After one of the best years in school history, the Owls are set for another successful season under coach Matt Rhule. Stars P.J. Walker and Jahad Thomas should carry the load offensively again in Philadelphia, but the defense has a few big names to replace. In the best Group of 5 conference in the country, Temple will have a tough road ahead of them. October will be for all the marbles in the AAC East as they face South Florida and Cincinnati back-to-back games.
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Previewing Temple’s Offense
P.J. Walker is entering his fourth season as the starting quarterback. His numbers were much better last year compared with 2014, when the line had issues protecting him. He already owns program records for completions (601), TD passes (52) and wins (18) and will soon also be first in attempts (he needs 72 more) and yards (121 needed).
Senior Jahad Thomas made first-team all-conference after rushing for 1,262 yards and 17 touchdowns. Still, he might get pushed by Ryquell Armstead, who was hampered by a foot injury in the second half of the season. Coach Matt Rhule might direct new offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas to run the ball even more by utilizing several guys, and he has the line to do it. Left tackle Dion Dawkins is a big-timer, and with the exception of left guard, there’s plenty of experience along the front.
Ventell Bryant is the only receiver out of last year’s top six who’s back. He came on strong at the end of 2015. Two others who are being counted on, Adonis Jennings and Keith Kirkwood, are transfers from Pittsburgh and Hawaii, respectively. Tight end Kip Patton, a basketball player in high school, is a red-zone threat.
Previewing Temple’s Defense
You don’t replace someone as decorated as Tyler Matakevich, an All-America linebacker who became the face of the program. But the Owls have three linebackers who’ve been starters in Avery Williams, Stephaun Marshall and Jarred Alwan. Williams and Marshall wear single-digit jersey numbers as two of the nine designated toughest players, as voted on by their teammates. Ditto corner Sean Chandler, who might be Temple’s best talent on this side of the ball.
Depth at safety could be a concern. Yet there appears to be no shortage of capable bodies up front, where seniors Praise Martin-Oguike, Haason Reddick and Averee Robinson should head the rotation. Athletic strong safety Delvon Randall was the only true freshman to play on the defense a year ago.
Previewing Temple’s Specialists
Austin Jones set the school record for field goals made (23-for-28) and points by a kicker (113). He actually had the same stats as Jake Elliott of Memphis, who was the unanimous all-conference selection. One-time walk-on Alex Starzyk improved his punting average by four yards, to 42.4, last season. He just needs to be more consistent. The Owls ran one kickoff back for a touchdown and also blocked a nation-leading five punts, one of which resulted in a score. They also blocked two placements, one of which was returned for two points.
The Owls have gone from two wins to six to 10 in Rhule’s three seasons. Last year they beat Penn State for the first time since 1941. They were 7–0 and leading Notre Dame late before slumping to a 3–4 finish.
So there’s a lot still out there for them to accomplish, like a conference title and a bowl win, maybe even in a New Year’s bowl game. Which explains why their offseason theme was, appropriately enough, “Unfinished Business.”
Despite some key departures, particularly by three pro prospects on defense, plenty of difference-making pieces remain in place. But they have to find some new leadership, having lost 19 seniors as compared to five the previous year.
The schedule looks highly manageable, with most of their tougher AAC matchups being played in Philly. Which means they should be well positioned to at least make a strong defense of their division title. Another double-digit win total might not even be asking too much. Now all the Owls have to do is deal with some lofty expectations for a change.