On Monday, Temple football coach Rod Carey does something that is uncommon for him — he called out a position group.
Make that two position groups, the offensive and defensive lines.
Carey said there were many reasons for a 38-3 loss at Tulane on Saturday but cited the play of both lines as unsatisfactory.
“We felt like we lost both sides of the line of scrimmage and that was the first time I felt like that since I have been here and that is not good enough,” said Carey, now in his second year.
The Owls are a banged-up team, playing without several key players who are either injured or in COVID-19 protocol. The task gets even more difficult when Temple (1-3, 1-3 American Athletic Conference) hosts SMU (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field. The Mustangs are led by quarterback Shane Buechele, who has thrown for 2,226 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The Temple defensive line, which was supposed to be a team strength, has struggled this year. The offensive line has been competitive but far from dominant. The unit has missed starting guard Adam Klein, who has only played one game due to injury. Klein returned to practice Monday, and if he plays Saturday, it would be a major boost.
The football program prides itself as being Temple tough, and no group of players is tougher than the offensive and defensive linemen.
“As a unit, both sides, we lost the line of scrimmage,” Carey said.
The coach didn’t want to name individuals. That really isn’t his style.
When asked about all-conference defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh not making a tackle against Tulane, Carey talked about how statistics for defensive linemen can be misleading.
» READ MORE: Observations from Temple’s 38-3 loss at Tulane
That might be the case for individual stats, but Tulane, the second-leading rushing team in the AAC, ran for 284 yards (with a 6.0 average per carry) and two touchdowns.
One player on the defensive line who played extremely well against Tulane was end Arnold Ebiketie, a redshirt junior. He had seven tackles, including two for losses, and a sack.
Ebiketie has been Temple’s best defensive lineman this season. He is second on the team with 27 tackles, including 6½ tackles for losses and two sacks, both team highs.
“We could have done better, especially on the defensive side, the offensive side,” Ebiketie said. “There is always time to improve and that’s why we go back to practice and fix things that we can do better and so we can be better the next game.”
He says the poor performance on both sides is a motivating factor for Saturday’s game.
“Definitely, definitely,” he said. “You watched [the tape] and you see things that we could have done better."
The Owls defensive line got pushed around a little in the opening 31-29 loss at Navy, when the Midshipmen, running their triple option, rushed for 251 yards and four touchdowns.
The Owls seemed to wear down. Maybe the injuries at other positions have started to take a toll on both lines.
This week, SMU is a 17.5-point favorite, so it is a tough task against a Mustangs team that beat Temple, 45-21, last year in Dallas. The challenge is even more difficult since Carey announced that starting quarterback Anthony Russo will miss his second straight game with a shoulder injury.
Temple doesn’t always have the skill to match a team like SMU, although the Owls receivers can compare to any group in the AAC. What Temple has always hung its hat on is toughness.
No doubt Carey, a former college offensive lineman, was sending that message to his players by singling out both lines.
Temple may not win the game this week, but the Owls will look to win respect for their toughness, and it starts up front on both sides of the ball.