The Pattison Avenue staff and I are excited to introduce college football coverage to the site this fall! As football fever slowly takes over the nation, we’re kicking things off with a look at expectations and projections for this year’s Temple Owls squad.
Head coach Matt Rhule guided the Owls to a 6-6 record, a significant improvement over his inaugural 2-10 2013 campaign. Much of that improvement can be credited to the Owls’ defense–their 17.5 points per game allowed ranked 4th nationally. Quarterback P.J. Walker saw his numbers regress from his freshman campaign. Some of that blame should fall on the offensive line and Temple’s complete lack of an effective running game. Jahad Thomas, the teams leading rusher with 384 yards, went the entire season without a touchdown on the ground. After a 4-1 start, the squad struggled to a 2-5 finish and was not invited to a bowl game despite their eligibility.
The addition of new quarterbacks coach Glenn Thomas should have a positive impact on Walker’s third season as starting QB. Thomas spent the last seven seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and is the most significant addition to the coaching staff. The offensive line should also see improvement, returning four starters including senior center Kyle Friend.
The ground game remains a question mark. Thomas returns for his Junior season, but should see plenty of competition for the starting job, particularly from Zaire Williams, who missed most of 2014 with a back injury, as well as four-star freshman recruit T.J. Simmons.
The Owls have a lot of production to make up for at wide receiver after losing senior Jalen Fitzpatrick to graduation. His 53 receptions were more than the #2 and #3 wideouts combined, and his 6 touchdowns led the team as one of only two players with multiple scoring catches. The other– redshirt junior Romond Deloatch will need to produce in order for this unit to be effective. The Owls also added an exciting addition in Hawaii transfer Keith Kirkwood, who averaged 20.8 yards-per-catch and scored four touchdowns as a freshman.
This unit returns 10 starters and should continue to be the biggest strength of the team. Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich leads the defense. He’s appeared in 35 consecutive games and was only the third Owl in program history to record over 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons.
Second team all-conference defensive end Praise Martin-Oguike should also continue to provide highlights. He led the team with 7.5 sacks and five forced fumbles last season. He’ll play as a redshirt junior this season after being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA in March.
The secondary should continue to be a strength after a 2014 season that saw the unit rank 14th nationally in passing yards allowed per game, led by junior cornerback Tavon Young’s four interceptions.
A couple of potential pitfalls emerge when examining the defense. They will likely be hard-pressed to force 30 turnovers again, and they were among the top 50 luckiest teams when it came to turnover margin in 2014. The defense also played with a bend-but-don’t-break style, giving up yards early in drives but shutting opponents down when they got into scoring range. It will be interesting to see how these trends play out in 2015–and their result should help determine whether this defense can perform as well, or perhaps even better than the 2014 edition.
Certainly room for improvement here. Although kicker Austin Jones made only 13-22 field goal attempts as a freshman, this was still a big upgrade from the 2013 team which made only three field goals in the entire season. Punter Alex Starzyk will hopefully be a little more consistent in his second season.
Despite the question marks, there is plenty to be optimistic about for the Owls this season. The defense will surely be one of the best in the conference, if not in the country. Offensive production will be the difference between another middling season, or a potential shot at the AAC championship game. Vegas thinks seven wins. I’m taking the over and predicting a return to bowl season for the Owls.
We’ll learn a lot when Temple kicks off their season against Penn State on September 5th at The Linc. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.