During the last decade or so, the Temple Owls football program has seemingly been on the precipice of decline only to prove the doubters wrong again and again. The foundation that Al Golden built while the team was still a member of the Mid-American Conference was tested when Golden left for Miami. Golden’s replacement, Steve Addazio, took over and won nine games his first year. But then Addazio left soon after going 4-7 and all hope looked lost, especially after the next guy in line, Matt Rhule, went 2-10 in his first year.
Rhule persisted, however, and after going 6-6 in his second year, led the Owls to back-to-back 10-win seasons. Unfortunately for Temple, Rhule used that work to get himself the head coaching job at Baylor. Replacing Rhule was Geoff Collins who once again inherited a team that could fall out of bowl contention given the change of leadership. But the 2017 Owls did not do that. Instead, they won seven games, including a triumph in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. Yes, that is a real bowl.
Collins’ group in 2018 will have fewer holdovers from the Rhule era, especially with defensive stars like Sharif Finch and Sean Chandler gone, but there is still plenty of talent left for Temple to once again prove that winning football is there to stay in North Philadelphia.
When Do They Play Cincinnati?
The Bearcats will be coming off a bye week when they visit Temple in Philadelphia on Oct. 20. The Owls still call Lincoln Financial Field home, which means the Bearcats will get to play on the same turf as the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
What They Do Well
The hallmark of the Temple football renaissance has been defense and Collins did not see fit to change that in his first season as head coach. Among American Athletic Conference teams in 2017, Temple was near the top, ranking third in the league in total yards allowed (381.5 YPG) while finishing as a top 40 team nationally in defensive S&P+.
Led by guys like Chandler and fellow safety Delvon Randall, the Owls were especially adept at defending against the pass, ranking first in the league at 206.8 aerial yards allowed per game. Unrelenting pressure helped make opposing offenses unable to do much through the air, with Temple leading the AAC in sacks (39) and tackles for loss (102). A great number of those sacks are gone, however, as Finch (8.5) and Jacob Martin (8.0) accounted for 42.3 percent of the output and are now on NFL rosters.
Another aspect of the defense that was critical to Temple’s success was its third down work. Only 38.3 percent of opposing third down chances turned into first downs against the Owls, who ranked second in the conference in the category behind USF.
All that defense would mean nothing if the Owls couldn’t move the ball themselves. Even though they were near the bottom of the AAC and the country in terms of overall offensive production (102nd in offensive S&P+), they at least protected the backfield fairly well while providing some solid field position with return efforts.
What They Don’t Do Well
Despite having an offensive line that generally did its job along with some talented skill position players, Temple’s offense was severely lacking. As mentioned, they were outside the top 100 nationally in offensive S&P+ and a lot of that had to do with a lack of scoring and rushing production. The talents of Ryquell Armstead and David Hood aside, the Owls only rushed for 136.4 yards per game (third-worst in the AAC) and scored 25.1 points per game.
The offense simply stalled out too often for more opportunities to score points or pick up yards. Temple was a pretty mediocre team on third down and picked up 20.2 first downs per game, which was better than only UC among AAC squads. Compounding the lack of first downs and third down conversions was a few too many turnovers. The Owls finished 2017 with a -4 turnover margin.
Players to Watch
Frank Nutile, QB
Is Nutile the quarterback of the future? He completed 61.3 percent of his passes and had 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions while sharing time with Logan Marchi. At the least he certainly did enough to earn himself the starting gig with Marchi gone.
Ryquell Armstead, RB
Hood’s surprising departure from the team will mean even more work for Armstead, who is one of the better running backs in the AAC. He rushed for 604 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Isaiah Wright, WR
Wright led the Owls in receptions (46) last year and ranked third in receiving yards (668). He is also a very talented returner, having taken back both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown last season.
Ventell Bryant, WR
Bryant has all the potential to be a top-flight wideout. With opportunity knocking now that Keith Kirkwood and Adonis Jennings gone, Bryant has the chance to be great.
Matt Hennessy, OL and Jovahn Fair, OL
Both Hennessy and Fair have plenty of experience and will help the Owls continue to be solid up front.
Quincy Roche, DE
Roche had 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks last year. He is going to be the focal point of the pass rush for the Owls.
Shaun Bradley, LB
Bradley did not get as much attention as some of his fellow defenders, but he led the team in tackles (85) and added 11.0 for loss.
Delvon Randall, S
Randall was the sole Owl on the all-AAC first team in 2017. Something tells me the four interceptions he grabbed had something to do with that.
Despite a pretty solid game from Hayden Moore (nearly 300 total yards, two touchdowns), the Bearcats were no match for Temple last year in Cincinnati, losing 35-24 during an early November contest. Temple has won 12 of 20 all-time meetings, including the last three.
Would This Be Better as a Basketball Game?
Temple has a rich history in basketball and despite not being at the forefront of the AAC the last few years has still given UC a run for its money. Five of the last six meetings have been decided by 10 points or fewer, although the Bearcats did win by 33 in their most recent contest. Despite that outlier, this does appear to be a better basketball matchup.
If you read Clayton’s AAC and ACC preview, you’ll know that he is pretty high on the Owls. While I don’t entirely share that sentiment, I still expect the Owls to be a solid team once again, even if it is more because of their offensive talent than usual. As improved as UC will be this year, taking down a team with AAC title hopes on the road might be asking a bit too much.