2014 Temple Preview: What You Need To Know
Temple LB Tyler Matakevich
Temple LB Tyler Matakevich
Posted Jun 4, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Temple (Getty Images)

2014 Temple Preview

What You Need To Know

- 2014 Temple Preview
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer

What you need to know about the offense: At long last, Temple has an offensive pulse, thanks to the unlikely development of rookie QB P.J. Walker in 2013. The entire landscape of Owl football changed once Walker entered the huddle, bringing the poise and the productivity of a veteran to the offense. With No. 11 behind center, Temple averaged 33 points over the final six games in head coach Matt Rhule's passer-friendly pro-style system. Temple will again be in good shape up the middle, with Walker at quarterback, Kenneth Harper and Zaire Williams leading the running game and Kyle Friend at the pivot. It's on the edges where the Owls could be vulnerable in the fall. The offensive line struggled to protect the pocket last fall, and three regulars from that unit have graduated. And after losing last year's top two receivers, including Robby Anderson for personal reasons, Walker and the Owls are searching for more support for reliable "F" receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick.

What you need to know about the defense: Owl QB P.J. Walker is a rising star. He'll have to be to offset the inadequacies of the team's defense. Temple will be solid from the second level, with Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith once again leading the way. But aside from a couple of up-and-comers, like DT Matt Ioannidis, the unit is going to be questionable everywhere else. Predictably, the lack of overall talent will lead to all kinds of problems, such as a weak pass rush and issues stopping the run and the pass. Coordinator Phil Snow is facing a difficult challenge, as he attempts to turn the Owls into the kind of feisty, fundamentally-sound D that marked Al Golden's stay in Philadelphia. Doing so will require the veterans and the newcomers to play to a level that the program hasn't witnessed the past few seasons. Of greatest importance, Temple has to start coming up with more money plays. In 2013, the team was last in the American with 13 takeaways and next to last with 19 sacks.

Players You Need To Know
1. LB Tyler Matakevich, Jr.
Matakevich didn't rest on his laurels in 2013. He went out and built on his Big East Rookie of the Year season by making 137 tackles, 11.5 stops for loss and three forced fumbles. His 8.8 solo tackles per game led the FBS, while serving as testament to his fundamentals in the open field. Matakevich is physical, instinctive and never far from the ball. Plus, he's now up to a sturdy 6-1 and 230 pounds, which will help when taking on wandering offensive linemen.

2. QB P.J. Walker, Soph.
Head coach Matt Rhule gave Walker a shot to play in the Oct. 5 game with Louisville. The true freshman spent the rest of the year in the lineup. When Walker got in the huddle, it marked the beginning of a new era on Broad Street. Despite appearing in only nine games, and starting seven, the 6-1, 200-pound playmaker accounted for 23 scores, 20 through the air and three on the ground. Flashing the composure of a veteran, he went 152-of-250 for 2,084 yards and eight interceptions, while rushing for 332 yards on 90 carries.

3. LB Nate D. Smith, Jr.
Whatever Tyler Matakevich misses, Smith is usually there to clean up. Temple's man in the middle for the past two seasons finished third on the team with 66 tackles, adding six stops for loss, three sacks and four pass breakups. Most of his production was achieved over the final six games of the campaign. Smith can really pack a punch in run defense, projecting his stocky 6-0, 230-pound frame in the direction of the ballcarrier.

4. C Kyle Friend, Jr.
If only the Owls had a few more blockers like Friend, who has more career starts than the rest of the team's linemen combined. The prototype of durability and stability has started 21 straight games, 16 at center and five at right guard, and he was the only offensive player to play every down in 2013. Friend is a stout and heady 6-2, 305-pounder, who'll not only anchor the line for the next two seasons, but contend for All-AAC honors as well.

5. RB Kenneth Harper, Sr.
With one season of eligibility remaining, Harper is eager to build on his best campaign as an Owl. Given a chance to start for the first time, the 6-0, 225-pound Gainesville, Fla. native responded with a Temple-high 613 yards and nine touchdowns on 136 carries. He was also a factor in the passing game, catching 26 balls for 241 yards and two scores, while picking up blitzes to protect the quarterback. Harper is a tough inside runner, especially in short yardage.

6. WR Jalen Fitzpatrick, Sr.
The offense needs a big year from Fitzpatrick now more than ever. Last season's two best receivers are gone, with top target Robby Anderson unexpectedly leaving school earlier in the year. It's incumbent upon Fitzpatrick to raise the bar from "F" receiver, where he's enjoyed sporadic success. The acrobatic 5-11, 180-pounder caught a career-high 38 balls for 429 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, but he was too quiet in November.

7. CB Anthony Robey, Sr.
The Owls are asking for a converted effort to turn around a pass defense that'll be spearheaded by Robey, who already has a degree. The 5-10, 190-pound senior has started 28 career games, including 24 in a row, which will help bring stability and leadership to the defensive backfield. Robey had 49 tackles and two stops for loss in 2013, though he has to set a better example by getting his hands on more throws this season.

8. DT Matt Ioannidis, Jr.
Ioannidis showed a ton of promise as a seven-game starter in 2013, which he plans to build on this fall. While the junior has played both tackle and end in Philadelphia, he's now become too big and too strong at 6-4 and 285 pounds to be moved from the interior of an otherwise mediocre Temple line. Showcasing the desired blend of toughness and quickness, Ioannidis chipped in 26 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss and a team-high three sacks last season.

9. RB Zaire Williams, Soph.
Williams proved in his first season of action to be a solid complement starter Kenny Harper. He came off the bench as a redshirt freshman to finish second on the Owls with 533 yards and three touchdowns on 101 carries. He also displayed soft hands out of the backfield with 11 receptions for 128 yards. At 5-10 and 200 pounds, Williams already possesses the size and the strength to handle a bigger role in the event Harper goes down.

10. CB Tavon Young, Jr.
After splitting reps with veteran Zamel Johnson in 2013, Young is poised to handle a full-time gig in the defensive backfield this season. While still undersized at 5-10 and 174 pounds, Young has continuously added the muscle needed to hold up against physical receivers. He was active throughout his sophomore season, finishing fourth on the team with 51 stops to go along with an interception and an Owl-best five pass breakups.

- 2014 Temple Preview