Owls look to benefit from struggles of 2013

Posted: August 02, 2014

Rather than focus on what was in 2013 - dropping its first six games on the way to a 2-10 record - the Temple football team has spent the offseason focusing mostly on what might have been.

You know, the glass is half full.

"We had a young team last year, and I think that some of the things we did have put us into position to be a good team," said Temple coach Matt Rhule, as he stood behind a podium in the Owls' newly renovated locker room inside the Edberg-Olson Hall practice facility.

"We're excited about the way they are carrying themselves. We're excited about the new guys coming in," Rhule continued. "And now it's time for us to go and compete. Those games that we were in down to the wire - now it's time for us to go win those games and be the team that walks off the field with a little pep in our step. I think we're ready to do that."

The Owls held their media day Thursday, 29 days before they open their second season under Rhule on the road at Vanderbilt. Their focus on that Aug. 29 game, however, has been shaped by the positives - few and far between as they were - of last season.

Six of the losses were by nine points or fewer. The Owls lost to Fordham and Rutgers in the waning moments and fell to eventual Fiesta Bowl champion Central Florida on a field goal as time expired.

While the defense allowed a whopping 474.2 yards per game, the Owls allowed just 235 yards and 228 yards, respectively, in their final two games of the season, the last a convincing, 41-21 American Athletic Conference win over Memphis.

"We've matured from that," said sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker. "The offseason takes a lot of pride and character. We pushed ourselves through every workout. Nobody whined or complained about the practices we had. We just know we don't want to have the same feeling we did after so many of those games where we felt we should have won."

Walker, who started seven games as a true freshman, threw for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns, both Temple freshman records.

However, junior center Kyle Friend is the only returning starter on the offensive line. Additionally, Walker lost his best weapon - leading receiver Robby Anderson (791 yards and nine touchdowns on 44 receptions, all team highs) - to academic difficulties.

Running back Kenneth Harper (team-high 613 rushing yards, nine touchdowns) and wide receivers Jalen Fitzpatrick and John Christopher are the only other returning starters on offense.

Junior linebacker Tyler Matakevich led the nation with 99 solo tackles and anchors a defense that returns seven starters.

"We are going to be a defense that is going to play relentless," Matakevich said. "Last year was frustrating because of all the hard work we put in. We'd be more physical than other teams and outplay them. Then it would come down to the wire, and we couldn't finish. That has been our entire focus."


Owls' Big Questions

Temple opens preseason training camp on Friday. Here's a look at the biggest questions facing the Owls on offense and defense.

Offense: Offensive Line

Coach Matt Rhule wasted no time Thursday in identifying the offensive line as the biggest question. Only junior center Kyle Friend returns as a regular starter, and five players who combined for 41 starts are gone. This will place added pressure on quarterback P.J. Walker. First-year offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan will be working overtime to pull this unit together. Look for Dion Dawkins, lost last season after suffering an injury against Louisville, to crack the unit. Eric Lofton and converted defensive lineman Shahbaz Ahmed could contribute.

Defense: Pass Rush

If the Owls hope to improve on last year's 29.8 points per game allowed, they will need a better pass rush than they had in 2013. Temple sacked opposing quarterbacks just 19 times, among the lowest in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Many of the late-game passing touchdowns against them were due as much to a lack of a pass rush as they were to the secondary, which caught most of the heat. Defensive ends Sharif Finch and Praise Martin-Oguike have opportunities to make names for themselves. Linebacker Stephaun Marshall, formerly a safety, will also get opportunities with his speed. - John N. Mitchell


jmitchell@philly.com

@JmitchInquirer

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