Temple hasn’t played a football game since falling to North Carolina, 55-13, in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Annapolis, Md.
As it turns out, Temple will begin this abbreviated COVID-19 season in the same place, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, when the Owls visit Navy at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“I look at it as a great opportunity to go down there and get the Military Bowl memory out of our heads,” Temple coach Rod Carey said this week.
One other consolation is that the Navy team Temple will face isn’t nearly as talented as North Carolina was.
In fact Navy (1-2) isn’t anywhere near as talented as last year’s team, which went 11-2 and tied eventual American Athletic Conference champion Memphis with a 7-1 record in the West Division. Memphis earned the division title based on a 35-25 win over Navy.
This year there is just one division in the 11-team AAC, with the top two teams playing for the conference championship.
To beat Navy, teams have to stop the triple-option, which, in these pass-happy times, goes against the norm by emphasizing the run. Navy, which didn’t play Temple last season, had one of the best players to run the triple-option in wide-receiver-turned-quarterback Malcolm Perry, who was the AAC offensive player of the year and is now with the Miami Dolphins.
Navy shuffled its quarterbacks in the first three game. Senior Dalen Morris was the starter in the opener, a 55-3 home loss to BYU. Freshman Xavier Arline started the next game, a 27-24 win at Tulane, but was pulled in the first half for Morris, who led Navy back from a 24-0 deficit.
Morris didn’t make the trip in last week’s 40-7 loss at Air Force because of an undisclosed medical condition, but one that wasn’t related to COVID-19. Junior Tyger Goslin started in place of Morris.
Now Morris is ready to start against Temple.
The Midshipmen have struggled to run the ball, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. The leading rusher, junior fullback Jamale Carothers, has 176 yards (4.2 average) and no touchdowns.
On defense, the Midshipmen have allowed 6.4 yards per rush and 12 rushing touchdowns.
Coach Ken Niumatalolo said his team must match Temple’s typical physical play.
“We have gotten out-physicaled this year, and this team [Temple] over the years is probably the most physical team in our league,” Niumatalolo said this week. “The year we played them for the conference championship, they not only beat us but we lost a ton of guys from that game.”
Niumatalolo was referring to Temple’s 34-10 win at Navy in the 2016 AAC championship game.
“They have always been a physical, athletic group with a bunch of guys who play with a chip on their shoulder,” Niumatalolo said. “They have guys who have been overlooked recruiting-wise and I have always been impressed with Temple, so it is not the kind of team you want to play after you get beat like that [against Air Force]. This is going to be a tough challenge for us.”
Temple must take advantage of Navy’s run defense. Owls quarterback Anthony Russo said the key would be blocking junior middle linebacker Diego Fargot (6-3, 240).
“Their middle linebacker, 54, has played a lot of football for them," Russo said. "He is a very smart player, he flies downhill and shoots a lot of gaps and makes plays.”
Fargot leads Navy in both tackles (28) and tackles for losses (4.5).
While Russo has a lot of receiving weapons, including redshirt junior Jadan Blue and graduate student Branden Mack, the Owls should come out running with sophomore Re’Mahn Davis, considering Navy’s difficulty stopping the run.
After seeing its four nonconference games canceled and a season that was supposed to begin Sept. 5 pushed back to this Saturday, Temple is just excited to get back into action.
“Everybody is going to be juiced up and amped up because it’s been [nearly] 10 months since we last played,” Russo said. “ … We want to find a way to take all that energy we have and channel it to be able to execute at a high level.”