2014 CFN Preview - Temple Owls
Temple QB P.J. Walker
CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - The coach and QB are in place, can Temple finally start to shine? (Getty Images)
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Temple has a glimmer of hope now that the coach and the quarterback are starting their second years together in Philly.
Head coach: Matt Rhule
First year: 2-10
Off. 13, Def. 21, ST, 2
Lettermen Lost: 19
1. LB Tyler Matakevich, Jr.
2. QB P.J. Walker, Soph.
3. LB Nate D. Smith, Jr.
4. C Kyle Friend, Jr.
5. RB Kenneth Harper, Sr.
6. WR Jalen Fitzpatrick, Sr.
7. CB Anthony Robey, Sr.
8. DT Matt Ioannidis, Jr.
9. RB Zaire Williams, Soph.
10. CB Tavon Young, Jr.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 28 at Vanderbilt
Sep. 6 Navy
Sep. 13 OPEN DATE
Sep. 20 Delaware State
Sep. 27 at Connecticut
Oct. 4 OPEN DATE
Oct. 11 Tulsa
Oct. 17 at Houston
Oct. 25 at UCF
Nov. 1 East Carolina
Nov. 7 Memphis
Nov. 15 at Penn State
Nov. 22 OPEN DATE
Nov. 29 Cincinnati
Dec. 6 at Tulane
Sure, the Owls still have a long way to go in the talent department compared to the balance of the American Athletic Conference. But, the current hint of optimism around the program can be traced directly to the returns of second-year head coach Matt Rhule and second-year QB P.J. Walker. Both showed potential as well as rookie inconsistency in their debuts. Walker brought a heavy dose of much-needed excitement to a struggling team, accounting for 23 touchdowns after becoming Rhule's starter in early October.
The Owls love what they've seen so far from Walker. Now they've got to surround him with more talent, and collaboratively learn how to finish. In 2013, Temple took part in seven games decided by 10 points or fewer—and lost all seven during a 2-10 campaign. None of the close losses was more frustrating than the one versus UCF, who'd go on to win the American and the Fiesta Bowl over Baylor. The Owls had the Knights on the ropes before losing in the final minute, 39-36. Frustrating, yes. But encouraging as well, since Walker went toe-to-toe Blake Bortles on that afternoon at the Linc.
For the Owls to gradually climb the American ladder, they'll have to resume developing players the way former head coach Al Golden did from 2006-2010. Golden and his staff were masterful at turning marginal recruits, by other's standards, into all-stars and NFL timber. In 2011 and 2012, five of Golden's kids were drafted, headed by first-round DT Muhammad Wilkerson. It's up to the new regime to coach up the next generation of Owls, especially the ones playing in the trenches.
For good reason, Temple is optimistic about its offense. There's Walker and a system that won't be so unfamiliar to the quarterback's teammates. The defense, on the hand, remains a liability. While LB Tyler Matakevich has been revelatory the past two seasons, his supporting cast is suspect. The Owls not only ranked last in the American in total D, but they were 110th nationally at 474 yards allowed per game. If coordinator Phil Snow's unit can't carry a little more of the weight, Temple will be dragged into shootouts, week-in and week-out.
Temple is moving in the right direction, even if the measure of progress is incremental. The Owls should be more competitive now that both Rhule and Walker have that debut season in the rear view mirror. And if the team can learn how to finish games, it's going to spoil an opponent or two's season in the fall.
What to watch for on offense: Who protects the franchise? In P.J. Walker, Temple is set at quarterback for the foreseeable future. And the running game has two potential feature backs, Kenny Harper and Zaire Williams. But, who'll be blocking for the team's best playmakers? While mainstay C Kyle Friend has 21 career starts, no other Owl lineman has started more than three career games. Even more precarious for the offense is the possibility that a redshirt freshman, Leon Johnson, could be protecting Walker's blindside this fall.
What to watch for on defense: An influx of talent in the secondary. Temple needs reinforcements in the defensive backfield after allowing almost 300 yards a game through the air. It'll get that infusion from a recruiting class littered with possibilities. CB Anthony Davis turned down offers from Penn State, Mizzou and Nebraska, and Cequan Jefferson, Shahid Lovett and Alex Wells are JUCO transfers. Wells, in particular, has been so impressive in practice that he's about to lock down a starting free safety job.
The team will be far better if… it finishes what it starts. The Owls had a habit of getting out of the gate quickly, only to fade down the stretch in tight games. In fact, of the seven games decided by 10 or fewer last year, Temple dropped all of them. The team won the first half of games, 175-158, but it lost the second half, 200-124. The Owls need to grow up and figure out how to bring it for all 60 minutes.
The Schedule: The Owls start out going to Vanderbilt for one of two nasty non-conference road games, also going to Penn State in mid-November, and the road slate in conference play isn't much easier. Three of the first four American Athletic games are on the road, going to Connecticut, Houston and UCF, but Tulsa, East Carolina and Memphis come to Philadelphia. There's a week off before the final home game against Cincinnati, and the season closes out at Tulane.
Best offensive player: Sophomore P.J. Walker. Walker gives Temple so much more than a young quarterback to build around. He gives the team much-needed hope. He's the franchise for head coach Matt Rhule and the Owls, a fresh face who's capable of bringing a little more juice to the program. Walker's poise and his ability to make things happen with his arm and his feet will give Temple a shot against opponents who otherwise have an edge in overall talent. It's early, but Walker could become the Owls' best hurler since Henry Burris was on campus two decades ago.
Best defensive player: Junior LB Tyler Matakevich. At the midway point of his college career, Matakevich is well on his way to becoming one of the most decorated Owl defenders in school history. After debuting as a surprise Second Team All-Big East pick in 2012, he earned First Team All-AAC a year ago with 137 stops. The proverbial tackling machine, Matakevich operates with the right amount of intensity and skill in space to attract the attention of NFL scouts in two years.
Key players to a successful season: the offensive linemen. If the Owls are going to surprise anyone this season, it's sure to be driven by a young offense beginning 2014 with momentum. And for that offense to reach its potential this fall, it's incumbent upon the blockers to give the playmakers the time needed to keep opposing defenders out of the backfield. It'll be a particularly important offseason for position coach Chris Wiesehan, whose job it is to cobble together a competent two-deep.
The season will be a success if ... the Owls go 4-8, doubling their win total from a year ago. A small step, sure, but one the program can further build upon in 2015. Besides the Sept. 20 visit from Delaware State, Temple faces a tough road slate that includes trips to Vanderbilt, Houston, UCF and Penn State. Visits from Navy, East Carolina and Cincinnati will be tall orders, too. Beyond the record, the Owls are hoping to turn a couple of last year's close calls into locker room celebrations.
Key game: Sept. 27 at Connecticut. If Temple is ready to climb a little higher in the American, it'll win this type of a game against a Husky team doing its own rebuilding under first-year head coach Bob Diaco. The Owls have won two of the last three meetings, including the last game at Rentschler Field in 2012. Since Delaware State precedes the UConn game, Temple is going to have a chance to carry some momentum into a challenging slate of October games.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Passing yards per game: Temple 249.7 – Opponents 298.6
- Sacks: Temple 19 – Opponents 32
- Red-zone touchdown%: Temple 70% - Opponents 50%
Temple Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players