A lot can change in one year.
Geoff Collins and the Temple Owls are about to embark on their second year together, looking to build on an impressive ending to the 2017 season that was capped off with a 28-3 win over FIU in the Gasparilla Bowl. But, there was a lot of ups and downs to get to there.
The first year under Collins can be broken down into two parts. A dreadful first half of the season with Logan Marchi at quarterback saw the team go 3-4 with a loss to the UConn Huskies being his final action for the Owls.
The change to Frank Nutile fired up the team as Temple finished the year with four wins in their final five games. Outside the loss to UCF, the offense looked much improved under Nutile.
Collins doesn’t have to work about a quarterback problem this season. Marchi has left the program and is now the starter at East Tennessee State. Nutile is the unquestioned starter and ready to build off last year’s success.
Temple returns a good portion of last year’s squad and many feel that they are the one team who could give the UCF Knights a run in the AAC East. Let’s break down each unit for the Owls this season.
Uncertainty at quarterback was the question mark entering the 2017 season. What many hoped for was that Ryquell Armstead could lead the way while the quarterback situation played out. After rushing for 919 yards and 14 touchdowns while splitting carries with Jahad Thomas in his sophomore year, Armstead was expected to be the lead guy for the Owls. Injuries prevented him from being the workhouse the coaching staff envisioned.
Armstead finished the season with the same number of carries in 2018 (156), but with just 604 yards rushing. He also failed to record over 15 touches in all but three games in 2018 after doing so seven times the year prior. Again, his health was a key factor in his lack of playing time.
While that was not good news for Armstead and the Owls, it did allow David Hood his opportunity to shine. Hood finished the season with 638 yards on the ground, and when given more than 10 touches a game, he responded with impressive numbers.
Temple will hope that both players coming back healthy can provide the one-two punch to get the ground game off the a better start this season. Jager Gardner and Tyliek Raynor give the Owls great depth on back.
The most overlooked position at any level of football is the offensive live. Much of Temple’s early struggles were a result of an offensive line ravished with injuries. The Owls had 10 different players make at least one start along the line. An issue a year ago, Temple hopes that experience becomes a strength as they will return six players with starting experience.
After averaging just 16.2 points and two turnovers per game in the first five games of the season, the number of turnovers drastically dropped and the Owls offense posted averaged 30.6 points a game in the final eight contests. After failing to top 387 yards in those first five games, they never finished with less than 393 yards the rest of the way.
Nutile will welcome back the Owls top playmaker on offense in Isaiah Wright, who is only the sixth player in the a decade to score five different ways :receiving, rushing, passing, punt and kick returns for touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Dave Patenuade is going to find multiple ways to get the ball into Wright’s hands and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he leads the team in total yards once again.
Many would think that Adonis Jennings and Keith Kirkwood no longer being with the program after each posting at least 45 receptions and 670 yards would be a problem. The Owls are fortunate that Ventell Bryant, who led the team in receiving in 2016, is back after battling injuries for much of the 2017 season. If Bryant can get back to his pre-injury form, Nutile has a solid duo to get the ball to on the outside.
The numbers don’t show it, but Temple does have a deep group of wide outs behind the starters, but it remains to be seen who gets those reps behind Wright and Bryant. Brodrick Yancy, Freddie Johnson, Randle Jones, Branden Mack and Sean Ryan will all fight for playing time.
Kenny Yeboah will likely lead the tight end group in receptions. He will be a mismatch nightmare for many defensive coordinators as he’s big and fast. Chris Myarick and Jake Robinson will also see time at tight end.
Losing Sharif Finch, Jacob Martin and Julian Taylor will be a big blow along the defensive line. Finch and Martin combined for 16.5 sacks, while Taylor added 10 tackles for a loss of his own. That’s a good chunk of the defensive live’s production that’s no longer on the roster.
The back end of the defense will also see some turnover as cornerbacks Mike Jones and Artel Foster are gone, as well as safety Sean Chandler. You could make an argument that the six players mentioned were the standouts on defense a year ago.
That doesn’t mean the Owls are about to give 500 yards through the air this season. Quincy Roche was a reserve for much of 2017, but still racked up seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. Michael Dogbe and Freddie Booth-Lloyd give Temple a stout duo in the middle while a long list of candidates will compete for the spot opposite Roche. If there has been one thing Temple has been able to count on in their resurgence the past decade, it’s finding hidden gems along the D-line.
Delvon Randall, the leader on defense, will headline the secondary. Rock Ya-Sin, a graduate transfer from Presbyterian, figures to man one of the corner positions. The rest of the bunch has experience - Kareem Ali, Linwood Crump and Jyquis Thomas to name a few - and we could see as many as 10 players get playing time in the secondary.
We already touched on Dogbe and Booth-Lloyd, who should anchor the interior of the defensive line. Dan Archibong and Nickolos Madourie will also get plenty of playing time on the inside.
Linebacker was the biggest question mark last season. It will be a strength in 2018 with the four junior linebackers all back. Shaun Bradley, Sam Franklin, William Kwenkeu and Chapelle Russell give Coach Collins four players that were highly productive a year ago.
The aforementioned Wright will likely man return duties once again after returning both a punt and kick return for a score. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if someone else also got their share of returns as Wright takes a bigger role on offense.
The kicking game does have some concerns. Aaron Boumerhi returns for his junior year, but was just 65 percent in his field goals attempts. The Owls will have a new punter with Alex Starzyk no longer with the team.
The guys in Las Vegas have put the Owls with an over/under of 6.5 wins. That number is accurate as they should be favored in at least six games. But let’s hold the talk on the Owls being a threat to UCF in the AAC East. Sure, the Owls finished last season hot, but the schedule was pretty favorable down the stretch. We’ll know how much that success translate over in the first half of the season. If Nutile can get Temple off to a 4-0 start - home games against Villanova, Buffalo and Tulsa, and at Maryland, who is a program in shambles - seven-eight wins is a realistic number.