Heading into last week’s game against Rutgers, Temple Football (1-1, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) was searching for a statement win.
The Owls used a second-half comeback to beat Akron 24-21 in week one, propelled largely by stifling second-half defense that allowed just 41 total yards. Against the Scarlet Knights, they allowed 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, leading to their 36-7 loss to Rutgers.
This weekend, Temple comes back to Lincoln Financial Field to host Norfolk State (1-1, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference). The game is set to kick off Saturday at 2 p.m.
Temple has struggled the first two weeks of the season to play a solid four quarters and will need to do so if they want to bounce back after its disappointing loss to Rutgers last week.
Here is everything that you need to know ahead of Temple’s week three matchup against Norfolk State.
BREAKOUT PERFORMER: JOQUEZ SMITH
Temple continued its struggles in the running game last week against Rutgers, finishing with just 68 yards on the ground. The rushing attack ranks 121st out of 132 eligible FBS teams this season.
The lone bright spot for Temple was freshman running back Joquez Smith. In his first action at the college level, Smith ran for 45 yards on nine carries and provided a much-needed spark for the Owls.
However, Smith’s biggest contribution might have been drawing the attention of Rutgers’ defense. Temple’s lone touchdown drive featured timely runs from Smith that forced Rutgers to stack players near the line of scrimmage. Warner threw two long passes to move the ball down the field before finally connecting with wide receiver Dante Wright for six.
Head coach Stan Drayton noticed Smith’s contribution and wants to utilize the young back more this season, he said.
“We’re definitely going to continue to elevate his reps,” Drayton said. “I think he’s created some healthy competition in that room right now, and credit to [Edward] Saydee and [Darvon] Hubbard and EJ [Wilson]. Those guys are rallied behind Joquez. They want to win, so if Joquez is going to put the production out there to help us win, I think we’re all going to be pretty satisfied with that.”
Expect Smith to get plenty of touches this weekend against a Norfolk State defense that has given up an average of 270 yards on the ground this season.
RUN DEFENSE STRUGGLES
The Owls’ struggle to guard the run continued in their loss to the Scarlet Knights. They allowed 254 total rushing yards, with 176 of those yards coming from running back Kyle Monangai, who Drayton said was an “NFL running back.”
A main factor in the Owls’ inability to stop the run was the play of defensive tackles Jerquavion Mahone and Allan Haye. Rutgers’ offensive line was able to push them and the rest of the Owls defensive line off the line of scrimmage as soon as the ball was snapped, opening running lanes for Monangai.
The lack of depth at the defensive tackle position showed against the Scarlet Knights.
Depth on the entire defensive line has been a constant question mark for the Owls. Darian Varner, who was first team all AAC last season, transferred to Wisconsin this offseason, while defensive lineman Demerick Morris suffered an undisclosed injury and the timetable for his return is unknown.
Until Temple finds a proper replacement, the defensive line will continue to be its achilles heel.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM NORFOLK STATE
In its first game of the season, Norfolk State botched a potential game-tying field goal at the last second and lost to Division II Virginia State 33-24.
The Spartans bounced back last week, led by a stronger performance from quarterback Otto Kuhns, who finished the game with 15 completions for 195 yards and three touchdowns. He did not throw the ball a lot, but he was efficient, completing 75 percent of his throws. The performance was enough to win Kuhns the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week.
To stop Norfolk State, Temple needs to force Kuhns to make mistakes. He’s thrown an interception in both games so far this season.
However, Norfolk State had a balanced attack, finishing with 164 yards on the ground, including 82 from running back Xzavion Evans. Limiting Evans is crucial to forcing Kuhns to throw the ball, which could force more mistakes from the quarterback.
Defensively, Norfolk State allowed more than 30 points in both games. While the Spartans have had more success defending the pass than the run, they have allowed an average of nearly 500 yards to opponents.
Declan Landis, Sports Editor: “This is a much needed feel-good game for Temple. I think the offense gets its act together, especially relying on Smith to run the ball. If the Spartans commit to stopping the run, or even think twice about it, Warner will have more space to find receivers, which could lead to a high-scoring game.”
Temple wins 35-17.
Johnny Zawislak, Assistant Sports Editor: “I think Temple is able to get the running game going, force the Spartans to make mistakes and will be able to get a much needed bounce back win.”
Temple wins 31-10.
Ryan Mack, Assistant Sports Editor: “I Think after last week’s game against Rutgers, this is the best chance for the offense to gain consistency and confidence, and the added reps of Joquez Smith will help out the Owls’ run game. The defense has been impressive this year and if the unit keeps playing that way, it should be a good win for the Owls.”
Temple Wins 28-10.
Jaison Nieves, Sports Social Media Manager: “This is a great game for Temple to regain offensive confidence while continuing to impress defensively. The Owls need to get started early and not underestimate their opponent and it will lead to a big win.”
Temple wins 24-7.