Despite going 2-10 last season, Matt Rhule’s young squad lost 5 games by 6 points or less, for an adjusted record of 6-6. That’s a huge swing! A more experienced squad hopefully means in 2014 some of those close games result in actual wins for the Owls. A huge factor was the lack of a kicker, seriously the team could barely make an extra point. However, for a macro and micro view let’s take a look at the last few seasons for the Owls.
As I touched upon in my last article, Temple football has had a rough history. However, before the 2012 season there was hope, Temple was surging — from 4-42 to 9-15 in 2007-08, to 26-12 from 2009-11. Doubts still existed within the fan base as Owls fans were wondering if things would fall apart. Turns out they did with a 4-7 record in 2012, and a 2-10 record in 2013. This doesn’t mean the program is headed for disaster though, I just think the pendulum was swinging down. Despite that, there’s evidence that the down times could be coming to an end.
Let’s take a look at last year’s 2-10 season. The Owls had the worst September (first 4 games) imaginable, with opponents averaging 42.4 points per game, while Temple averaged 21.0 points per game (minus-21.4). Other than Notre Dame (L 28-6), the Owls played three teams that arguably they should be expected to win; Houston, Fordham, and Idaho. The former two are FCS programs and their yardage margin was minus-181 against Notre Dame, minus-224 against Houston, minus-135 against Fordham and minus-68 against Idaho. All these signs pointed to a catastrophic season, which it was in some ways, but there’s evidence the team was improving.
During the last 8 games of the season, the adjusted points per game were Temple 35.0, Opponents 31.3 (plus 3.7). While the score doesn’t really indicate it, the team began to turn around against Louisville. Against Cincinnati, the Owls actually outgained the Bearcats on a per-play basis (6.7 to 6.0) but could not hold onto the ball. A P.J. Walker led offense showed signs of life against Cincinatti, SMU, and Rutgers. The defense began to toughen up, showing grit against UCONN and Memphis.
Matt Rhule’s offense was pass oriented, which was a problem because the Owls weren’t really good at passing. However, with the emergence of dual threat freshman quarterback P.J. Walker, Rhule should start to look to playing towards Walker’s strengths. They still struggled passing under Walker, but against Memphis Walker went 20-for-32 for 328 yards with four scores. I expect Walker’s passing numbers to improve in 2014 due to maturity and a more experienced receiving corps.
P.J. Walker, in eight games as Temple’s number 1 quarterback, managed a passer rating of 150.0 at least five times. Being a dual threat, Walker also rushed for 92 yards against SMU and 59 against Memphis. Keep in mind the offense wasn’t necessarily catered to him. As is the case with most mobile quarterbacks, Walker took quite a bit of sacks but overall it didn’t effect his numbers. In his last six starts, his completion percentage rose to 63 percent. This offseason, Walker took initiative and is attending the Manning Passing Academy. Still, it’s clear Rhule needs to utilize the running game more, Walker and running backs Kenneth Harper and Zaire Williams both return. Harper and Williams showed good efficiency numbers last year and Rhule needs to focus on a run first offense.
The Owls defense was very young in 2013 and their numbers were near the bottom of the FBS. Again though, like the offense, the defense did show some signs of improvement throughout the season. They have a potentially strong set of linebackers and all sorts of newcomers in the secondary. The top six linebackers combined for 32 tackles for loss in 2013. That’s fantastic. Returning junior Tyler Matakevich was one of the nation’s best tackling linebackers. Returning red shirt Junior Nate Smith showed signs of playmaking abilities, and returning Junior defensive tackle Hersey Walton (6’4, 300 lbs) gives the Owls a nice, stout front.
Temple is in dire need of help at the cornerback position. Certainly in 2013 there were some issues with youth, with two freshmen and a sophomore among the top five in the rotation. In the 2014 recruiting class, Temple added three three-star junior college defensive backs and four three-star freshmen. Also, Virginia Tech transfer Boye Aromire is eligible and highly touted Nate L. Smith could play a larger role in the Owls secondary.
Special teams wise, let me just say, FOR GOD SAKES JUST GET A KICKER WHO CAN MAKE BASIC KICKS! Seriously, this was a huge issue in 2013 and experience is low on this 2014 squad. Hopefully we’ll see improvement.
Overall, I’d say expect improvement from your Owls squad in 2014 but don’t expect a miracle. They have some exciting games this season, at Vanderbilt to open the season and at Penn State on November 15th. I don’t think Owls fans will notice a huge improvement until 2015, which might be trouble for the program in general. However, hope is on the horizon and I think the Owls football program as a team are heading in the right direction.