Despite a disappointing end to the season in the Boca Raton Bowl, 2015 was a season that saw Temple become relevant for the first time in nearly forever. The Owls ended the season at 10-4 with losses to Notre Dame, South Florida, Houston, and Toledo. That is a group of teams that combined to go 41-11 in 2015.
Let's take a look at the Temple Owls 2015 season and grade the offense, defense, special teams, and team as a whole.
Temple is the ultimate "what could have been" team if the offense was more productive. The offense put them behind the eight ball on several occasions with very little hope to win. Only once in the four losses did Temple score 23 points.
Despite a 1,200 yard rusher, the running game was a significant disappointment for the Owls in 2015. Jahad Thomas was able to gain 1,262 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season, but no other running back was able to break 200 yards on the year. A trio of freshman running backs (Ryquell Armstead, David Hood, and Jager Gardner) all earned 30 or more carries on the year. Only Gardner (5.8 ypc.) was able to break the five yards per carry plateau.
The Owls passing attack was disjointed, sporadic, and weirdly explosive last fall. Junior quarterback P.J. Walker threw for nearly 3,000 yards, but had a completion rate of 56.8%. His inability to get the ball to his playmakers on a regular basis forced the defense to spend too much time on the field in 2015.
A majority of the explosion from the passing game was due to the return of wide receiver Robby Anderson. The senior left the team earlier in his career and came back in 2015 to finish out his career. He ended the season with 70 catches, 31 more than anyone else on the team. His numbers dwarfed every other receiver on the team, making him the clear target for Walker.
Outside of Anderson, Ventell Bryant stepped up as a redshirt freshman and finished second on the team with 39 catches for 579 yards. No one else on the team had more than 22 catches. The receiving corps lose three to graduation, but have several players ready to step in and make plays.
The offensive line loses three starters, including center Kyle Friend. Those losses will hurt, but there is a strong group of young linemen waiting in the queue.
Returning a majority of the players from one of the best defenses in 2014, Temple was among the elite nationally again in 2015. The Owls had an odd mix of incredible efficiency (34.3% success rate allowed) and terrible ability to stop the big play (#106 ranked defensive IsoPPP).
Versus the run, very few teams were better than Temple. The main reason for their success was linebacker Tyler Matakevich. The senior linebacker was the recipient of the Bednarik Award, made 138 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and five interceptions. He was the best defensive player in the nation. Middle linebacker Jarred Alwan and the combination of Avery Williams and Stephaun Marshall combined to make another 169 tackles. Every starter except for Matakevich will be back in 2016.
The only defensive lineman for Temple to make ever start was tackle Matt Ioannidis. The senior ended the season with 42 tackles, 11.5 for loss. Defensive end Haason Reddick will be a player to watch next season after posting 46 tackles, 12.5 for loss, and five sacks. Expect junior Praise Martin-Oguike to have a breakout senior season as well in 2016 after not quite living up to expectations this year.
The Temple secondary in 2015 was on that could be compared with any team in the nation and come out well. Cornerback Sean Chandler finished up his sophomore season with 66 tackles and four interceptions. This was the second straight season he finished in the top three on the team. Senior free safety Alex Wells' departure will hurt after ending the season with 52 tackles. Another important member of the secondary that will return in 2016 is strong safety Nate L. Smith. He finished the season fourth on the team in tackles, splitting duty with senior Will Hayes. Tavon Young rounded out a talented secondary that allowed barely over 200 yards per game in the air. He is a senior and will be lost to graduation, but between Nate Hairston, Artel Foster, and Kareem Ali, the Owls should be fine in the future.
Special Teams: A-
Sophomore punter Alex Starzyk had an impressive season for the Owls. He averaged just over 42 yards per punt with a net punting average of just over 39 yards. He landed 19 punts inside the 20-yard line and booted 13 over 50 yards. Kickoff specialist Tyler Mayes had a touchback percentage of 25%, a number that was adequate with such a good kick coverage team. Even with one kickoff return allowed for a touchdown, the Owls barely gave up over 20 yards per return on average. Jahad Thomas returned the favor with a 100-yard touchdown return of his own.
Sophomore kicker Austin Jones drilled 23-28 field goal attempts and 45-45 PAT attempts on the season. Jones was only 13-22 on field goal attempts in 2014, so his improvement was a huge help to the offense.
There were several teams saw Temple as a team that could make a move if the offense came around. The offense did just enough to turn a 6-6 team into a ten win team that hosted College Gameday. For those that know the history of this program, that is a huge deal. Some games (South Florida and Toledo) were disappointments, but the season as a whole was outstanding. With only 18 seniors lost to graduation, a case can be made that Temple should again represent the East Division in the AAC title game again in 2016.