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Temple Owls preview

5/6/2015
Temple QB P.J. Walker must improve on the 13 interceptions he had in 2014. Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

A .500 record and no bowl berth didn’t turn many heads last season, but with 18 returning starters, the league’s top D and a schedule that avoids most of the West’s toughest teams and brings Penn State and Notre Dame to Philly, the Owls look ready to contend for a conference crown.

Offense

How the Owls beat you: The offense has its defense to thank for its few successes: Temple’s average starting field position was its own 33 (tied for 11th in the FBS). It wasn’t an explosive offense: only 43 plays of 20-plus yards (No. 110). And it wasn’t consistent: The Owls averaged 4.8 plays per drive (No. 122). But they did capitalize on the D’s ability to flip the field, averaging 6.13 plays per scoring drive, the seventh fewest in the FBS. With four starting O-linemen back, plus dynamic junior QB P.J. Walker (324 rush yards), top rusher Jahad Thomas and Zaire Williams, who was sidelined by injury in '14 but ran for 533 yards as a frosh in '13, coach Matt Rhule expects the offense to finally return the AAC’s top scoring D a few favors.

How you beat the Owls: Temple’s rush and pass offenses ranked in the bottom half of the AAC (ninth and eighth, respectively) largely due to their complete inability to convert on third down. The Owls were successful on just 39 of their 166 attempts (23.5 percent), worst in all of the FBS. And on third and five or longer, that conversion rate dropped to 13 percent, also an FBS worst. In those situations, Walker completed only 28 of his 93 pass attempts and threw 4 picks, but Rhule is quick to point out that the run game must do a better job of shortening the field on first and second down this season.

Defense

How the Owls beat you: The Owls were ball hawks in ’14, leading the AAC and tying for fifth in the FBS in turnovers per game (2.5). Temple thrives on stripping ball carriers (19 forced fumbles), and while the D picked off only 11 passes, it broke up 44 others, holding teams to an AAC-low 186.9 pass yards per game. That stat is even more impressive considering the offense had the lowest time of possession per game in the league (26 minutes, 47 seconds). The Owls return 10 starters, including junior DE Praise Martin- Oguike (5 forced fumbles, one returned for a score, and 7Π sacks), senior LB Nate D. Smith (3 forced fumbles, a recovery and an INT) and senior CB Tavon Young (4 INTs, one for a TD).

How you beat the Owls: As good as Temple was defensively, the Owls’ run D ranked only 52nd, allowing just over 160 yards per game. “With the depth we have up front, we need to be better and tougher against the run,” says Rhule, whose team gave up 487 yards on the ground in a loss to Navy and 254 in a loss to Penn State. “That’s what we have to do if our defense is going to rise to that next level.” With every starter back on the front seven, including DT Matt Ioannidis and OLB Tyler Matakevich (21 1/2 tackles for loss combined), Temple should meet expectations.