Thirty five minutes before Temple’s 49-10 win against Tulane Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, the “blood” drill began.
With their teammates circling around them, the participants stood at the 40-yard line and initiated the pregame ritual, which is marked by constant hitting.
“We just knock each other out,” redshirt-junior linebacker Avery Williams said. “You are trying to kill the person, basically. It gets you ready for the game. It gets you hyped up, and I love it.”
When Williams and the Owls’ (5-0, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) defense took the field, the unit forced two turnovers and held Tulane to 110 yards of total offense, the lowest total allowed since allowing 93 yards in a 59-0 win against Delaware State Sept. 20, 2014.
The Owls held the Green Wave to eight rushing yards—the fewest since coach Matt Rhule’s tenure began in 2013. Ten of Tulane’s 27 rushing attempts went for no gain or negative yards.
“This was a big game that things clicked,” senior defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis said. “We bought into the process, and it showed. We prepared at a really high level this week.”
Through five games, the defense has forced 11 turnovers, including nine interceptions, and has totaled 16 sacks. Opponents are scoring 14.4 points per game and averaging 328.4 total yards per game against the Temple defense.
“We believe you always win up front, and that is our motto,” Rhule said. “If we can not give up big plays, and we can stop the run and get to the quarterback, we have a chance.”
The Green Wave averaged 1.9 yards per play—3.4 yards per pass and 0.3 yards per rush—the second lowest total under Rhule.
Ioannidis said the defense could tell what type of offensive play Tulane was running by observing the stance of its offensive lineman.
“If they are back farther and light on their hands, it’s most likely going to be a pass,” Ioannidis said. “If they are heavier on their hands, they are coming at you. It’s most likely going to be a run.”
The Owls sacked Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee four times Saturday. After sacking Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg 10 times in a 27-10 win Sept. 5, the defense totaled two sacks in the next three games.
“The sacks come in the fourth quarter,” Rhule said. “The sacks come when the offense wears down. If you believe people can’t pass protect you for four quarters, then you have the effort we had in the second half.”
Williams, who calls the defensive line “the wild boys,” said when the secondary and defensive line make plays like they did Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field, the whole defense is effected.
“When I see the wild boys go off, and then I see the [defensive backs] go off, that makes the linebackers, the hit squad, go off,” Williams said.
The Owls credited their preparation to the scout team offense, who practices against the starting defense every Tuesday and Wednesday. It was the eigth time under Rhule the defense held an opponent to 10 points or less.
“Our scout team comes out and gives us an incredible look,” Ioannidis said. “It’s like they are putting bounties out on us. They help us overall prepare toward these games.”
Defensive coordinator Phil Snow said the Owls’ defensive success is a result of the time the unit spends watching film of opposing teams.
With each defensive unit in its own room of Edberg-Olson Hall, the groups watch tape while snacking on pizza and wings.
“We spend a lot of time in there,” Snow said. “Our players are in there until 10 p.m. every night watching video. I’ve been on a lot of football teams that don’t do that.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.
Video shot by Eli LaBan and edited by Harrison Brink.