BY THE NUMBERS 112 Where Owls rank among nation’s FBS teams in yards per game, their average being 339.5
99 Where Owls rank among nation’s FBS teams in rushing yards per game, their average being 143.6
95 Where Owls rank among nation’s FBS teams in passing yards per game, their average being 195.9
58 Where Owls rank among nation’s FBS teams in scoring, their average being 30.8 points per game
4 How many times the Owls have been outgained this season
2 How many times the Owls have been held under 300 yards of offense in a game
20 Where Owls RB Jahad Thomas ranks among FBS rushers with 904 yards
5 Where Thomas ranks among FBS rushers with 186 attempts
145 Where Thomas ranks among FBS rushers with 4.9 yards per attempt
Feeling here is that Owls coach Matt Rhule needs to take the shackles off P.J. Walker (11) and let the Temple QB use his multi-faceted skills to spark the team's offense.
My concerns with Matt Rhule are immediate.
While most Temple University football fans, having seen the Owls’ meteoric rise from something far less than mediocre to Top 25 ranking, worry about the possibility of him bolting the North Broad campus for more friendly and profitable confines elsewhere in the coaching ranks, the raw, unabridged issue right here with regard to him is far more rudimentary.
In short, how about opening up the offense a bit, bud?
For all the feel-good equity Rhule has built up in his three seasons at the helm, not to mention six as an assistant in a prior stint, the fact of the matter is, the current history-making campaign isn’t even finished. Heck, it’s only two-thirds of the way through.
If you think Penn State and Notre Dame games were biggies, well, better hold on tight because the Owls still have to play unbeaten Memphis, an American Athletic Conference rival currently ranked 15th in the country, in three weeks, with that contest likely going a long way to determining their berth in the AAC title game, a spot in a big-time bowl, and, quite frankly, the direction of the program in the immediate future.
While you let that reality sink in … consider this: Temple needs to be improve on offense, dramatically so, in order to get where it wants.
Put it this way, if you didn’t think that 7-0 start this season had a lot to do with stars aligning perfectly, opponents' miscues coming at just the right time and some pure dumb luck, then you weren’t paying attention or you turned a blind eye to what was going on.
The defense, forget about it. Under defensive coordinator Phil Snow, the Owls play at their absolute ultimatum there. Playing soft, playing tight, blitzing, not blitzing, man here, zone there, any combo at any time. Given the talent, which is good, not great, across the board, there is no room for improvement with that aspect of the team. What you’ve seen, and the results it has produced, is as good as Temple’s current D is capable of being.
Which ain’t too shabby, by the way, considering it ranks among the nation’s best in points (ninth, 15.8 per game) allowed.
Special teams is OK.
The offense? Sorry, no way.
This is a group that has yet to come close to tapping its potential this season. We’re not talking a talent-deprived unit here. In fact, the irony is that the least-known commodity coming into the season, junior running back Jahad Thomas, has become the bread-and-butter come hell or high water.
Too often, the Owls had been feeling the burn while just about submerging this season before the Fighting Irish even arrived at Lincoln Financial Field this past Saturday while relying far too often on Thomas. Once, just once, in 2015 has Temple surpassed 400 yards of offense in a game, and it needed every single inch it gained in order to sneak pass Massachusetts two months ago.
Twice, it’s been held below 300, which could serve as the proverbial Mendoza Line for college football offenses – in short, anything less than that is pretty sad. The 295 Notre Dame’s D surrendered was the lowest total for the Owls this season, topping what Cincinnati allowed by one.
Meantime, those squads’ offenses posted 467 and 557 yards, respectively. They weren’t the only ones to outgain Temple, either, as East Carolina and Charlotte pulled the trick, too.
Great, sitting back, playing it uber-conservative on offense and putting it all on a great D proved to be a winning formula up until Halloween night. But, really, if ND didn’t snap that stretch, another team was bound to do so.
Rhule found his comfort zone with Thomas back in the spring, and has used the kid’s juke-and-jive skills like a recliner in a man’s cave to the point of torn, tattered and just plain worn out. Meanwhile, electric talents such as quarterback P.J. Walker and wide receiver Robby Anderson have been utilized as nothing more than complimentary players, or even last-ditch options at times.
That run dialed up for Walker late against ND was a thing of beauty. Where the hell has that been all year, never mind just once in that game? The dumbing down of Walker’s dynamite abilities are eerily similar to what happened to another multi-faceted QB under Rhule’s watch.
It’s like the coach is Chris Coyer-ing the kid … because he hasn’t figured out how to best utilize all he can do. Ugh.
While we’re on disappearing acts, did John Christopher’s hands suddenly evaporate or Colin Thompson completely forget how to play after being the nation’s top tight-end recruit just a few years ago?
Seriously, get these guys involved. Throw Ventell Bryant the ball even more, too.
This run, run, run with Thomas, especially up the middle, and particularly when it isn’t working, has put the Owls so often in a hole this season that it seems to be part of the game plan.
OK, guys, we’re gonna stumble along, rack up a bunch of three-and-outs, maybe toss in a few dropped passes for fun, and those other guys, well, they’re just gonna fall asleep and then we’ll move the ball. Or the defense will spot us a turnover with great field position. Or the football gods will deem its “just time” for us to score, or get a first down. Ready … break.
Not for nothing, but the heat being heaped on the offensive genius heading Philly’s pro football operation is pretty much about the same temp that could be felt by Rhule. Thing is, that side of the ball with Temple is every bit as much his baby as it is Chip Kelly’s with the Eagles … and it’s not doing any better.
The fear here is, if that doesn’t change, outcomes like the one against the Irish are going to become more common – even this season.
That’s my concern right now, and it’s every bit as real and legit as those fears about him leaving for supposedly greener pastures after this season.