver Adonicas Sanders is averaging more than 10 yards per catch and redshirt-junior tight end Jordan Smith is on a two-game touchdown streak.  

If Temple is going to maximize its offensive potential, the offensive line must improve. The interior of the offensive line must figure out how to protect Warner to keep him healthy. It also needs to create more rushing lanes, for a team that ranks last in the AAC in rushing, if the Owls hope to expand their playbook. 

Defensively, Temple is carving out its identity as an attacking 3-4 defense that gets in the backfield all game long. Through three weeks, Temple leads the American Athletic Conference with 11 sacks as a team. Redshirt-junior outside linebacker Layton Jordan leads Temple and is second in the AAC in sacks with 4.5. 

“[Jordan’s] job is to be an impact player,” Drayton said. “His job is to make plays when his number is called.” 

Redshirt-sophomore linebacker Jordan Magee is 13th in the AAC in tackles per game with seven and leading Temple’s athletic linebacker group. In the secondary, redshirt-freshman cornerback Jalen McMurray makes a play every week that seemingly confirms Drayton and cornerbacks coach Jules Montinar made the right decision in naming him as the top cornerback on the team.  

Temple’s next game will be the final part of a three-game homestand against the University of Massachusetts (1-2), a team that finished 1-11 in 2021. 

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