Coach Steve Addazio was emotional after his team’s 37–28 win against South Florida on Saturday, Oct. 6, the first game Temple has played in the Big East Conference since the team was kicked out in 2004.
“It’s emotional for me to think of what Temple went through and where they’ve come from,” Addazio said. “I see the people here and I think, ‘Wow, tough times don’t last, but tough people do.’ We’ve got some tough people at Temple. I felt so excited to be a small piece of that.”
The win improved Temple’s record to 2–2 overall and 1–0 in the conference — a testament to the resilience of the Owls’ young roster, Addazio said.
“It’s just a step, but a step,” Addazio said. “I felt honored to do that. These kids battle and represent the university with their work ethic, the way it should be represented.”
“It shows that we’re mentally tough and train hard every day,” redshirt-freshman linebacker Nate D. Smith said. “We can compete with anybody. We can definitely compete in the Big East.”
Smith has been leading an effort on defense in which the underclassmen are taking over as the team’s top playmakers. Of the Owls’ four starting freshmen, the two on defense were the team’s leading tacklers on Saturday. True freshman linebacker Tyler Matakevich had 15 tackles, including two for a loss, in his first career start. Smith extended his team lead in tackles by adding another eight.
The efforts of the Owls’ underclassmen is all the more important when considering South Florida’s roster, which returns 17 starters this year and has a senior class of 24.
On Saturday, 19 of the Bulls’ 22 starters were upperclassmen, including 12 seniors. The Bulls have 38 freshmen, none of whom started against Temple.
Temple, on the other hand, has one of the youngest rosters in the country. The Owls have 48 freshmen, 18 of whom have played this season. Temple ranks No. 3 in the country in number of first-time starters with 15. The Owls have nine returning starters this season, and started four freshmen on Saturday.
Yet, it was the inexperienced Owls who won the turnover battle against the seasoned Bulls. Bulls’ redshirt-senior quarterback B.J. Daniels fumbled twice, losing one, and threw an interception at the end of the game. Bulls’ redshirt-senior running back Demetris Murray also lost a fumble.
Coming into the game, Temple, despite its youth, was ranked first in the Big East Conference in turnover margin. South Florida was ranked last.
“The two turnovers were painful, because they both came back in our own territory and we put our defense in a short field, which makes it really hard and that resulted in points and a missed field goal,” Bulls’ coach Skip Holtz said.
True freshman Kyle Friend has taken the job of starting right guard from sophomore Jaimen Newman, who has battled injury throughout the season. He joins redshirt-freshman Zach Hooks on the young offensive line.
“There’s a lot of mistakes that are going to be made with two freshmen offensive lineman,” Addazio said. “You just have to keep weathering these things and punching back. That’s the mindset that we have right now.”
While four starting positions have been filled by freshman, young players are fighting for positions all over the roster.
Sophomore Anthony Robey has won a starting position at cornerback in the place of senior Maurice Jones. Freshman defensive back Tavon Young forced a fumbble Saturday. Sophomore Jalen Fitzpatrick is the team’s leading receiver in a squad that includes true freshmen Khalif Herbin and Samuel Benjamin.
“[Benjamin] has been working really hard in practice and he was able to give us a boost,” redshirt-junior quarterback Chris Coyer said. “We’ve got a lot of talented young receivers on this team and it’s good to get a boost from them.”
While the team’s youth has been paying off sporadically so far this season, the Owls cautioned that Saturday’s win could have its disadvantages if the team doesn’t stay focused.
“It’s a great win, but we can’t stop,” Smith said. “We have to keep working hard in the weight room and media room.”
“We’re susceptible like any young team,” Addazio said. “We’re going to coach like crazy and push, but I’m not naive enough to think that we can’t swing, because we’re a work in progress right now.”
For the first time since the opening week of the season, the Owls don’t have any time off before their next game. Temple will travel to face Connecticut on Oct. 13 in another Big East showdown.
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.