While Navy torched Temple’s defense for 487 rushing yards, Temple countered with its screen-heavy spread offense.
Saturday’s final box score, following Navy’s 31-24 victory, told a telling result.
The Owls compiled 156 rushing yards and 396 total yards of offense compared to Navy’s 487 and 517, respectively. The Midshipmen had 63 carries, which nearly doubled that of Temple’s 34 rushing attempts. Navy’s ground game more than tripled Temple’s total of 156 total yards rushing.
The Midshipmen had 30 yards passing, but featured seven players post rushing totals of 40 yards or more. Behind Reynolds’ blistering rushing total, Navy’s Noah Copeland and Chris Swain totaled 84 and 70 yards on the ground, respectively.
Temple’s leading rusher, sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker, had 71. Moreover, Walker completed 59 percent of his passes (29-of-49), posted a passer efficiency rating of 55.1 and threw an interception along with his two touchdown passes.
While the Midshipmen consistently pounded Temple’s defense in the rushing column, their three fumbles lost proved a steep cost, keeping Temple very much in a game that looked one-sided on paper.
Yet, by the numbers, Temple’s offense lacked the scoring punch when necessary in a game in which it needed to keep pace with Navy’s potent triple-option scheme.
A fumble on Navy’s 20-yard line forced by Temple sophomore safety Jihaad Pretlow set up Temple on the cusp of the red zone early in the second quarter, when the team trailed by 10 points.
It went for naught, though, when four consecutive rushes yielded a turnover on downs. Overall, Temple mustered 81 yards of offense in the first quarter en route to the slow start.
As the game drew on, Temple’s lack of a vertical game began to show. Twenty-two of Walker’s 29 completed passes yielded gains of nine yards or less. One of his longer completions, a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Fitzpatrick, came off a wide receiver bubble screen thrown to Fitzpatrick on the line of scrimmage.
“[The Midshipmen] play deep Quarter [coverage] and Cover 2, and they drop their linebackers back, and take all vertical routes away,” Rhule said. “They try to make you force balls into coverage, and they make you check the ball down.”
Overall, Walker averaged 8.3 yards per pass completion on Saturday, and his average of 8.6 ranks No. 104 out of 114 eligible Division I quarterbacks in yards per completion.
Walker’s 59-percent pass completion largely dwarfed that of his 68-percent performance in the Owls’ 30-point victory at Vanderbilt on Aug. 28.
There were missed opportunities on offense, though, in which the quarterback was not at fault. Walker, for instance, zipped a pass on 2nd-and-goal from Navy’s 10-yard line that slipped right through the hands of redshirt junior tight end Saledeem Major in the end zone toward the end of the third quarter.
“We didn’t catch the ball well [Saturday],” Fitzpatrick, a senior, said. “We had a couple drops and we have to start the game better. We left our defense hanging in the first half a little bit, and you can’t do that against Navy.”
Walker amassed 123 of his 240 passing yards in the final quarter alone in two high-yardage drives. Though the Owls picked up some life and 152 yards on two desperation drives in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t enough to overcome a sluggish start and a 17-point third-quarter deficit.
“[The offense] is clicking, but we’re just clicking late,” Walker said. “We have to start clicking. In practice this week, we’re going to get plays downfield early. Hopefully we’ll get things going early.”
Andrew Parent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @daParent93