Temple football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Owls, best players and season prediction.
Resting on laurels? No chance. In fact, Temple is approaching 2016 with an attitude of unfinished business.
The culture is quickly changing on Broad Street, once the home of a sad sack football program searching for a conference home. Today, thanks to fourth-year head coach Matt Rhule and a recently graduated senior class, the Owls expect to appear in the postseason and compete for American titles. Quite the turnaround for a squad with a minimal track record of success.
Rhule has done an outstanding job building upon what Al Golden originally started in Philly. Plus, Rhule is visibly enjoying being a part of this city and this university, turning away far more prestigious job opportunities last December. But now the upwardly mobile coach and his assistants will really be tested, as expectations begin to rise and leadership voids pop up on both sides of the ball.
The Owls are fresh off their best campaign ever, beating Penn State for the first time since 1941, winning a school-record 10 games and capturing the East half of the American. However, in large part, the timeline achievements were made possible by a handful of seniors, like LB Tyler Matakevich, C Kyle Friend, DE Nate D. Smith and DT Matt Ioannidis.
Typically, when a Group of Five program performs as well as Temple did in 2015, it gets gutted the following year. Yet, while the Owls do have enormous holes to fill, they also boast a solid enough foundation to avoid a significant drop-off in production.
The offensive backfield of QB P.J. Walker and RB Jahad Thomas will rank among the league’s best, while the line will be anchored by tackles Dion Dawkins and Leon Johnson. On defense, all is not lost for the Owls. The toughness is baked in, and each level features an all-star candidate, linemen Haason Reddick, Praise Martin-Oguike and NT Averee Robinson, LB Jarred Alwan and CB Sean Chandler.
Last year was a revelation for the Owls. This season, in many respects, could be even more consequential for a program hungry to prove it’s no one-hit wonder. Temple retained its two main leaders, Rhule and Walker, as well as the chip on its shoulder that was there long before the team made national headlines during the breakthrough 2015 campaign.
What You Need to Know About the Temple Offense
The man in charge has changed. The approach likely will not. Glenn Thomas takes over as the new coordinator after Marcus Satterfield left for the Tennessee Tech head job. And while new wrinkles and tweaks are possible, why mess too much with an attack that set school records for yards and points in 2015?
Thomas will have the luxury of inheriting a solid trio of senior QB P.J. Walker, all-star RB Jahad Thomas and WR Ventell Bryant, who was second in receiving a year ago. Now, the Owls will need to retool an offensive line that lost a pair of all-leaguers, C Kyle Friend and OG Eric Lofton, and locate complements to Bryant in the passing game.
C Brendan McGowan and LG Jovahn Fair are the projected newcomers to the interior of the line, while Adonis Jennings and Romond Deloatch are chief among the receivers working toward more touches in the fall.
Biggest Key To The Temple Offense
Ja-holiday. Senior RB Jahad Thomas is still the headliner of the ground game, if not the entire offense. But after he wore down in the second half of 2015, the Owls’ workhorse figures to get a little more help this fall. Temple really likes its backfield depth, sophomores Jager Gardner and especially speedy Ryquell Armstead, who has the early edge to become the heir in 2017. Ideally, Thomas has fresher legs in November, and Armstead and Gardner log the carries needed to prepare them for their future in Philly.
What You Need to Know About the Temple Defense
The Owls have been home to one of the nation’s top defenses the past two seasons. But can they remain oppressive the year after the graduations of so many key performers, namely All-American LB Tyler Matakevich and all-league DT Matt Ioannidis, DE Nate D. Smith and FS Alex Wells?
The promising news is that the foundation remains sturdy, led by Phil Snow, one of the country’s most underrated coordinators. There are holes, to be sure, mainly in a defensive backfield missing three starters. However, Temple now has the muscle memory for outmuscling opponents with a blue-collar, back-alley mentality.
The D-line actually ought to be fine, with explosive Haason Reddick and Praise Martin-Oguike on the edge and Averee Robinson at the nose.
Sean Chandler is one of the league’s premier defensive backs. How many rungs Temple slips, though, hinges on how well the new linebackers and safeties adapt to assignments in the starting lineup.
Biggest Key To The Temple Defense
Shifting Sean? Junior Sean Chandler is already an accomplished cornerback, earning all-conference in 2015. However, in the spring he was freelancing at safety in an effort to get the Owls’ 11 best defenders on the field. Chandler is one of the smartest players on the team, so the staff has no worries about his ability to adapt. Where he ultimately plays hinges on the development of corners Nate Hairston, named Most Improved Defensive Player in April, and converted receiver Derrek Thomas, a 6-4, 190-pound athlete with a high ceiling.
Temple Will Be Far Better If …
QB P.J. Walker puts it all together. Walker made big strides as a junior, cutting down on his mistakes and improving on his decision-making. If he can now deliver his best season as an Owl, as Matt Rhule is suggesting, Temple will have the kind of balanced offense needed to somewhat offset the key losses on defense. Rhule wants to give more leeway to his senior quarterback, who’ll first need to prove he can keep his completion rate north of 60%, especially on first downs and in the red zone.
Best Offensive Player
Senior RB Jahad Thomas. During the offseason of 2015, Thomas looked like a breakout candidate. In the fall, he performed like one. Thomas epitomized the meaning of a workhorse running backs, logging well over half the team’s carries while also playing a factor in the passing game. While the backfield touches will be more evenly distributed this season, Thomas remains the heartbeat of a system that wants to pound the ball to set up the pass.
Best Defensive Player
Junior CB Sean Chandler. How valuable and versatile is Chandler? He was named to the All-AAC Second Team as a corner last year, yet the staff might move him to safety just to get the 11 best Owls on the field. Chandler has the physical ability to contribute both as a pass defender and a run defender. But it’s his instincts and his feel for the game that really separate him from his peers and stamp him as a candidate to play at the next level.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Senior LB Jarred Alwan. No one is suggesting that Alwan must impersonate Tyler Matakevich, one of the greatest players in school history. The senior must, however, assume a larger role within a Temple defense hit hard by graduation. Alwan played very well a year ago, finishing second on the team in tackles. This season, he’ll need to be more involved by making the open-field stops that were the domain of Matakevich for four seasons in a row.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Owls win no fewer than eight games. True, it’s going to be tough matching last season’s 10 wins the year after losing six all-conference veterans. But it’s also important to note that four all-leaguers return, as well as QB P.J. Walker and head coach Matt Rhule. In other words, Temple isn’t about to fall off the map, particularly against a schedule featuring just four opponents that finished above .500 in 2015, Penn State, Memphis, South Florida and Cincinnati.
Oct. 21 vs. South Florida. Beating Penn State for a second straight year would no doubt be huge for the Owl program. Temple, though, has its sights firmly set on repeating as the American East Division champ. And arguably the biggest roadblock to a return to the league title game is South Florida, which hammered the Owls last year, 44-23. Both programs will be looking to gain a foothold in the half of the American that presently has a clearer path to the Dec. 3 conference championship game.
2015 Fun Stats
– Points per game: Temple 30.8 – Opponents 19.2
– Sacks: Temple 32 – Opponents 16
– Third-down %: Temple 41% – Opponents 31%