SHREVEPORT, La. – Here are some observations as Temple finished an 8-5 season with Thursday’s 56-27 loss to Duke in the Independence Bowl.
Facing a future NFL quarterback
Temple has faced some good quarterbacks this year, including UCF’s McKenzie Milton, Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson and Houston’s D’Eriq King to name a few, but none that are likely to be drafted as highly as Duke’s Daniel Jones. At 6-foot-5 and 220-pounds, he has the size, arm, mobility and intelligence to play the position. Against Temple he threw the deep ball especially well. On Duke’s first drive he hit receiver T.J. Rahming in stride for a 62-yard completion to the Owls 3-yard line. That type of throw is one of the reasons the redshirt junior is considered a potential NFL first round pick. Late in the second quarter Jones threw a deep out pattern for only a 9-yard gain to Daymond Philyaw-Johnson but it was the type of throw that NFL quarterbacks’ arm strength is judged by. It also helped that his receivers were wide open all day, something that has plagued the Temple defense in many of its defeats. Jones ended with 423 yards passing and five TD passes. Whether he is ready for the NFL at this moment, and Jones wasn’t saying after the game, no other quarterback Temple saw this year could make all the throws the way Jones did.
Running game sagged
Without Ryquell Armstead, who interim coach Ed Foley said couldn’t play due to injury, the Owls running game was ineffective, averaging 1.8 yards per carry on 29 attempts. Going forward, this will be the number one priority for Temple, to replace the production of Armstead. Redshirt junior Jager Gardner, the potential replacement, ran as hard as he has in some time, but the Owls went away from him. He gained 34 yards on seven carries. The question with Gardner is his durability and whether he can handle a heavier load. Jeremy Jennings, who gained 12 yards on six carries is a speed burner but after beginning his Temple career as a wide receiver, is still adjusting to running back. He needs to run north to south more than east to west. While Gardner will be the frontrunner next year, there will be plenty of other players in the mix and the spot for the No 1 running back should be one of the more fascinating competitions under new coach Manny Diaz.
Randall’s courageous performance
Temple senior Delvon Randall said he never thought about sitting out, with his pro career on the horizon. Randall, who has been selected to play in the East-West game, injured his ankle during bowl practice, but still played. He had a 52-yard interception for a touchdown and seven tackles, including two for loss. Still, it wasn’t his best game and certainly wasn’t the secondary’s. As previously stated, too many receivers were wide open. The fact that Randall played and gave it his all at less than 100 percent, shows the type of team player he is and one who made huge contributions each of his four seasons. Few departing players will be missed as much as Randall. He was definitely a player who led by his actions.
What to do with Wright
While Isaiah Wright hurt his hand in the second half, he had been returning kicks (5) and punts (1) before that. Yet Wright’s lack of use in the offense has been a frequently complaint in the weekly observations. For somebody with his skill and elusiveness, he caught just 33 passes for 368 yards and three touchdowns this year. Wright is so good running after the catch, the same attributes that made him the American Athletic Conference special teams player of the year. Temple will have to figure out how to utilize his skill more next year. In the preseason, there was talk of getting him upwards of 15 touches a game. Wright can also be utilized as a wildcat quarterback and running back and it is worth looking at using him as a running back next season, at least part-time and with the departure of Armstead.
Bad judgment by the Duke coach
Duke was up 56-27 in the fourth quarter and Jones was not only in the game, but he was still passing the ball. One time he got hammered on a sack by Quincy Roche and there was no reason with a person of his future, should have had to been in the game and taken such a big hit, risking injury. Temple interim coach Ed Foley talked about what a class act Duke coach David Cutcliffe was, but rolling up the score and risking injury to his quarterback didn’t seem like the classiest or wisest of gestures.
Afterwards, Cutcliffe apologized to Foley and here is what the Duke coach said about leaving in his quarterback and throwing the ball when the game had long been decided.
“We were throwing the ball there and had our starters in. Left Daniel (Jones) in the game. T.J. Rahming was nine yards away from breaking an ACC record. I got that word, and you love your players. It was a tough decision, but when we gathered in our huddle, I told them, ‘We have to do this. We’re getting T.J. this record.’ Temple’s defense played so well we almost didn’t get the nine yards. He fought on that screen and got it. I was hopeful he would get it on the first play, and we would sub 11 players in the game. I felt like a dog doing that. I told him, ‘Great job, and I hope you understand we weren’t trying to do anything other than get a young man a record.’”
That’s fine, but it still left his quarterback, who has a chance to earn millions of NFL dollars, at risk and no record should be worth that. There are other quarterbacks who could have thrown the ball to Rahming, who also could have been injured. What if he got injured while earning the record, would that be worth it? Coaches always preach it’s all about the team, and if that is the case, going out of your way to achieve a record that puts players at risk for injury, isn’t best for the team or the player(s).