Bearcat Insider: How has the Owls evolved this season?
Pastor: It has certainly been a challenging year for the Owls, who had to navigate through the double-whammy of key graduation losses (four of last year's starters are now playing in the NFL) and key injuries to top offensive playmakers Jahad Thomas and Ventell Bryant in September. And just when the offense got healthy, the Owls lost arguably their most important defensive player, safety Sean Chandler, at the beginning of October. But after an unexpected season-opening loss to Army and one-score road losses to Penn State and Memphis, Temple has righted the ship thanks to dominant play from its defensive line and a consistent running game.
Bearcat Insider: What makes this teams rushing attack so potent?
Pastor: The easy answer here is also the right answer -- the personnel is pretty good. Thomas isn't putting up the same kind of numbers he did last year, but he can still make people miss as well as anyone. And sophomore Ryquell Armstead has broken out in the last few weeks as a power back who does the exact opposite -- he would rather run through a tackler than make him miss. And Armstead also has top-end speed as he showed in two long touchdown runs against USF last weekend. Fullback Nick Sharga is an excellent blocker, and the left side of Temple's offensive line -- senior all-American candidate Dion Dawkins and redshirt freshman Jovahn Fair -- is probably the best tandem in the AAC.
Bearcat Insider: Even with the seniors who graduated last season this defense is still strong. Who are the keys to the defense and what is it most effect at doing of the opposing offense?
Pastor: Temple's front four has been terrific since the beginning of league play -- this after starting the year with a poor showing against Army's option attack. But against the wide-open offenses of the AAC, the Owls are loaded with pass rushers such as AAC Defensive POY candidate Haason Reddick and fellow seniors Praise Martin-Oguike and Romond Deloatch, a two-way player who also lines up at tight end and wide receiver. The biggest development since the loss to Army, though, has been the strong play of defensive tackles Averee Robinson, Michael Dogbe, and several backups who rotate regularly along a deep, talented defensive front.
Bearcat Insider: Walker has been turnover prone this season, but he is a big play guy. Why do you think he's turning the ball over at such a high rate this season?
Pastor: Phillip Walker's interception number (10) is a bit deceiving, as two of them came on passes where he hit his wide receiver in the hands (only to watch the ball get deflected into the defender's hands), and three more came on desperation drives in the final moments of those losses to Army, Penn State and Memphis. He did force the ball into some bad places against Army, but has mostly cleaned that up in recent weeks. And the receivers have performed better too, particularly Bryant and Keith Kirkwood, another big target.
Bearcat Insider: What do you think is the key for a Temple win?
Pastor: The Owls will continue to rely on their front four to set them up for victory in each of their last four games -- especially against Cincinnati, where Gunner Kiel can hurt them if he has time to throw. For all of its success, the Temple defense (and special teams) has been prone to surrendering two or three big plays almost every week. And the key there is for the defensive backs to prevent those big plays from becoming touchdowns. Because the Owls have been pretty stout in the red zone. Offensively, the biggest negative has been penalties that often put the Owls behind the chains. When they don't hurt themselves, the Owls can usually run the ball with success, and Walker spreads the ball nicely among several offensive weapons -- which makes them hard to defend.
Bearcat Insider: Prediction for Saturday’s game?
Pastor: I think Cincinnati is a real wild card this week with Kiel back at the helm. But it will be a huge difference for him to go from a home game against an ECU defense that has totaled exactly one sack this season, to playing on the road against a Temple defense that has 24 sacks -- and has played even better than that the last few weeks. And the Cincinnati defense doesn't figure to force the number of turnovers that is has this season against a controlled Temple attack. I'll say: Temple 30, Cincinnati 20.
|Temple Owls Depth Chart - 2016|
|WR||Marshall Ellick||Adonis Jennings|
|TE||Colin Thompson||Romond Deloatch|
|LT||Dion Dawkins||Cole Boozer|
|LG||Jovahn Fair||Matt Hennessey|
|C||Brendan McGowan||Matt Hennessey|
|RG||Adrian Sullivan||Brian Carter|
|RT||Leon Johnson||Jaelin Robinson|
|WR||Keith Kirkwood||Ventell Bryant|
|QB||Phillip Walker||Logan Marchi||Frank Nutile|
|FB||(WR) Brodrick Yancy||(WR) Isaiah Wright|
|HB||Jahad Thomas||Ryquell Armstead||Jager Gardner|
|Base 4-3 Defense|
|LDE||Praise Martin-Oguike||Avery Ellis|
|LDT||Michael Dogbe||Freddie Booth-Lloyd|
|RDT||Averee Robinson||Greg Webb||Karamo Dioubate|
|RDE||Haason Reddick||Jacob Martin|
|WLB||Stephaun Marshall||Chapelle Russell|
|MLB||Jared Folks||Jarred Alwan||Shaun Bradley|
|SLB||Avery Williams||William Kwenkeu||Jeremiah Atoki|
|CB||Artrel Foster||Derrek Thomas|
|SS||Delvon Randall||Benny Walls|
|FS||Nate L. Smith||Jyquis Thomas||Khiry Lucas|
|CB||Nate Hairston||Linwood Crump||Cequan Jefferson|
|K||Aaron Boumerhi||Dan McDonald||Alex Starzyk|
|P||Alex Starzyk||Aaron Boumerhi|
|H||Tom Bradway||Logan Marchi|
|PR||Jahad Thomas||Isaiah Wright|
|KR||Randle Jones||Jager Gardner||Jahad Thomas|
|LS||Corey Lerch||Josh Lang|