Now that Temple's season is off to the start everyone expected, we can get into what to anticipate from them following the 30-point victory over an SEC opponent. The Owls open their doors to the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.
Beating Vanderbilt was much simpler than beating Navy. On the surface the Vanderbilt game looked tougher, because they seemed bigger, deeper, and more talented than Temple. Schematically, however, they were in flux on both sides of the ball.
The defense was adopting a new scheme and the offense wasn't settled yet on a quarterback. Navy is no such nemesis: they've been running the triple option out of the flexbone for as long as I care to remember, and they do it better than almost anyone. So how can Temple slow down their turf-churning rushing attack?
The linebackers are probably going to be the first ones to the ice tub after this game. This is a helpful guide to attacking different defensive fronts with triple option blocking, but the common theme is obviously the linebackers getting facetime with the guards and company.
The quarterback will make his decision to keep the ball or hand it to the fullback based upon what the play-side defensive end does, but the linebackers are responsible for containing the play and covering the pitch back.
The key to stopping the triple option is gap control. Temple will likely keep eight defenders in the box, and assign a gap to each of them, with the idea to blow up whichever potential ball-carrier comes through theirs. This is a great explainer of the 4-4 stack and how it benefits a defense working against the triple option.
Obviously, this is all easier said than done, but luckily for Temple they have pretty good linebackers. Tyler Matakevich is one of the best in the American, if not the nation. Just a guess, but Navy probably isn't going to run a lot of plays his way Saturday. Middle linebacker Nate D. Smith and strong-side linebacker Avery Williams are both solid, and shouldn't be considered liabilities against this offense--but they will be tested.
But what about Navy being so dang awesome at this?
Forgive me, but I don't really remember a Navy team that didn't run this offense. Paul Johnson ran it when he took the job in 2002 until he left for Georgia Tech in 2007, and Ken Niumatalolo has run it since taking over in 2008. Their rushing offense has ranked no lower than 6th nationally in yards per-game since 2002. They're probably running as we speak.
Temple will have their chances to capitalize on Navy's mistakes, because nobody is perfect and Navy is no different. However, few teams are as inextricably linked to a unique scheme. Navy runs this offense to a level of perfection that would be the envy of some of the best offenses in the country.
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the cog that makes the machine work. Last week he carried 23 times for only 42 yards, but most of his job relates to making the correct reads and setting up his backs for success. Backs Ryan Williams-Jenkins, Geoffrey Whiteside, and Desmond Brown stood out against Ohio State, each averaging over 8 yards per-carry. Considering that 8 Navy players had at least 3 carries, that list of impressive backs will change from week to week.
If Temple's defense is able to maintain gap control, they might have a chance to slow down Navy's offense. The defensive line looked great last week against a Vanderbilt offensive line that returned all of its starters. Navy's blockers are arguably as crucial to what they accomplish as Keenan Reynolds, so the defensive line will be tested just as much as the linebackers.
I could have gone on about Navy's attack, but Temple showed some explosiveness of their own last week. PJ Walker's stats weren't incredible, but he did a fantastic job of taking what the defense presented him. His two touchdown passes were more than enough. He doesn't seem to have missed a beat since 2013.
Navy's defense allowed Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett to complete 12/15 passes for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns. Walker and the Temple passing attack should be salivating at the 15.1 yards per attempt Navy allowed last week, as it could be their answer to keeping pace with the Navy rushing attack, which will likely still be able to reel off serious points against the Temple defense.
Navy 30, Temple 21
I'd love to be wrong again. I had Vanderbilt beating Temple last week, and well, you see how that went. I think Temple will keep pace with them for most of the game with Navy making it a two score game late.