Quarterback Phillip Walker and running back Jahad Thomas returned for their senior seasons after coming off a historic 10-4 season in which they appeared in the American Athletic Conference Championship, and the offense was to look much like the previous year’s.
Then a wrench was thrown in the plan.
Thomas, the Preseason All-AAC running back, had suffered a left hand injury and missed the first two games of the year.
With the injury to Thomas, sophomore Ryquell Armstead was plugged as the starting running back for the Owls in their games against the Army Black Knights and the Stony Brook Seawolves and impressed right away. Armstead, who only had 51 attempts all of the 2015 season was going to need to step up.
In the 28-13 to Army, the Temple Owls struggled in all three phases of the game. Temple allowed Army to run for 329 yards and the Phillip Walker threw for three interceptions. The one positive performance was Ryquell Armstead’s, who had 16 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown in the defeat.
Then, in a game where many backups saw action in the 38-0 trouncing of Stony Brook, Armstead got the start again and tallied 48 yards and 1 touchdown on 14 carries.
When Jahad Thomas returned from his injury in the game at Penn State, Armstead took a back seat and saw limited action. Thomas had 48 receiving yards and 57 rushing yards with two touchdowns, but the Owls lost to the Nittany Lions and fell to 1-2 on the year.
In the five games with a healthy Armstead and Thomas, the Owls have gone 4-1 and currently sit atop of the American Athletic Conference’s Eastern division.
These last five contests, Armstead has 59 rushes for 492 yards and 7 touchdowns. The sophomore from Millville, New Jersey has been an explosive threat that can strike at any moment.
The best example of Armstead’s big-play ability came last Friday when the Owls faced South Florida, with the top spot in the AAC East on the line. In the game, Armstead rushed 20 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the 46-30 win.
With the Owls trailing 13-10 with four minutes remaining in the first half, Armstead busted a 76-yard touchdown to give the Owls a 17-13 lead. Then, with the Owls trailing 23-20 in the third quarter, Armstead jetted for a 42-yard touchdown to give the Owls a lead that they would never let up.
Armstead has put the entire American Athletic Conference on notice after his big game on national television against USF and another huge day against SMU when he rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Owls to their first conference win of the year in early October.
If the Owls continue to feed both Thomas and Ryquell Armstead, there might not be a rush defense in the AAC that could handle the duo. With Thomas’s pass catching ability and effectiveness around the goal-line and Armstead’s knack for breaking off huge runs, the Owls could run the table throughout the rest of the season and be sitting atop the AAC East at the end of the season.