The road to becoming bowl eligible begins saturday afternoon for Temple as they travel to West Point, NY to take on the Army West Point Black Knights. If the Owls wish to return to a bowl game for the third straight year, they will have to win three of their next five games, with a tough conference schedule remaining.
The Black Knights enter as the last non conference opponent for Temple. The team comes in with a record of 5-2, and winners of their last three games.
Temple will be looking for revenge after dropping the opening game a season ago to Army, as the Black Knights defeated the Owls 28-13 at Lincoln Financial Field.
Offensively, the Owls enter last in the AAC in scoring offense, after scoring 24 points against the 10th ranked total defense in the conference, in Uconn. Temple will need to keep the ball on the ground against Army to keep the ball out of the hands of the Black Knight offense.
“Obviously you want to start fast, you want to move the ball,” said Head Coach Geoff Collins in his weekly press conference. “You want to make sure they can’t drain the clock. They’re really good and really efficient in what they do.”
Ryquell Armstead looks to be finally getting healthy, as he scored his first touchdown of the season against the Huskies. A year after rushing for almost 1,000 yards, the junior running back has struggled as the team’s feature back, rushing for just 277 yards to this point in the season.
A bright spot in the run game has been the play of redshirt junior David Hood. Hood has been impressive in the last two games, rushing for over 100 yards against East Carolina, and racking up almost 100 yards through the air against Uconn.
A big question mark heading into this week is the health of Leon Johnson, the redshirt senior left tackle who was injured on just the second play of last week’s loss. If Johnson isn’t able to play, Temple is confident to roll out backup James McHale.
“He did really good, he competed, he fought,” said Collins on Tuesday of McHale. “I thought he and Picozzi did a nice job for us in replacing two of our veteran offensive lineman in Leon and Jovahn.”
As for the passing offense, Logan Marchi is coming off of a performance in which he threw for 356 yards, and a touchdown.
It wasn’t all positive for Marchi against the Huskies, as the redshirt sophomore quarterback continues to have trouble with turnovers. His costly pick six in the second half turned out to be the difference in the game for the Huskies, on their way to a 28-24 victory.
Another noticeable issue on Saturday was the amount of drops by the normally reliable wide receiving corps, including a drop Keith Kirkwood on a fourth and seven deep in Uconn territory late in the fourth quarter.
“We had seven drops in that game, we had two drops on the last drive,” said Collins. “We’ve got to make those plays.”
Lining up across from Temple will be an Army defense that returns seven starters from a season ago. The Black Knight defense enters allowing just over 20 points per game, and under 200 yards through the air.
The vulnerable part of the Army defense is on the ground, as the Black Knights are giving up an average of 170 yards per game. Much like that of East Carolina, Temple should have a favorable matchup against a weak run defense.
After losing two starting linebackers to graduation in Andrew King, and Jeremy Timpf, Army has filled in well with two young members of the linebacking corps.
Junior Nachtigal leads the team in tackles with 50 total on the season, along with three tackles for loss. Lining up alongside Nachtigal is sophomore Cole Christiansen, who has totaled 37 tackles on the season.
Another player to note for the Black Knights is senior linebacker Alex Aukerman, who has racked up nine tackles for loss, and five sacks to this point in the season. The strong linebacking corps for Army will look to slow down a Temple rush offense that has struggled greatly this season.
On the other side of the ball, the Temple defense will be missing Sharif Finch for the first half of saturday’s game, as Finch was ejected for targeting in the third quarter against Uconn.
In a game where defensive depth and rotation is perhaps the most important aspect, the loss of Finch in the first half is a tough one, but Quincy Roche and Dana Levine have seen plenty of action this season, and should fill in just fine in the first two quarters.
Going up against a tough and talented triple offense of Army, the Temple defense will have its handful making reads, and playing assignment football against the nation’s number two rushing offense in the nation.
Along with the defensive line, the young linebackers will be a major factor in the game. Both Chappelle Russell and Shaun Bradley have put together strong seasons after the week one blunder against Notre Dame. Russell leads the team with 53 total tackles on the season, followed closely by Bradley with 43 tackles on the season.
Bradley will be the eighth player to wear the number one this week, but he says he will play the same way against Army.
“It means that my hard work is paying off for me a little bit,” said Bradley. “Other than that, I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing.”
Other key players in the linebacking corps have been Sam Franklin, William Kwenkeu, and Isaiah Graham-Mobley.
Safeties Delvon Randall and Sean Chandler will also be challenged with stopping the run, but also staying honest in the event of a rare Army pass play. The duo combine for 15 tackles the last time the Owls faced a triple option offense against Navy in the AAC Championship.
The Black Knight offense is the most unique the Owls have faced to this point in the season, with their dominating triple option attack, propelling them to be the number two rush offense in the nation.
Much of the success of the offense can be accredited to Ahmad Bradshaw. The senior quarterback has rushed for 818 yards on the season, to go along with seven touchdowns. His average of over 115 yards per game has led him to be the eighth leading rusher in the nation. A season ago, Bradshaw rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns against Temple, while completing just one pass for 11 yards.
The vulnerable aspect of the Black Knight offense is the passing game, as Bradshaw has completed just seven of his thirty pass attempts on the season, with two interceptions on the season. As a team, Army has scored just one passing touchdown on the season, and is averaging just 17.9 passing yards per game.
The Owls will be looking to get up early as they did against Navy a season ago, to put the Black Knights in passing situations.
Although Army rarely passes, the Owls defense will not focus solely on the run game.
“With teams like this they expect you to overcompensate for the run,” said Jacob Martin after practice on Tuesday. “The guys on the back end can’t go to sleep, as soon as they see the opportunity to take a shot they will.”
Bradshaw is not the only one carrying the load on offense, as running backs Kell Walker, Andy Davidson, Darnell Woolfolk, and Calen Holt have all rushed for over 200 yards on the season. As a unit, the team is averaging 378 yards per game on the ground, and have scored 28 rushing touchdowns on the ground this season.
Every game the rest of the way is seemingly a must win for the Owls if they want to make a bowl game, and it all starts saturday at West Point.
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