No team improved more defensively from 2013 to 2014 than the Temple Owls. As a matter of fact, this defense had one of the more drastic improvements in recent memory. And guess what, every single defensive starter is back in 2015. So yeah, the gang’s all here.
There’s a good reason why the Temple defense overshadowed its offense last season. Ok, there are actually two good reasons. First, the defense was legitimately very good. Second, the offense was legitimately very bad. They started out decent, scoring 24 or more points in each of their first five games, but fell off in a big way. The Owls failed to score more than 20 points in any of their final seven games.
Up front, it’s a good sign that every projected starter on the line has at least one start, although two of them have only one start. They also have a good and experienced leader. Kyle Friend is both a three-year starter at center and a reigning second team all-conference selection.
Unfortunately for the Owls, there isn’t much guarantee that anyone can take advantage of the holes created by the line. P.J. Walker returns at QB and is the leading returning rusher, but that is much more of an indictment against the offense than an endorsement of Walker’s dual threat abilities. Walker will certainly want to improve on his 15 interceptions to only 13 touchdowns.
Jahad Thomas and Jamie Gilmore are the only returning running backs to top 100 yards last season, and even they could only muster a combined 613 yards and one touchdown. As for receiver, losing Jalen Fitzpatrick is really going to hurt. Fitzpatrick went for over 700 yards receiving last year, no other receiver or tight end topped 200…yikes.
There are plenty of guys on the depth chart who have had very slight production, maybe one of them breaks out this season. If not, Temple may have to win a lot of 10-7 or 7-3 ballgames.
Starting to question how this team went 6-6 last season and is a dark horse conference title contender? Well just keep reading a little while longer and it should become clearer.
Let’s just do this systematically. All four starters on the defensive line return: Matt Ioannidas, Sharif Finch, Hershey Walton, and my personal favorite Praise Martin-Oguike. They had a combined 32.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 6 passes broken up, a fumble recovery and an interception. If they can just replicate that in 2015 then it will be remarkable and a good indicator that this team won a fair amount of games.
Just like the line, all three starting linebackers return led by Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich is the only active FBS player who already has 300 career tackles. He recorded 102.5 last year, ten and a half of which were for a loss. Alongside him will be either Jared Alwan or Nate D. Smith, both of whom played in 10 or more games last season and one or the other started every game. Smith should be in line to start, but both should see extensive playing time. Avery Williams will start at SLB.
Continuing the trend, all four starters from the secondary return. Oh, and yeah they were pretty good last year too. They may have only had 5 interceptions between them, four of which were by CB Tavon Young, but they did break up 25 passes. The corners accounted for 17 of those break ups, so the coaches should have no qualms about leaving them on an island frequently.
If you only read the offense section and then skipped to this, then you may be raising your eyebrows a little. This team went from 2-10 to 6-6 last season, but the offense needs to make huge strides if they are going to make similar improvements this season. It seems more reasonable that they finish somewhere around where they did last season. The schedule will also be pretty tough, especially early with games against Penn State and at Cincinnati. Then, the end of October presents challenges with games against UCF, at ECU, and at home against Notre Dame. Notre Dame is likely a loss, and I think Temple has a reasonable chance to beat ECU, but it’ll be tough on the road.
Credit Cover Photo to Chris Szagola/Associated Press