Five observations from Temple's 59-49 win over Houston on Saturday night:
Houston entered the game dead last in the American Athletic Conference in pass defense, allowing 326.3 yards per game. So how did Temple attack the Cougars? Run the ball down their throats. The Owls rushed for 312 yards and eight touchdowns on 58 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt.
It's rare when a non-triple-option team can score eight touchdowns in a game and none of them are through the air. More importantly, it led to Temple's winning the time-of-possession battle by 34 minutes, 23 seconds to 25:37. That kept the quick-strike Houston offense off the field, even though the Cougars still did plenty of scoring themselves.
Temple's offensive line continually blew Houston off the ball. And while all-American Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver missed his third straight game with a right knee bruise, Temple was without its top offensive lineman, center Matt Hennessy, who was out injured. So while it would have been tempting for Temple to go bombs away on the Houston secondary, Patenaude used great judgment in continually pounding the ball against the frustrated Houston defense.
While this is the most obvious of observations, the game Temple running back Ryquell Armstead had was even more incredible because of his health situation. He had tweaked his injured right ankle late in the Owls' previous game, a 52-40 loss at Central Florida. Even though coach Geoff Collins vowed last week to stop talking about injuries, he told the television announcers who were doing the game that Armstead was about 75 percent.
If that's the case, that was a scary performance: 210 yards and six touchdowns on 30 carries. Armstead ran hard up the middle and harder when breaking to the outside. It was a vintage performance for Armstead, who has rushed for 978 yards (5.5 avg.) and 12 touchdowns this season despite missing two games with that ankle injury.
Armstead's excellence overshadowed the career game by backup Rob "Nitro" Ritrovato. The redshirt senior rushed for a career-high 91 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. He continually gained big yards up the middle, a testament to both the offensive line and his hard running. More importantly, Ritrovato gave Armstead breathers and maintained the high level of the running game.
Ritrovato has scored three touchdowns this year, all on the road, and Temple is 3-0 in those games, which also includes wins over Maryland and Navy.
All last week, the Owls talked about how dangerous Houston quarterback D'Eriq King was, and the junior lived up to the billing. King entered the game leading the nation in points responsible for per game (passing and running), an average of 28.2. Against Temple, he was responsible for 36 points (not counting the PATs) with five touchdown passes and one rushing score. He completed 28 of 46 passes for 312 yards, the five TDs and one interception, and rushed for 125 yards and the score on 19 carries.
Yes, he missed a few throws, but the 5-foot-11, 195-pound converted wide receiver was electrifying. Temple often appeared to have a good angle on him, only to see King slip away.
The best thing from Temple's perspective is that they won't have to deal with King next season, unless both teams reach the American Athletic Conference championship game. After this year, Houston will be off the Owls' cross-division opponent list until 2021.
Temple was, naturally, euphoric about winning on the road against the AAC West Division leaders and becoming bowl eligible, but the Owls for the second straight week showed some serious defensive leaks. Most of it was not being able to deal with King, but Temple has now allowed 101 points in the last two weeks. Granted those were against UCF and Houston, the top two offenses in the AAC, and Houston was playing catch-up virtually the entire game. But still, Temple has been known for its tenacious defense.
Even with those last two games, Temple is fourth in the AAC in scoring defense (27.2 ppg.). The Owls will look to improve this week against a South Florida team averaging 32.2 points.