Temple University football’s offense (1-3, 1-3 The American Athletic Conference) hit a new low on Saturday after not scoring a single touchdown for the first time under head coach Rod Carey.
“We didn’t play anywhere near our capabilities today,” Carey said on Oct. 31.
Temple’s 35 point loss to Tulane (3-4, 1-4 The American) is a case study on everything wrong with the team’s offense this season. They failed to score touchdowns in the red zone and didn’t score points or move the ball much after the defense forced turnovers.
The common denominator for the team’s struggles in those areas is poor play-calling by the coaching staff.
The Owls have scored just 11 touchdowns in 21 red zone possessions, and in the past two games the defense has forced six total turnovers, leading to just three points for the offense.
This season, the Owls are averaging a lowly 3.6 yards per attempt on the ground.
They are still relying on goal line fades in the red zone instead of running more pick plays, and they are struggling to pick up yards after turnovers because the coaches keep calling running plays despite minimal success.
On Saturday, Temple tried to convert multiple third downs longer than five yards by running the football and failed on all of them. One of the failed attempts came midway through the second quarter when Temple tried to run the ball with redshirt-senior running back Tayvon Ruley.
They needed eight yards for a first down, and Ruley gained just one making it fourth and seven. Temple then lined up to go for it on fourth down but called timeout and ultimately punted.
The only reason for the coaching staff to call a run play on third and eight is if they’ve already decided to go for it on fourth down regardless of if the run gives them a first down. However, Temple punting makes the third down run call questionable at best.
To make matters worse, Temple only recorded 77 rushing yards against the Green Wave. Carey said the offensive line played “awful,” which makes running the ball on third and eight even more puzzling.
In the future, the Owls’ play-calling needs to be more aggressive by throwing the ball past the first down marker. Running on third and long is a safe call, but Temple is 1-3 in a pandemic-shortened season: the time for safe play-calling is over.
Some of the blame for the Owls’ performance against Tulane can be attributed to missing 13 players due to COVID-19 protocols and starting quarterback graduate student Anthony Russo due to an AC joint injury on his right shoulder.
Russo will not play in the Owls next game against Southern Methodist (6-1, 3-1 The American) at home on Nov. 7, Carey said.
Redshirt-sophomore quarterbacks Trad Beatty and Re-al Mitchell struggled to replace Russo. Together they completed just 16 passes for 145 yards and one interception.
In Russo’s last game, he completed 41 passes for 387 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
“We missed on some opportunities,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t capitalize on some turnovers like we needed too.”
It can be tough to judge coaches who are forced to play their backup quarterbacks. However, when the same issues pop up every game regardless of the players on the field, the blame lands at the feet of Carey and the coaching staff.
The Owls’ time to fix the offense is starting to run out because their loss makes it difficult for them to compete for an AAC championship.
Temple ranks eighth in The American and is two games behind Cincinnati (5-0, 3-0 The American) for first place in conference wins with just four games remaining.
Temple will have to bounce back quickly because three of their four remaining opponents this season are The Mustangs Central Florida and the Bearcats, who have a combined conference record of 9-3 this season.
“It’s difficult taking this loss,” said redshirt-junior cornerback Christian Braswell. “A lot of people were down. We just had to step up to the plate and take on the challenge. There wasn’t much we could do.”