In the week of practice leading up to Saturday’s game against Houston, coach Geoff Collins felt William Kwenkeu was ready to play middle linebacker.
He just didn’t want it to happen the way it did.
With 14 seconds left in the first quarter, sophomore linebacker Shaun Bradley was ejected from the game for targeting — an infraction committed when a player makes “forcible contact with an opponent” with the crown of his helmet or hits a defenseless player above the shoulders, as defined in the 2016 NCAA football rulebook.
On a second-and-10 play from the Owls’ 28-yard line, Houston senior wideout Linell Bonner dropped a pass from senior quarterback Kyle Postma. As Bonner bobbled the ball and Bradley ran toward him to make the tackle, Bonner crouched down. Bradley’s right shoulder appeared to make contact with Bonner’s head on the play.
🏈🚨Temple/RV Linebacker Shaun Bradley ejected from game for this hit. Doesn't seem that bad. pic.twitter.com/XEqCZSAVQR— SJ SportsTalk (@sojerseysports) September 30, 2017
Collins said the officials told him Bradley made helmet-to-helmet contact with Bonner. The American Athletic Conference declined to make officials available to the media.
“I feel like the receiver like was bending down to catch the ball, and Shaun was just running and ended up hitting him,” junior safety Delvon Randall said. “I honestly don’t think it was targeting.”
Without Bradley available, Temple turned to Kwenkeu to play middle or “Mike” linebacker. The sophomore linebacker made a team-high eight tackles in Temple’s 20-13 loss at Lincoln Financial Field.
“I thought he did a really good job stepping in, flying around and taking command of the defense with the ‘Mike’ backer,” defensive coordinator Taver Johnson said. “We’re really really happy and pleased with what he did in a short amount of time of being thrown on the spot. So that’s a bright spot for us.”
After Bradley’s penalty, Houston moved to the Owls’ 14-yard line with a chance to add to its 7-0 lead. Kwenkeu helped Temple hold Houston to a field-goal attempt. He stopped Postma for a 1-yard gain after he kept the ball on an option and tackled sophomore wide receiver and running back D’Eriq King for no gain on the next play.
Collins said the team had to “be creative” with its defensive scheme after Bradley’s ejection. When the team played in nickel formations with five defensive backs, redshirt-senior cornerback Artrel Foster or sophomore linebacker Sam Franklin played at the fifth spot.
The team primarily used formations with two linebackers throughout the game. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Graham-Mobley and redshirt sophomore Chapelle Russell played at the “Will” or weakside linebacker spot.
Kwenkeu “almost exclusively” played middle linebacker on Saturday, Collins said. Kwenkeu is fairly new to the position. During spring practices and most of the preseason, he played at the “Will” spot, Collins said.
“The coaching staff just has been doing a great job of getting us ready,” Kwenkeu said. “So whenever the play is going on, we have to mentally be in the play. So it was just a matter of executing.”