Head Coach Rod Carey is ready to put Temple University’s 2020 football season behind him and start off fresh.
Throughout training camp, Carey has emphasized team culture, younger players having more playing time and the athleticism of Temple’s new redshirt-freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis.
Here are three takeaways to keep in mind before the Owls take the field against Rutgers University on Sept. 2 in Piscataway, New Jersey.
LAST SEASON STRUGGLES
The Owls finished the season with a 1-6 record, and their poor performance stemmed from both COVID-19 limitations and failing to execute on third downs.
Temple was limited to only seven games in 2020 due to COVID-19 issues.
Only five players started all seven games for the Owls, and Temple had 40 different starters during the course of the season.
The Owls lost their starting running back Re’Mahn Davis, who totaled 1,259 rushing yards during his two seasons with the Owls, to the transfer portal mid-way through the 2020 season.
Player groups lacked consistency, which was a weakness for Temple during game day, because certain positions were being overworked compared to others.
One inconsistent group was the quarterback room, where four different quarterbacks started for the Owls last season.
Two of those quarterbacks transferred this offseason, along with 11 other former Owls. Graduate student Anthony Russo took advantage of his extra year and transferred to Michigan State University and back-up quarterback Trad Beaty, now plays for the Georgia Institute of Technology.
On top of that, Temple’s offense struggled to execute in the red zone and couldn’t convert on third downs. The defense allowed more than 35 points per game.
When Carey arrived at SUNY Maritime College, he wanted the Owls to escape the distractions and comfort zone in Philadelphia and bond as a group, he said.
“The first thing is bonding,” Carey said. “Take everyone out of their element and get us together alone.”
The day after the team arrived at SUNY’s campus, he took practice to the beach, where the team army crawled and sprinted in and out of the East River.
He also brought the players to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, where the team had the opportunity to escape the field and learn about the heroes from that day.
“We got a chance to bond with something other than football, which was really good for this group and for us,” Carey said. “It’s a piece of our country’s history and tools we can use going forward too.”
Besides taking the team out of their usual practice atmosphere, Carey wanted the players to build personal relationships with each other that could translate onto the field, he added.
Temple’s offense has changed drastically from last season due to new transfers joining the program this offseason, but Carey is confident in starting quarterback Mathis, who has quickly adjusted to the Owls’ playbook, Carey said.
“When [Mathis] has been in there, the ball has been going to the right place and the execution is pretty high,” Carey said. “I’m pretty pleased with that right now.”
The 6-foot-6 quarterback has quite the arm. During the Owls practice on Aug. 17 Mathis completed a 60-yard pass to graduate student receiver Randle Jones for a touchdown.
Temple’s running back room could incorporate a running back committee, since multiple players are high on the depth chart, Carey said.
“It’ll be interesting to see how this thing unfolds, because we will certainly use a rotation, you just can’t get to the point where you’re using four,” Carey said. “I certainly think we could be in that situation where four are worthy. You just can’t use four in a game. No one gets into a flow and there aren’t enough reps.”
Redshirt-freshman running back Edward Saydee received praise from his coaches and will most likely start for the Owls come game day. However, graduate student running back Tayvon Ruley, who recorded one touchdown last season, could see a lot of reps in the rotation.
Temple’s defense, who Carey claimed to be ahead of the offense in the first two weeks of training camp, has a number of new faces that are taking first-string reps, Carey said.
Cornerbacks Cameron Ruiz, a redshirt-junior transfer from Northwestern University, and Keyshawn Paul, a junior transfer from the University of Connecticut, could see vital playing time on Temple’s defensive secondary, which will help Temple’s defense not be overworked like they were last season.
“When [Paul] got here, the biggest thing was understanding the defense and the terminology,” said Cornerbacks Coach Melvin Rice. “He was able to get that under his belt in the spring along with [Ruiz]. We spent a lot of time together in the summer learning the terminology.”
Rutgers is heading into their second season with Greg Schiano as head coach, and he’s elevated the program to create several NFL prospects.
The Scarlet Knights were ranked No. 12 in the nation and No. 3 in the Big Ten in recruiting, and called one of the best teams with a collection of commits in the country by the ESPN class of 2022.
Although Rutgers finished 3-6 in the conference last season, the Knights went up against highly ranked teams, like Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University in the Big Ten conference. Rutgers totaled 3,052 in rushing and passing yards compared to the Owls, who totaled 2,468 in rushing and passing yards.
Key returning Rutgers players are junior running back Isaih Pacheco, who totaled seven touchdowns in the 2019 season, and junior defensive back Avery Young, who had 30 solo tackles last season.
Temple watched as Rutgers played nine games last season, and Carey admitted dominating the Knights’ defense will be a challenge due to their personnel but expects Temple’s offense to compete.
“The physical work is done, it’s time to play a game,” Carey said. “Now the mental work, obviously, is a huge piece. These last few days going into this will dictate a lot of how we physically play.”