clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

ECU @ Temple: Q&A with Ryan Wallen of Temple’s 247 site

Pirates look to snap two-game skid against Owls, spoil their title hopes in season finale’

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Temple
Temple’s lone loss at home this season was a 28-13 setback to Army in the opener. The Owls can win their sixth straight and wrap up the AAC East title against ECU.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After suffering a humbling 66-31 blowout loss to Navy on Senior Day, the Pirates will look to conclude Scottie Montgomery’s first-season on a high note by producing a road upset of division-leading Temple.

The Owls (8-3, 6-1), who have won five straight since a 34-27 loss at Memphis on October 6th, are attempting to repeat as AAC East Division champs. Matt Rhule’s club has posted consecutive road shutouts—21-0 at UCONN and 31-0 at Tulane—and would clinch with a victory on Saturday night.

Today, we are joined by Ryan Wallen (@RyanWallen247)—Co-Editor and Recruiting Analyst of @Owls247 (temple.247sports.com)—as we take a look at this weekend’s matchup between the Owls and Pirates.

NCAA Football: Temple at Connecticut
Fourth-year head coach Matt Rhule is seeking his second straight 10-plus win season with Temple and will likely have his name mentioned in connection with various jobs around the country during the offseason. He has compiled a 26-23 record with the Owls.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Since going 2-10 in his first season, Matt Rhule has compiled an eye-opening 24-13 mark—including an impressive record of 18-7 the last two years. Talk about the foundation that the fourth-year coach has laid in Philadelphia and how he has built on the success of Al Golden and Steve Addazio. This is a program that didn’t win more than 4 games for nearly two decades and left the Big East for the MAC, but the Owls are now nationally competitive and can compete with anyone on a given day.

@Owls247’s Ryan Wallen:

Matt Rhule has been able to build a foundation on Diamond Street that not only is like a family, but is a “process” that the entire team has built into. Rhule used his six years of experience under Al Golden, as well as his time in the NFL under Tom Coughlin with the New York Giants as a learning experience to not only the game of football, but to really get to know his players on a personal level. Rhule has said many times that the players he wants aren’t the five-star recruits: he wants guys who are tough football players and they work hard just as hard off the field as they do on it. Rhule pushes for his guys to be involved in the North Philadelphia community and work hard in the classroom, which has led to a lot of academic success for the team. Those are the types players he recruits, and that is where the “Temple Tough” mindset has come from that has made the program successful under the fourth year head coach. He also is one to keep football fun for his guys, whether on the field running simulated games, or having a Ping-Pong tournament earlier this season, or even team dinner, Rhule has made this team a close-knit brotherhood and his has led to the teams’ success.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

After having one of the nation’s best defenses in 2015, Temple suffered several key losses—especially in its front—and none were bigger than last year’s AAC Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American linebacker Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich, who is the top tackler in Owls’ history with nearly 500 stops, tallied 138 stops—including 15 behind the line—and intercepted five passes as a senior.

Talk about the development of this year’s unit that despite these critical losses is even better than a season ago, as it is allowing just 18.5 points and 277 yards per game. Who are top playmakers at each level of the defense?

@Owls247’s Ryan Wallen:

As you mentioned, after the losses of Tyler Matakevich, Tavon Young, and Matt Ioannidis last season to the NFL Draft, the biggest question mark coming into the season was the defense. Many expected the defense to be the weak point of this team, including myself, because you do not just “replace” almost 500 career tackles. Surprisingly enough though, excluding the Army game and second half of the Memphis game, the Temple defense has looked dominant, and they currently rank 3rd in the NCAA in total defense. They are much quicker this season than last, as they are able to break up plays before they occur thanks to the speed they have in the front-seven. Defensive coordinator Phil Snow has said that he expected it to take about six or seven games for his defense to get dialed in, and that is when Temple really turned it on defensively: they eliminated big plays, shut down the run, and started getting to opposing quarterbacks.

On the defensive line, Haason Reddick will be the guy to watch against ECU. The former walk-on has freakish 4.5 speed off the end and has 20.0 tackles for loss this season, an AAC single-season record he broke last week, while playing through an injury.

The linebacking corps is led by a trio of seniors, Avery Williams, Stephaun Marshall, and Jarred Alwan, all of whom have had their bright moments this season. Marshall leads the team in tackles with 53, while Williams and Alwan do more of the “dirty work” on the defense, though both are also in the top-10 on the team in tackles with 47 and 29 respectively.

In the secondary, many would say Sean Chandler is the veteran leader, and he is, but missed four conference games due to injury, so guys had to step up. The guy who has impressed me most is sophomore safety Delvon Randall. Randall is third on the team in tackles (48) and leads the team in interceptions (3).

Though these numbers are not as impressive as Matakevich’s 138 tackles a season ago, it has been more of a group rallying effort this season that has made Temple’s defense one of the best in the country.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

After suffering a 34-27 road loss at Memphis—a defeat in which it squandered many opportunities and a halftime lead, Temple trailed 25-7 at UCF the following week before rallying for a last second 26-25 victory. From afar, it seems as though that comeback win in Orlando has really jumpstarted this club and it has been pretty dominant since.

Explain the impact of that win and how the Owls’ coaches and players may have referenced the performance as a turning point.

@Owls247’s Ryan Wallen:

Rhule is not big on pointing to one specific moment as a turning point, but I truly believe that the loss to Memphis was the turning point of the Owls’ season. Because of the way Temple lost that game, after a career-night from Walker and holding substantial lead at the half, I believe that is what motivated this team to be “great.” Many people point to the game-winning drive against UCF as the turning point, which is a fair argument because if Temple loses that game, they are sitting at 3-4, 1-2 in AAC play, and are not even in contention for the AAC East Division title, let alone they may have been struggling to make a bowl. Don’t get me wrong, that win was monumental in turning the Owls’ season around, but I believe that the mindset of the players had changed following the loss to Memphis, enabling the comeback against UCF. Several players talked about the loss to Memphis as “painful” and even made some younger players worry about letting down the seniors, and they did not want to let that happen. Rhule himself said he had to get back to “Temple football” after that game, and ever since then, that is what I have seen on the field from the players and coaches.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Temple
Phillip Walker, formerly PJ, has thrown for more than 2,500 yards this season for the Owls.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Phillip Walker, formerly PJ, provides the Owls with an experienced quarterback. After throwing for a school-record 2,972 yards as a junior, Walker—who is wearing number 8 this year rather than 11—Temple awards single-digit numbers to players identified as the toughest by their teammates, is just 431 yards from breaking his own mark from a season ago. However, he has thrown 12 interceptions.

Talk about the veteran’s performance and the leadership he brings to the Temple offense.

@Owls247’s Ryan Wallen:

Phillip Walker is having good performance so far in 2016. I say that only because the start of his season was particularly shaky and he has thrown a few too many interceptions. With that being said, the Elizabeth, New Jersey-native has really improved his gameplay since the UCF game (the Owls’ five game winning streak). Over that period, Walker has thrown for 1,127 yards, 10 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions, and completed passes at nearly a 60 percent completion rate, much higher than the beginning of the season. A lot of Walker’s success has been thanks to having his high school teammate, Jahad Thomas, alongside him in the backfield and the old Elizabeth-connection has proved quite successful this season. Walker not only is a leader on the field, he is a leader in the film room as well. Rhule has said that Walker is usually one of the first guys to the training facility and one of the last to leave practices. He is never one to place blame in a loss, but instead always puts the blame on himself, as he did after Memphis. Walker is a true veteran leader and with his improved decision-making over the second-half of the season, has been a big reason why Temple has surged to the top of the AAC East.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Temple
Ryquell Armstead has the ability to hit the home run in Temple’s ground game.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

Last season, Jahad Thomas ran for 1,262 yards and 17 touchdowns. While he’s been solid this year, the emergence of Ryquell Armstead has meant more of two-back approach than last season. Thomas has 704 yards and 10 touchdowns while Armstead tops the team with 807 yards—including 6.3 ypc—and 11 scores. The explosive Thomas is also third on the team with 29 catches for 400 yards while leading the way with 6 receiving touchdowns.

Talk about their roles and how Rhule and staff have utilized them. After missing the Tulane game, should Armstead be back for ECU?

@Owls247’s Ryan Wallen:

Most importantly, the two back-system Rhule and offensive coordinator Glen Thomas have been able to utilize throughout the 2016 season has been able to keep both backs healthy, though they are used in different ways. Thomas is more of the back Temple will go to if they need a big play, as he can make a lot of guys miss, whereas Armstead is more of a power back with breakaway speed if he can get into the open field. Thomas is the feature back in the Owls’ offense, but Rhule has a “carries per game” number he likes to get for all his backs (Thomas-20, Armstead-15, Isaiah Wright-7, other-4), no matter who has the “hot hand.” Temple’s offense is run-first and depends on the success of the run to open up other plays in the Owls’ playbook, so having more depth at the position has led to more success offensively in 2016.

Armstead sat out of last week’s game against Tulane with a leg injury, despite suiting up. Rhule said that he probably could have played if needed, but Temple sat him out for precautionary reasons. Rhule said at Tuesday’s press conference that Armstead is still questionable for the ECU game, but I expect him to play, especially since this game means so much for the Owls.

UDD ECU Beat Writer Bubba Rosenbaum:

The Owls, who are seeking their third straight win over ECU, are nearly a three-touchdown favorite over the Pirates. With Temple having much more to play for, how do you see Saturday night’s contest—a 7:30 kickoff on ESPNews—at Lincoln Financinal Field unfolding?

@Owls247’s Ryan Wallen:

I believe that Temple will come into Saturday night’s contest relaxed and ready to take care of business against a struggling East Carolina team. Despite having the pressure to “win and get in” (unless USF falls to UCF), Temple has zeroed in on a 1-0 week-by-week mindset that as long as they practice and play for 1-0 everyday, the better team will win come gameday. I expect that ECU will keep the game competitive for the first half, since Temple typically does not get off to fast starts, but will pull away in the second half, as long as they do not turn the ball over. Temple is a much better team defensively and will disrupt the ECU offense, despite having one of the best wide receivers in the nation in Zay Jones countering them. The Pirates are susceptible to giving up a lot of points, ranking 111th in the nation in that category, and I believe Temple will put up at least 30 on ECU. My score prediction is 38-14 Temple.