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1. There's hope
Temple went 4-42 from 2003-06. We all have a pretty good understanding of how tough this job was in the not-too-distant past, but in case you needed a reminder, there it is. And as a fan of a school that was once bad, then became good, I know that there is a nagging feeling in your gut even when things are going well.
Even when Temple was surging — from 4-42 to 9-15 in 2007-08, to 26-12 from 2009-11 — Owl fans had to have a bit of doubt, a bit of a lingering "What if things fall apart again?" worry. And at first glance, it certainly appears as if those concerns were justified; after three straight strong seasons and a top-25 F/+ ranking in 2011 (the 9-4 Owls were 25th), they fell to 4-7 and 84th in 2012. And after head coach Steve Addazio took the Boston College job, Matt Rhule took over, and Temple fell to 2-10 and 98th.
From a macro view, it appears the cycle is complete. Temple is back to the bottom of the FBS pecking order.
From a micro view, however, there's still hope. First, despite an awful record, Rhule inked the No. 59 class in the country according to Rivals.com; the Owls tied in the rankings with Iowa and Wake Forest and finished ahead of schools like Colorado, Boise State, Utah, Northwestern, and Cincinnati. Granted, they had larger classes than all of those teams (sans Wake), but still, this is excellent major-conference company for a mid-major team that did so poorly last year. It might not mean a lot for the 2014 team, but it certainly sets the table for future seasons.
Second, the 2013 team actually wasn't that bad after September. We'll get into this more below, but while the Owls were almost the worst FBS team in the country over the first month of the season — it takes quite a bit to lose to both Fordham and Idaho — they actually played pretty well once the calendar hit October. They were a combined 13 points from winning their final four games of the year, and it took some incredible, unlikely heroics for eventual AAC champion UCF to survive its trip to Philadelphia on Nov. 16. The offense improved dramatically, and the defense went from horrific to below average. This improvement took place over a long enough period of time (six to eight games, basically) that it could be considered sustainable, especially considering some of the star power that returns in the offensive backfield and at linebacker.
Temple almost certainly isn't going to be a good team in 2014. But there is evidence to suggest that while the Owls did indeed lose double-digit games for the first time since 2006 last fall, they have a future that is far from destitute. They should improve a bit this coming season, and they could improve quite a bit more in 2015.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 98|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||at Notre Dame||26||6-28||L||22.6 - 39.5||L|
|7-Sep||Houston||46||13-22||L||21.3 - 30.4||L|
|14-Sep||Fordham||N/A||29-30||L||20.9 - 60.3||L|
|28-Sep||at Idaho||116||24-26||L||19.0 - 39.3||L|
|5-Oct||Louisville||12||7-30||L||34.4 - 30.2||W||-16.3|
|11-Oct||at Cincinnati||64||20-38||L||41.3 - 30.3||W||-10.7|
|19-Oct||Army||100||33-14||W||23.0 - 22.0||W||-8.7|
|26-Oct||at SMU||84||49-59||L||43.2 - 50.3||L||-2.2|
|2-Nov||at Rutgers||91||20-23||L||29.2 - 35.1||L||0.7|
|16-Nov||Central Florida||21||36-39||L||43.7 - 37.3||W||1.1|
|23-Nov||Connecticut||93||21-28||L||25.8 - 22.2||W||-0.4|
|30-Nov||at Memphis||83||41-21||W||39.0 - 23.2||W||2.6|
|Points Per Game||24.9||89||29.8||83|
|Adj. Points Per Game||30.3||53||35.0||109|
2. Just about the worst September imaginable
Temple allowed 6.4 yards per play to Fordham and averaged 3.9 against Houston. In the first four games of the year, the Owls gained more than 385 yards just once (410 against Idaho) and allowed fewer than 520 once (478 against Idaho). The Owls started 0-4, but the scores weren't even indicative of how badly they were getting outplayed; their yardage margin was minus-181 against Notre Dame, minus-224 against Houston, minus-135 against Fordham (!) and minus-68 against Idaho. This was a bad, bad team at the start of the year, perhaps the worst in FBS.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 42.4, Temple 21.0 (minus-21.4)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 8 games): Temple 35.0, Opponent 31.3 (plus-3.7)
Though the score and yardage don't really indicate it, the ship began to turn around against Louisville. Against Cincinnati, the Owls actually outgained the Bearcats on a per-play basis (6.7 to 6.0) but couldn't hold onto the ball. The offense came alive against SMU and Rutgers, and the defense showed serious signs of life against UConn and Memphis.
To be sure, Temple still had plenty of deficiencies. Despite improved play, the Owls still managed to go 1-6 in an iffy conference, and overall, they still beat only Army and a Memphis team that had run out of gas. But there was clear, definitive improvement here. And a lot of it coincided with Rhule's decision to hand the reins to a freshman quarterback.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||45.8%||35||Succ. Rt. +||100.9||57|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.8||65||Def. FP+||97.4||84|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||55||Redzone S&P+||110.4||27|
|Q1 Rk||54||1st Down Rk||65|
|Q2 Rk||40||2nd Down Rk||75|
|Q3 Rk||116||3rd Down Rk||43|
3. A pass-first offense that struggled to pass
The offense clearly improved over the final two-thirds of the season, but this was still a situation in which the strengths of the personnel didn't match the intentions of the offensive coordinator. Rhule appointed Marcus Satterfield to the O.C. position when he came to town; Satterfield had previously overseen the spreading-out of a pass-happy Chattanooga offense, and despite Rhule's own run-first leanings, Temple threw the ball a lot in 2013 — about 5 percent more than the national average on standard downs and almost nine percent more on passing downs.
The problem is that the Owls couldn't really pass. The offense's biggest strength was run blocking. Its next-biggest strength was at the running back position. And even when freshman quarterback P.J. Walker began to emerge and show serious potential as a runner, he still averaged 38 passes per game over his final five starts. He was occasionally good at passing, mind you — 20-for-32 for 328 yards, four scores, and one interception against Memphis, for instance — but this was indeed an offense that seemed to play away from its strengths, even as it uncovered more strengths. We'll see how that changes as Walker continues to mature and the receiving corps looks for a couple of new go-tos.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|P.J. Walker||6'1, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||152||250||2084||20||8||60.8%||23||8.4%||7.1|
|Connor Reilly||6'3, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||76||148||771||2||2||51.4%||7||4.5%||4.5|
|Thomas Rumer||6'3, 212||So.||NR|
|Frank Nutile||6'4, 199||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
4. A world of potential
The Connor Reilly experiment just wasn't working out. Against Notre Dame, Houston and Idaho, Reilly threw 44 passes per game but completed just 50 percent of them at just 10.3 yards per completion. If you're passing first, you need to be gaining more than five yards per pass to be effective. (Actually, that goes for if you're passing first, second, third, or ever.) Against Louisville, Satterfield and Rhule decided to give the lion's share of the signal calling to a freshman from Elizabeth, N.J. The result: barring injury, Temple has its quarterback for the foreseeable future.
In eight games as Temple's No. 1 quarterback, P.J. Walker managed a passer rating of at least 150.0 five times. He also rushed for 92 yards against SMU and 59 against Memphis. He took quite a few sacks, as mobile quarterbacks are wont to do, but his per-attempt yardage (including sacks) was still almost 60 percent better than Reilly's. And in his last six starts, his completion percentage rose to 63 percent.
Walker has some serious tools here, and people are noticing. He's heading to the Manning Passing Academy in July, and he gives Temple a marketable star for potentially the next three years.
Like so many mobile QBs, Walker has to better learn when to throw the ball away instead of trusting his legs to get him out of trouble. And while his interception rate was acceptable for a freshman, it will still need to improve. But he's shown far more potential than a two-star true sophomore is supposed to have revealed at this point.
|Kenneth Harper||RB||6'0, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||136||612||9||4.5||4.2||37.5%|
|Zaire Williams||RB||5'11, 195||So.||3 stars (5.7)||101||533||3||5.3||4.8||40.6%|
|P.J. Walker||QB||6'1, 200||So.||2 stars (5.4)||67||470||3||7.0||8.4||43.3%|
|Jamie Gilmore||RB||5'8, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||34||179||0||5.3||4.5||47.1%|
|Connor Reilly||QB||6'3, 215||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||27||168||1||6.2||3.8||55.6%|
|Bashir Lee||RB||5'9, 180||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|David Hood||RB||5'11, 190||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Jalen Fitzpatrick||WR||5'11, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||75||38||429||50.7%||19.3%||60.6%||5.7||-94||5.9||56.8|
|John Christopher||WR||5'10, 185||Jr.||NR||54||31||331||57.4%||13.9%||50.9%||6.1||-67||6.3||43.8|
|Kenneth Harper||RB||6'0, 225||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||33||26||241||78.8%||8.5%||54.8%||7.3||-45||6.8||31.9|
|Zaire Williams||RB||5'11, 195||So.||3 stars (5.7)||18||11||128||61.1%||4.6%||62.5%||7.1||-9||5.9||17.0|
|Nate Hairston||WR||6'0, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)||12||7||62||58.3%||3.1%||33.3%||5.2||-27||6.9||8.2|
|Romond Deloatch||TE||6'4, 225||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||11||3||35||27.3%||2.8%||54.5%||3.2||-26||3.2||4.6|
|Samuel Benjamin||WR||6'0, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||2||2||12||100.0%||0.5%||100.0%||6.0||-8||3.3||1.6|
|Khalif Herbin||WR||5'7, 170||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Delvon Randall||WR||6'0, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Brodrick Yancy||WR||5'11, 184||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Ventell Bryant||WR||6'3, 160||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Derrick Ingram||WR||6'1, 193||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
5. Might want to run more
In 2013, seven Temple wideouts and tight ends were targeted more than 10 times. Only three averaged better than a paltry 6.1 yards per target; all three are gone. Without Robbie Anderson (18.0 yards per catch as a freshman before basically flunking off of the team), Ryan Alderman (70 percent catch rate), and Chris Coyer (71 percent catch rate), Walker's receiving corps might have some inexperience issues in 2014. Jalen Fitzpatrick is a potentially decent possession receiver, but when it comes to stretching the field, Temple might be relying on sophomore Khalif Herbin or a newcomer. Three-star receiver Deivon Randall enters the fold, as do quite a few high-two-star targets. But this is a young group.
Meanwhile, running backs Kenneth Harper and Zaire Williams both return; they were lacking a bit from a big-play perspective, but their efficiency numbers are strong, especially when accompanied by the threat of Walker running. Plus, Bashir Lee, a one-time Tennessee commitment, also joins the fold. Temple once again seems to have more potential on the ground than through the air; we'll see if this impacts the offensive philosophy.
It does bear mentioning, by the way, that a very good offensive line must replace four players who had combined for 56 career starts. Five players with starting experience return, and star recruit Aaron Ruff joins
|Kyle Friend||C||6'2, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||21|
|Zach Hooks||RT||6'6, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||21|
|Brendan McGowan||LG||6'4, 300||So.||2 stars (5.3)||3|
|Jacob Quinn||C||6'5, 295||Jr.||NR||2|
|Dion Dawkins||LT||6'5, 325||So.||2 stars (5.4)||2|
|Leon Johnson||LT||6'6, 300||RSFr.||NR||0|
|Adam Metz||RG||6'5, 295||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Eric Lofton||RT||6'5, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Aaron Ruff||OL||6'4, 295||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|James McHale||OL||6'6, 298||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||46.3%||99||Succ. Rt. +||84.7||112|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||27.0||111||Off. FP+||90.6||124|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||76||Redzone S&P+||92.1||83|
|Q1 Rk||107||1st Down Rk||115|
|Q2 Rk||120||2nd Down Rk||102|
|Q3 Rk||101||3rd Down Rk||90|
6. Opponents knew to pass
I spent a lot of words on the offense, mainly because the offense is potentially exciting and interesting. The defense still has quite a bit of work to do. Temple had one of the least-efficient pass defenses in the country, with an ineffective pass rush and mostly feckless secondary. The run defense wasn't terrible, but opponents knew they could get yards through the air anytime they wanted. Louisville, SMU and UCF combined to complete 89 of 129 (69 percent) for 1,290 yards, 10 touchdowns and no picks, and for the season, opponents threw 24 touchdown passes to only three interceptions.
The Owls were terribly young in 2013 — just look at the number of returning sophomores and juniors below with lofty tackle totals — and did improve as the year progressed. They have a potentially strong set of linebackers and all sorts of newcomers in the secondary, but as we saw last year, the offense will come around before the defense does.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Matt Ioannidis||DE||6'4, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||24.5||3.3%||7.5||3.0||0||0||1||0|
|Hershey Walton||NT||6'4, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||14.5||2.0%||2.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Haason Reddick||DE||6'1, 215||So.||NR||9||12.5||1.7%||4.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Averee Robinson||NT||6'1, 285||So.||2 stars (5.3)||11||8.5||1.2%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Shahbaz Ahmed||DE||6'3, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||10||7.5||1.0%||3.0||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Kiser Terry||DE||6'3, 250||So.||3 stars (5.5)||6||6.0||0.8%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Chudnoff||DE||6'2, 250||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||9||5.0||0.7%||2.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Bryan Osei||DL||6'2, 250||So.||2 stars (5.4)||6||3.0||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Avery Ellis||DE||6'2, 235||So.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Michael Dogbe||DE||6'3, 223||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Freddie Booth-Lloyd||DE||6'3, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tyler Matakevich||WLB||6'1, 230||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||121.5||16.5%||11.5||1.0||1||0||3||0|
|Nate D. Smith||MLB||6'0, 230||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||56.5||7.7%||6.0||3.0||0||4||0||1|
|Sharif Finch||SLB||6'4, 218||So.||2 stars (5.4)||11||26.0||3.5%||4.0||2.0||0||1||0||0|
|Rob Dvoracek||SLB||6'2, 230||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||8||17.5||2.4%||3.0||0.0||0||3||0||0|
|Jarred Alwan||MLB||6'1, 230||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||17.5||2.4%||2.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Michael Felton||LB||6'0, 215||Jr.||NR||12||6.0||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Avery Williams||WLB||5'10, 200||So.||2 stars (5.3)||9||5.0||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Buddy Brown||LB||6'3, 215||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Jared Folks||LB||6'2, 218||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
7. Quality at linebacker
Again, there were some strengths in the front seven. Temple was fantastic against short-yardage rushing, and the top six linebackers combined for 32 tackles for loss. Tyler Matakevich was one of nation's best tackling-machine linebackers, Nate D. Smith is a developing play-maker, and tackle Hersey Walton is a nice roadblock up front.
As you see here, most of Temple's high-quality recruiting came on the defensive side of the ball; if three-star prospects like Freddie Booth-Lloyd, Jared Folks, or 2013 signee Buddy Brown came make an early impact, Temple could have the depth for an improved run defense overall. There's nothing saying the pass rush will improve, however.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Tavon Young||CB||5'10, 160||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||12||46.0||6.3%||1||0||1||5||1||0|
|Anthony Robey||CB||5'10, 190||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||12||43.0||5.9%||2||0||0||3||0||0|
|Jihaad Pretlow||SS||5'11, 190||So.||2 stars (5.4)||12||33.0||4.5%||2||0||0||4||0||0|
|Stephaun Marshall||SS||5'11, 190||So.||2 stars (5.4)||12||30.0||4.1%||1.5||0||0||2||0||0|
|Brandon Shippen||CB||5'11, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||12||14.0||1.9%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Will Hayes||DB||5'9, 182||Jr.||NR||10||13.0||1.8%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Jahad Thomas||CB||5'10, 170||So.||2 stars (5.2)||10||4.0||0.5%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nate Hairston||CB||6'0, 185||So.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Nate L. Smith||FS||6'1, 185||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|DB||6'0, 192||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Artrel Foster||DB||6'0, 170||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Shahid Lovett||DB||6'2, 205||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Khiry Lucas||DB||6'1, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Alex Wells||DB||6'0, 202||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Anthony Davis||DB||6'1, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Cequan Jefferson||DB||5'11, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Sean Chandler||DB||5'11, 173||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Shamir Bearfield||DB||5'11, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
8. A total transfusion in the secondary
So ... do you think Rhule may have felt the need for an upgrade in the secondary? In the 2014 recruiting class, Temple added three three-star junior college defensive backs and four three-star freshmen. Virginia Tech transfer Boye Aromire is also eligible, and former star recruit Nate L. Smith could potentially be ready for a larger role.
Whoever ends up actually playing, Temple clearly needed an upgrade. There were certainly some youth issues in this unit, with two freshmen and a sophomore among the top five in the rotation. But even taking a bad pass rush into account, the secondary was lacking. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow has options now; we'll see if he can find four players who can take a little bit of pressure off of the front seven.
|Jim Cooper, Jr.||6'1, 195||So.||45||58.9||6||0||13.3%|
|Jim Cooper, Jr.||6'1, 195||So.||1-3||0-2||0.0%||0-1||0.0%|
|Jahad Thomas||KR||5'10, 170||So.||24||19.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||100|
|Field Goal Efficiency||125|
|Punt Return Efficiency||34|
|Kick Return Efficiency||67|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||37|
9. A special teams reset
Temple was awful in the place-kicking department, strong at punting and decent at punt returns in 2013. This means nothing, as the chief place-kicker, starting punter, and lead return men Ryan Alderman and Robbie Anderson are gone. Experience is minimal.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|25-Oct||at Central Florida||24|
|15-Nov||at Penn State||38|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-3.4% (68)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||72|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-6 / -4.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (6, 7)|
10. Like the Big East was, the AAC is loaded in the middle
And that might be a problem for teams like Temple and others (like Memphis) looking to move up in stature.
Temple might have the pieces in place to sustain last season's late improvement, and make no mistake: after September, Temple was a better team than the record would suggest; the Owls were a small handful of plays (including a mini-Hail Mary) away from a much better record, going 0-5 in games decided by one possession.
With players like P.J. Walker and Tyler Matakevich getting supplemented by an exciting recruiting class, things are shaping up for Temple in 2015. But with a rebuilt receiving corps and offensive line, not to mention uncertainties in the pass rush, pass defense, and special teams, the Owls probably can't count on improving beyond about 75th or 85th in the F/+ rankings. That's a problem considering eight opponents project no worse than 72nd.
There's potential for a strong start here, with home games against Navy, Delaware State and Tulsa and a less-than-intimidating trip to UConn. But anything less than about a 4-1 start will probably doom the Owls' postseason chances ... and I don't see a 4-1 start. Temple should improve this fall, but with so many sophomores and juniors (and, potentially, freshmen) playing key roles, 2015 is the year for the breakthrough.