Story by David Gough
Two weeks into the college football season, it’s probably difficult to tell whether Temple football will have as good a year as they had in 2015.
Temple is 1-1 to start the season after opening up 2016 with a loss to Army and a win over FCS-level Stony Brook.
The Army game provided Temple with a 28-13 defeat. The Army offense ran all over the defense for 329 rushing yards. Temple quarterback Phil Walker completed 12 of his 26 pass attempts for 126 yards while throwing three interceptions.
Temple bounced back with a 38-0 shutout victory over Stony Brook. Walker completed 11 of 23 passes for 124 yards while throwing three touchdowns and one tipped interception. Temple’s defense held Stony Brook to just 133 yards.
Beating a team like Stony Brook doesn’t necessarily guarantee that Temple is back to form despite the added confidence that it brings. This week’s game in State College will say much more.
It will certainly say a lot about Phil Walker.
Walker, in his final year at Temple, is coming off a solid junior year. He threw for 2,972 yards with 19 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions.
In just two games this year, he has thrown for 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions while completing fewer than half of his passes. It could just be a slow start, but he’s on pace to regress from last season.
In order to beat Penn State, Walker needs to be as smart with the football as he was in last year’s victory over the Nittany Lions.
Walker didn’t do anything spectacular, but he didn’t turn the ball over. He completed 15 of his 20 passes for 143 yards to go along with a rushing touchdown that put Temple up for good.
Temple needs that kind of performance from him this weekend. Offensively, the running game can take care of the rest.
It doesn’t help, though, that senior running back Jahad Thomas’s dislocated thumb will likely keep him on the sideline for a third straight week. Thomas broke out against Penn State last season rushing for 135 yards on 29 carries.
Fortunately, Temple has depth at running back. Sophomore Ryquell Armstead has started in place of Thomas to begin the season and he has had some success. He rushed for 77 yards against Army and 54 against Stony Brook.
Temple rushed for 177 yards total against Stony Brook with help from Jager Gardner, David Hood, and Isaiah Wright. That is a good sign coming into State College since Penn State has allowed 491 rushing yards in its first two games. 341 of those yards came from Pittsburgh.
Temple’s defense isn’t a ton better in terms of number of rushing yards allowed. They have allowed 378 rushing yards in the first two weeks of the season. Of course, 87% of those yards came from Army, a triple-option team. But, Temple has struggled against option teams like Army, South Florida, Houston, and Navy during Phil Snow’s tenure as Temple’s defensive coordinator.
Typically, the defense performs much better when they’re not faced with the option offense. Last year against PSU, Temple only gave up 183 yards of offense. Yes, that was with the likes Tyler Matakevich, Matt Ioannidis, and Tavon Young still on the team, but the 2016 defense has reason to believe they can play the same way after shutting out their previous opponent.
For what it’s worth, Temple is the best in the nation in passing yards allowed, but those numbers are a bit inflated when they play a team like Army and an FCS opponent like Stony Brook.
After two weeks, the identity of this team is still unknown. That might be a good thing, though. No one really knew what to expect from them last year when they opened the season as hosts to Penn State.
We all know how that played out.