On Dec. 27, the Temple Owls will play in the eighth bowl game in program history when they face off against the Duke Blue Devils in the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.
The Owls (8-4, 7-1 American Athletic Conference), finished in second place in the East Division of the AAC with there only conference loss coming to No. 8 Central Florida by a score of 52-40. They’ll be led by their ball-hawking defense in the form of Delvon Randall, Rock Ya-Sin, Sam Franklin, and Shaun Bradley, along with defensive linemen Michael Dogbe, Dana Levine, and Dan Archibong.
The Blue Devils (7-5, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), finished in sixth place in the Coastal Division of the ACC. After starting the season 4-0, they Blue Devils won just one of their first four, but managed to beat Miami to reach bowl-eligibility for the second-straight year under coach David Cutcliffe. Quarterback Daniel Jones, a highly touted NFL draft prospect, will try to lead the Blue Devil offense against the strong defense of the Owl’s.
“I haven’t really seen anything yet from them because we’ve never played them,” Dogbe said. “I’m sure guys are going online and seeing what their record is and what games they can watch on film, but I haven’t really gotten a chance to see what Duke has done this year.”
The 6’5”, 220 pound Jones has impressed NFL scouts this year with his toughness and ability to stay calm in the pocket and get the ball downfield. After leading the Blue Devils to wins in the first two weeks of the season, he broke his collarbone during their week two game vs. Northwestern, and there was speculation if he’d return this year, but was on the field after missing just two weeks. Additionally, he’s thrown for 2,251 yards and 17 touchdowns on 207 completions.
“We’re really excited to play an opponent that’s as well coached as Duke is,” Temple coach Geoff Collins said. “The reputation of coach Cutcliffe and his staff is fantastic and they do a great job coaching a very talented group. They’ve got some great players on that team and obviously Jones is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Obviously Cutcliffe’s track record as a coach is very well-established and he’s very respected within the coaching ranks.”
To counterattack Jones’ talent through the air, the Owl’s will entrust their defense, which is statistically one of the best in the country, to shut down his options and get running back Ryquell Armstead and company on the field.
The defense ranked in the top 10 in the country in six categories: defensive touchdowns (7, 1st), passing yards per game (166.3, 8th), takeaways (28, 3rd), yards per play (4.49, 7th), fumble recoveries (13, 3rd), and passing efficiency (103.06, 5th).
Bradley, Randall, Ya-Sin, and Dogbe were each named to the all-Conference first team and will look to keep up the defensive momentum going into the bowl game.
There was some debate as to what bowl the Owl’s would be playing in. The Military Bowl in Annapolis, MD was a popular choice, along with the Birmingham Bowl and Military and Armed Forces Bowl being seen as options as well. A matchup against ex-heach coach Matt Rhule and his Baylor Bears squad in the Armed Forces Bowl was not ruled out of the picture either.
Ultimately though, the Owl’s were chosen to play in the Independence Bowl.
“I was actually taking a nap at the time,” graduate student and leading wide receiver Ventell Bryant said. “My phone was going off a lot and I knew that we were going to find out around four this afternoon. I was getting all these calls and text messages. I thought that we were going to play in the Military Bowl again, and we honestly didn’t really want to play in that again, but we’re playing in this one against Duke. It’s another great opportunity to go out and show what we’re made of.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Owls have recorded over 500 yards in three of their last four games, including a 670-yard game vs UCF. Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo has led the team to a 7-2 record ever since he took over the starting job. He’s thrown for 2,335 yards on the year to go along with 13 touchdowns. Senior running back Ryquell Armstead has been the glue of this offense this year despite a nagging ankle injury that has bothered him all season. He’s averaging almost 110 yards on the ground a game this year.
Both he and Russo will look to take their chances against a Duke defense that has been outscored 94-13 in their last two games of the regular season.
“It means a lot to be able to have the success that we’ve had,” Armstead said. “Being the all-time winningest class in school history never came easy, and we just want to leave our mark here and leave Temple on a good note by beating Duke and bringing another trophy back to Philly.”
“It means a lot. I think back to my freshman year when we went 6-6 and we were unable to go to a bowl game. Seeing those seniors like Kenny Harper telling the younger guys to never leave it in the hands of the conference. So for us to go to four straight bowl games it’s a big testament to our hard work over the years, and it’s turning into a trend that you’re seeing from temple football to set a standard to go to a bowl game every year.”
“It’s a great opportunity forus to show what we can do against a team in a power five conference. It’s a bowl game so we’re going to go out there and have fun, but we’re also there to take business and try to get that ninth win.”
“With the older guys especially, we know how to handle a situation and to be mature about it. You’re there to have fun with your team, but you also got to know that you’re there to win a game. The first bowl game that we went to as a team, I’ll admit guys were pretty excited and eager and we didn’t really know how to harness our excitement. Now that we’re all older and have more experience with postseason wins, we’re going down there with the mindset to have fun, but also we want that ninth win.”
“In all my time here this was a very exciting defensive group to be apart of. As you can see, the amount of energy that we bring on defense, we’re pretty up there statistically in all categories. It’s going to be bittersweet playing my last game with these guys and we’re going out there and looking to have fun and finish this thing off together.”
“It means a lot. You know, we’re the all-time most winningest class so we just want to leave our mark and leave Temple on a good note and we want that to be by us beating Duke.”
“When I was being recruited by Temple, the team was 2-10 and there wasn’t much to say about the program. What motivated a lot of us to come to Temple was the chance to turn the program around and being apart of that turnaround and turning Temple into a winning program. A lot of the guys who are seniors today, they stayed through the bad times and they were able to help us during the good times. We hope that when we leave, we’re able to leave a winning tradition. This game is going to be bittersweet but we want to leave it on a good note.”
“When Temple offered me my junior year of high school, a lot of people were in my year and saying ‘why Temple, why’. It was something that I stayed loyal to and bought into coach Rhule’s program, and now all those same people who were telling me to not come here are the same ones who are asking me for tickets on game day. It’s funny how things work out, and we wanted to be apart of something great. We just wanted to be apart of something great.”