Temple (3-3, 1-1) has experienced the highs and lows that often come with an even record at the midway point of the college football season.
The Owls split their nonconference schedule results with convincing wins over Akron and Wagner and dropped matchups against Rutgers and Boston College. In American Athletic Conference play, their season was highlighted by a 34-31 comeback win over Memphis on Oct. 2, followed by a 52-3 loss to then-No. 5 Cincinnati on Oct. 8.
Coach Rod Carey said this week’s bye couldn’t have come at a better time after a loss to the Bearcats and a bevy of injuries.
The team’s biggest stumbling block has been slow starts. Temple has been outscored, 60-7, in the first quarter this season.
“We’re definitely improved, but we’re not where we want to be,” Carey said. “The No. 1 thing is we have experience right now. We’ve had successes and failures through that experience, but a lot more information has been gathered.”
Here’s a look at how they have fared in all three phases through the first half of the season.
Temple’s offense has struggled, but D’Wan Mathis, who missed two and a half games due to an ankle injury, has shown he can be the Owls’ long-term solution at quarterback.
Mathis, a redshirt freshman who transferred from Georgia, has two multi-touchdown performances and two games in which he passed for more than 250 yards. He’s also displayed an ability to extend plays with his legs, such as his 39-yard run against Memphis.
Temple’s backfield was a point of contention entering the season after Carey and running backs coach Gabe Infante said they would take a committee approach as a solution.
Redshirt freshman Edward Saydee has stepped into the starting role, but Carey believes Saydee hasn’t completely separated himself from the pack, despite leading the group with 191 yards on 49 carries.
Graduate student Tayvon Ruley has the second-most carries with 28, while sophomore Kyle Dobbins has a team-leading three touchdowns on 23 carries. Redshirt junior Ra’Von Bonner recently jumped to second on the Owls’ depth chart after returning from an injury.
There’s a reasonable expectation Saydee continues to take the majority of the reps while the other three see snaps based on week-to-week performances in practice and specific matchups.
Injuries to veteran receivers Jadan Blue (upper body) and Randle Jones (knee) have made way for some of the underclassmen. Jose Barbon leads the Owls with 325 receiving yards, Amad Anderson Jr. has 210 on 14 catches, and Kadas Reams has two touchdowns. All three are redshirt sophomores.
Temple has given up 33.4 points per game this season and rank second in the conference in yards allowed per pass attempt. But with five freshmen and three sophomores either starting or seeing considerable snaps, they are far from where they want to be.
Graduate student defensive end Manny Walker and junior cornerback Keyshawn Paul have stood out. Walker has been a solid presence off the line of scrimmage with a team-leading two interceptions, both coming in the backfield rising above the offensive line.
Paul has made big plays in pass coverage. His lone interception came on a first-quarter deep ball, undercutting a post route in the 28-3 loss to Boston College on Sept. 18. Paul also played a part in limiting the production of the FBS leader in receiving yards, Memphis’ Calvin Austin III, who was held to 104 yards, his second-lowest total and only game without a touchdown.
Although the Owls have largely kept the big plays to a minimum, they’ve fallen victim to opposing teams marching down the field, converting 39.8% of third downs (fifth worst in AAC) and 10 of 13 fourth downs (fourth worst) while chewing off nearly a minute more of the game clock per contest.
Rory Bell told reporters in mid-August that he has hit field goals from 50-plus yards in practice. He said it with a little more confidence than you might expect from a guy whose previous career-long field goal was from 30 yards at Central Florida last season.
But then Bell nailed a 47-yarder against Wagner and then connected from 55 yards against Cincinnati. He’s become a bright spot for Temple on special teams.
Punter Adam Barry, who took a big leap forward last year, has been consistent. He has at least one punt of 50 yards or more in five of Temple’s six games and has pinned seven attempts inside the 20-yard line.
But the rest of the special teams unit has been at fault for much of Temple’s struggles.
The Owls gave up 113 yards on kick returns against Rutgers and an average of 43.5 yards per kick return two weeks later against BC. Special teams issues persisted with two muffed punts against Cincinnati, both of which turned into two-play touchdown drives for the Bearcats.