Second-half surge lifts Temple to shutout of UMass
A head football coach’s opening statement in a postgame press conference can sometimes hold little weight and serve as nothing more than a transition to the question-and-answer portion, but first-year Temple head coach Stan Drayton was wise to take a discerning tone to start things off, even after the Owls had posted a 28-0 win over UMass Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Yes, it was the program’s first shutout win in six seasons. Yes, there were more moments of promise from true freshman quarterback E.J. Warner, standout outside linebacker Layton Jordan and several other players.
And yes, any win is a good win for a rebuilding program that has gone 4-15 over the last two seasons and lost plenty of talented players to the NCAA’s transfer portal.
But before Jordan was grabbing an interception with one hand while dropping back in coverage and turning upfield to return it 41 yards for a touchdown to make it a three-possession game, and before Warner was dropping a perfectly-thrown 50-yard touchdown pass to Adonicas Sanders to close out the scoring, the Owls played some very sloppy football against a not-so-good UMass team that whose only win has come against an FCS program.
Things could, of course, be worse. The Owls are now 2-2 heading into American Athletic Conference play next Saturday at Memphis, and there are certain signs of progress.
But Drayton and his staff will have a lot to pick apart when they watch film this weekend.
“It sure feels good to get a win,” Drayton began. “They don’t come easy, that’s for sure … UMass did a phenomenal job in the first half of that ballgame, and I’m just proud of our guys to show the capability to overcome some adversity and find a way to put it all together and come out in the second half and win that ballgame.
“A lot to grow from, a lot to learn from. Boy, we have a lot of work to do.”
He’s not wrong.
Temple dodged a stretch in which it turned the ball over on three straight occasions late in the first quarter and early into the second quarter – Warner’s first interception, a muffed punt return in which the ball hit Temple’s Zae Baines and was recovered by UMass, and Warner’s second interception. Warner completed just 3 of his first 10 passes, threw those two interceptions, and faced too much pressure in the pocket from an offensive line that still has a lot of issues and missed assignments. The Owls mustered just seven first-half points and still didn’t get much going in the running game until a few late runs and with the help of backup quarterback Quincy Patterson.
But, again, learning while winning – at least for one week - is never a bad thing.
After Temple’s first four drives failed, with the third and fourth ending on Warner’s two interceptions, the true freshman finally broke through in the second quarter with a looping, 34-yard completion down the right sideline just over UMass free safety Tyler Rudolph to Adonicas Sanders that gave the Owls some signs of life.
It was a throw and conversion Warner and the Owls needed badly at that time. It came on third-and-14 after Jakari Norwood dropped a pass on first down and then got blown up for a four-yard loss on second down.
Six plays player, Warner capped the nine-play, 69-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ian Stewart, their second scoring connection of the season.
“It was definitely a big play,” Warner said of the throw to Sanders, one that set him on a streak of five straight completions after his slow start. “I mean, any time you get an explosive, it helps get your team ready and rolling and hopefully convert on the rest of the drive. So it was big. Dono made a nice move on his guy, went up, made a good play on the sideline. It was definitely good for us.”
Layton Jordan came into the day tied for fourth nationally with 4.5 sacks.
He proved Saturday that he can drop into coverage, too.
With the Owls holding a 14-0 lead in the third quarter, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound outside linebacker backpedaled, intercepted backup quarterback Brady Olson’s pass with his right hand and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown that helped lift Temple to a 21-0 lead with 6:14 left in the third quarter.
Regardless of who it came against and who was throwing it, Jordan turned in arguably the most impressive play of the day Saturday, one that further showed the redshirt junior might be Temple’s next great defensive player with a shot at the next level.
“(The play) just boosted my confidence, way more than I had,” Jordan said. “And in coverage drop, I’ve got to work for more off of that and just keep getting more.”
Offensive line still a work in progress
Temple offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan tried yet another combination Saturday.
After missing part of the fourth quarter of the Lafayette game and all of the Rutgers game, graduate offensive lineman Adam Klein returned but instead started at center in place of Richard Rodriguez, who had started the first three games of the season at that spot. James Faminu kept his starting job at right tackle.
Although the Owls eventually coasted to a blowout win, the offensive line still had its share of struggles and missed assignments. Warner was sacked just once, on Temple’s second series, but it came at Temple's 1-yard line and nearly cost the team a safety.
And he was pressured often, even when things went right.
On the 11-yard touchdown pass from Warner to Stewart that gave Temple its first touchdown of the day, left guard Bryce Thoman got beat cleanly by UMass nose tackle Cletus Mathurin, but Warner was able to stay in the pocket and get the throw off just in time.
Drayton credited UMass head coach Don Brown’s aggressive approach on defense for some of the line’s struggles Saturday. And after that early sack and some early pressure, Drayton believes his offensive line eventually made some adjustments.
“We had to really settle in,” Drayton said. “To UMass’ credit, they presented a lot of football out there on defense for us to handle. And I’ll have to go back and really take a look at the film to see how well we handled it. It didn’t look like we handled it very well. But I do believe that at some point in the game, we settled down and played some pretty productive football up front, and we knew it was going to be this type of game.
“I don’t like that it took that long for us to figure it out, but it did, and (we) still came away with a victory.”
And although Drayton said Monday that his running backs need to be able to run through contact, the offensive line isn’t exactly paving running lanes for them. The Owls gained just 107 net yards on the ground on 34 attempts, an average of just 3.1 yards per attempt. Backup quarterback Quincy Patterson had 52 of them on 10 carries, including a 2-yard run that helped put Temple ahead by 14-0 with 9:52 left in the third quarter. But the running backs themselves – Darvon Hubbard, Edward Saydee and Jakari Norwood – gained just 59 yards on 20 carries, an average of 2.9 yards per carry.
“I think overall with the o-line, we did OK,” Klein said. “There’s a lot of areas for improvement. I think just understanding what we want to do with our system and how we want to run the ball is prominent for our for our future in AAC play. It's just understanding where we need to go, what type of block with the technique. A lot of it I think is just playing with low pad level and technique, and if we get that done, I think our run game will keep opening up.”
Even Klein himself, a single-digit player regarded as one of the team’s leaders, acknowledged there were “a couple of low snaps” that he wasn’t happy about.
Mathis sees time at wide receiver
Drayton said Monday that former starting quarterback D’Wan Mathis would see time at wide receiver. Sure enough, Mathis got several snaps there in the first half, but nothing that amounted to more than one push pass for a loss of a yard. He was also whistled for a false start on Temple’s third offensive play of the game.
Drayton again on Saturday emphasized Mathis’ ability and seemed willing to give him more time at wideout in the future.
“It’s not like we don’t have a place to put him,” Drayton said. “He has value. He has size. He’s smart. And he loves to play the game of football. So we’re going to win with people like that. We’re going to play him, we’re going to find spots for him. And again, like anybody else, he’s got to earn that right. And he earned it at quarterback, and I didn't think there was any reason why he couldn't earn it at wide receiver. And he's earned his way to being productive at the wide receiver spot, so we're going to continue to grow him in that respect and see if we can get him timed up with our quarterbacks moving forward.”
After not forcing any turnovers through the first three games of the season, Temple’s defense got two, on Layton Jordan’s interception and another from safety Alex Odom, who tied linebacker Kobe Wilson for the team lead with nine tackles Saturday. Wilson and outside linebacker Tra Thomas teamed up for a sack, and linebackers Jacob Hollins, Muheem McCargo and Jordan Magee also contributed sacks. … Placekicker Rory Bell has only attempted two field goals this season, and he’s missed them both. His attempt Saturday missed from 39 yards and hit the right upright.