Temple struggling with old habits ahead of season finale

E.J. Warner and Temple’s offense struggled in a Nov. 19 loss against the University of Cincinnati.

Temple redshirt-junior tight end football player, David Martin-Robinson made his return to the field during the Temple vs UCF game. ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple Football (3-8, 1-6 American Athletic Conference) lost to the University of Cincinnati (9-2, 6-1 The American) 23-3 on Nov. 19 at Lincoln Financial Field a week after losing 43-36 to the University of Houston (7-4, 5-2 The American). Last week, Temple’s offense regressed after averaging 45 points per game. 

Temple was coming off two successful offensive performances before their loss to Cincinnati, but they ultimately reverted to their old habits. The Owls’ forced passes and inferior run blocking led to a loss in which they put up three points for the second time this season. 

Today, against East Carolina University (6-5, 3-4 The American), Temple needs to get the ball moving on the ground early in order to set up easier throws downfield. 

The Owls struggled to move the ball throughout the game because of Cincinnati’s stout run defense. The Bearcats allowed Temple to record just seven rushing yards in the first half and 202 total offensive yards in the game. 

Cincinnati stacked the box all game, sending more defenders than the offensive line could block, which led Temple to average less than two yards per carry. For a team with a young quarterback in freshman E.J. Warner, a supplemental run game helps take pressure off his shoulders, but this game prevented him from having play-action freedom.

“Cincinnati is really good on defense,” said head coach Stan Drayton. “It’s the best front we’ve faced all year.”

The lack of a running game forced Temple to throw the ball to move downfield. Warner returned to Earth after his record-setting 486-yard passing performance against Houston. He only passed for 167 yards with zero touchdowns and threw two interceptions against the Bearcats in a subpar performance.

While Warner makes correct reads and accurate throws with the football, there are times when he lacks the proper arm strength for plays that break outside. Warner’s middle to deep throws outside the numbers require ball speed and anticipation, but he gave defensive backs time to recover on routes with high-arching passes, leading to seven Cincinnati pass breakups.

Warner had two throws to out-breaking routes in the first half, both of which lacked the proper velocity and sailed to the intended receiver. One ended in a near interception and the other was picked off by Cincinnati senior safety Jacob Dingle. If Temple wants to have success in the future, Warner must be able to make accurate down-field throws. 

The wide receivers also struggled to make key catches. The receiving core struggled to get open against the Bearcats’ steady secondary without redshirt senior Adonicas Sanders and redshirt junior Amad Anderson Jr., who bring a veteran presence and solid route running. 

The two receivers’ absences gave opportunities to players who wouldn’t see the field as much, like redshirt freshman Zae Baines and walk-on freshman Jordan Diaz. Baines and Diaz did not play a significant role offensively, but their presence was a big part of Temple’s “next man up” mentality, Warner said in the postgame press conference. 

Temple’s four turnovers and a fumble by redshirt sophomore running back Edward Saydee, led to 10 and seven Cincinnati points, respectively. If the Owls protected the football by establishing a run game and making shorter throws, the score would have been closer and they would have had more opportunities to score.

“The stats are very telling, looking at four turnovers,” Drayton said. “You’re not going to beat a good team with numbers like that.”

Defensively, Temple played well by holding Cincinnati’s offense to below their season average of 31.7 points per game. 

Despite missing sophomore defensive end Darian Varner – their season sack leader heading into the game – Temple recorded five sacks and eight tackles for loss on the day. The Owls have not struggled with creating defensive pressure with their front seven this season, and that trend continued last Saturday. 

“The whole mantra for our defense is negative plays, TFL’s and sacks,” Drayton said. “Anytime we’re getting a combination of those we’re celebrating for sure.”

Redshirt junior outside linebacker Layton Jordan, who finished the game with two and a half sacks and three and a half tackles for loss, forced the majority of those negative plays. Jordan now has nine total sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss on the season, placing him top 10 in the nation in both categories.

Temple will end their season against ECU at Lincoln Financial Field today at 1 p.m. Temple has not beaten ECU since 2019 and is looking to avenge a 45-3 loss at the hands of the Pirates last year. 

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