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Bullseye: Temple Owls

Temple experienced two coaching changes this offseason, but the players will have to continue momentum from last year as they travel to Tampa.

South Florida v Temple Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Previous Bullseye Opponent Primers:

Coming off their second open date of the year, the Bulls return to Tampa to kick off the month of November and won’t leave the state for the rest of the regular season. They’ll turn their sights towards the Temple Owls, arguably USF’s biggest kryptonite since joining the American.

Temple Owls

Narrative

Temple had an odd offseason to say the least. In typical G5 fashion, their head coach was poached by a Power 5 school in need a fresh star...only it happened twice within a month.

On December 7th, Geoff Collins was picked up by Georgia Tech after two seasons at the helm in Philadelphia. A couple of days later, Temple hired Manny Diaz, who was an excellent pick up by the Owls. He was previously was the defensive coordinator from Miami from 2016 to 2018 but when Mark Richt announced his retirement on December 30th, Miami called the former DC back home. Diaz promptly hopped on the first flight that evening back to Coral Gables, FL, leaving Temple fans shocked by how quickly their coach came and went.

Enter Rod Carey, the former head coach at Northern Illinois who touts a strong defensive resumé (his Huskies’ defense ranked in the top 30 the last two seasons in Defensive S&P+). The problem that most Temple fans will have, aside from losing their two head coaches in less than a month, is that Carey has been underwhelming recently on the offensive side of the ball as head coach. In those same two seasons, NIU was 112th and 117th in Offensive S&P+. He’s bringing his entire staff from DeKalb to Philly where the program will look to refocus.

Last season, Temple had an up-and-down year on the football field as they opened up with losses to crosstown FCS rival Villanova and Buffalo while the team was using Frank Nutile as their QB. Once Anthony Russo came into action, the Owls looked much more competent on offense, scoring victories at Maryland, over then no. 20 ranked Cincinnati, and at Houston.

As you probably remember, the Owls also sparked a come-from-behind victory over USF during their six game skid. They trailed 17-0 at the half and ended up winning 27-17 with a rousing defensive and special teams effort.

Personnel

The aforementioned RS junior Anthony Russo will look to solidify himself as the permanent starter this season now that Frank Nutile has graduated. Offseason surgeries has Russo day-to-day, so sophomore Todd Centeio is seeing more of the reps with the team.

Temple had been known as a run-heavy team, with names that should make USF fans shutter. Nick Sharga, Ryquell Armstead, and Jahad Thomas all bring back nightmares of games played in Philadelphia. However, Temple looks to have more talent at receiver this upcoming season than at the running back position.

Behind Ryquell Armstead, who is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, there wasn’t much depth, and their second leading rusher from last season also graduated. That leaves senior Jager Gardner (65 carries for 253 yards, 1 TD) and sophomore Jeremy Jennings (14 carries for 79 yards) to fill the shoes that Armstead left behind (210 carries, 1,098 yards and 13 touchdowns).

However, the offensive line is looking to be a strong unit for the Owls coming into the 2019 season. RS junior center Matt Hennessey is on two pre-season watch lists, including the Rimington Trophy for best center in college football. Next to him is RS senior Jovahn Faire, who is on the Outland Trophy watch list for top interior linemen. The rest of the projected starting line is returning as well with sophomores Adam Klein and Isaac Moore returning after starting as true freshmen in 2018. Former walk-on Vincent Picozzi started the year at guard before swapping to center when Hennessey had to sit out two games due to injury.

Redshirt juniors Johnny Forrest and Tyler Raynolds will take over the fullback position, leading the way for the running backs this season. At the tight end position, Temple brings a John Mackey award watch list player of their own with RS Junior Kenny Yeboah. Kenny had 13 catches for 154 yards and one touchdown last year and was often downfield blocking for Armstead.

Out wide, the Owls will have one of the most dynamic players in college football as their #1 receiver. Senior Isaiah Wright is on the Paul Hornung watch list, which goes to the nation’s most dynamic player who contributes significantly at multiple positions during the season. These positions can be offense and defense, offense and special teams, or defense and special teams. Wright is a known pass catching threat, but his three touchdowns on special teams last year (including a dagger of a punt return TD against USF) has teams trying their best to keep the ball out of his hands. Brandon Mack and Randle Jones are threats as well, with both players combining for nine touchdowns and over 1,000 yards receiving last season.

In the Temple football program, outstanding players will wear single digit numbers, it’s one of the highest honors the program can give out, and this year Isaiah Wright and Brandon Mack will both be wearing single digit numbers on offense. Due to NCAA Rules about Offensive Linemen’s numbers needing to be between 59 and 70, Matt Hennessey and Jovahn Fair are honorary members of the single digit club for the offense.

The Temple Tuff defense is going to continue to be, well, tough for opponents to break through again this year. The front seven has threats all along the board, both in run havoc and pass havoc. Defensive ends Quincy Roche and Zack Mesday combined for 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss last year. On the interior, defensive tackles Dan Archibong and Karamo Dioubate combined for 6 batted down passes last year, on top of their 4.5 tackles for loss.

Temple’s linebackers are just as lethal with plenty of experience, and more importantly, all three will be wearing single digits this year. All three starting linebackers return from last season. Senior MLB Shaun Bradley returns to captain the defense after 78 tackles, four tackles for loss, and two interceptions in 2018. Next to him on the strong side will be LB Chappelle Russell, who had 70 tackles, five tackles for loss, and four fumble recoveries last year. On the weak side, Sam Franklin will play a hybrid linebacker-safety role after a 63 tackles and 7 TFLs a year ago.

The secondary is going to have to replace a lot of experience from last year, with star DB Rock Ya-Sin now on the Indianapolis Colts. Safeties Delvon Randall was waived by the Eagles, and Jyquis Thomas and Rodney Williams graduated. Benny Walls is the player in the secondary with the most playing time from last season for the Owls, gathering 46 tackles and three interceptions. Harrison Hand transferred from Baylor last season and is immediately eligible after starting four games last season. Two other players in the secondary are making some noise this offseason with Linwood Crump and Kimere Brown are both receiving high praise from the coaching staff.

On the special teams front, Temple knows who their return specialist will be, but the kicking duty is still up in the air. Sophomore Will Mobly and graduate transfer Jacob Lafree are both battling for the starting kicking job. Additionally, Sophomore Punter Max Cavallucci will battle JUCO transfer Adam Barry for the starting position there. Kicker/Punter Adam Bouhmerhi decided to leave the program after a hip injury sidelined him all of last season, leaving the special teams race wide open.

Outlook

Temple is going to be another wildcard this season in the American because they’re a team no one really wants to play because of how dangerous they can be. If the defense gets rolling in the right away, it will be capable of shutting down most offenses it will face this year. Isaiah Wright will take most of the eyes in the opposing secondary, but Kenny Yeboah and Brandon Mack can capitalize just as easily for Anthony Russo to throw to.

Luckily for USF, they are playing Temple at Raymond James Stadium and the series is split even 2-2 with both teams winning their respective home games (in NFL stadiums). Early S&P+ projections show USF as a slight favorite over Temple, but with questions marks on both teams, we won’t know a true projection until a few weeks into the season. For Rod Carey, his season starts being favored in the first five games, but they are underdogs in four of their last season games.

USF will need to have a big victory over Temple as they’ll need to carry momentum into their toughest three game stretch to end the season. They may not leave the state in the month of November, but the Bulls are going to face some of the best teams in the American during that time.