In its effort to solve the triple-option offense, the Temple football coaching staff apparently adopted the philosophy of the old English proverb: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Unfortunately for the Owls, the defensive gameplan didn’t succeed in a 28-13 loss to Army on Friday night at Lincoln Financial Field. The Black Knights rushed for 329 yards and held the ball for nearly 36 minutes in the contest. And those aren’t unusual numbers for a team that runs the option.
But according to Army Coach Jeff Monken, it was unusual for his team to face a defensive look like the one they got from the Cherry and White.
“They lined up in a defense entirely different than what we had practiced for the last three weeks and prepared for,” Monken said after the game. “So when they came out in that defense, which they had lined up in against Navy a couple of years ago, it was kind of a changeup. We expected it to be an eight-man front, and it wasn’t, so we really had to develop a gameplan as we went.”
For all the intricacy of the triple-option offense, Army’s adjustment was fairly simple: Put the ball in the fullback’s belly.
Fullbacks Andy Davidson and Darnell Woolfolk combined for 34 carries and 171 difference-making yards. And they were particularly successful on short-yardage carries -- picking up the first down 4 of 5 times on 3rd-and-short rushing attempts.
The Black Knights attempted five passes in the first half, and then adjusted the gameplan and threw one pass (which drew a pass interference penalty) in the second half. The fullbacks got the ball 14 times in the first half, and 21 times in the second half.
“We did a lot of the same things we practiced,” Monken continued. “The great thing about this offense is we can run new plays and block differently, particularly on the perimeter, and (quarterback) Ahmad (Bradshaw) did a nice job because he really had a lot of poise and didn’t panic when they did some different techniques, which they did in the front. He handled it well and got us checked into the right play.”
The curious thing about Temple’s gameplan, per Monken’s comments, is that the Owls utilized the same defense “they had lined up in against Navy a couple of years ago.”
Therein lies the mystery of the old English proverb, if at first you don’t succeed ...
Because the Owls surrendered 487 yards rushing in that 2014 game against Navy, a 31-24 loss, which Monken referenced. They never got a handle on Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds (who rushed for 173 yards), and Navy fullbacks Noah Copeland and Chris Swain combined for 23 carries for 154 yards.
There were some differences between the two games. In particular, Reynolds had a 48-yard touchdown run and a 56-yard run that set up another touchdown in the 2014 contest.
The Owls fared much better against Bradshaw, whose longest QB keeper went for 10 yards. The longest play they surrendered was a 21-yard gain by slotback Christian Drake in the third quarter.
So Temple seemingly tweaked its defense and succeeded in not giving up the big play.
But the overall plan failed, just like two years ago.
Navy had the ball for 36 minutes in that contest, and punted only once, and converted 6 of 10 third downs. Army was 7 for 14 on third downs and 2 for 2 on fourth downs, and punted twice.
And what happened at halftime?
Two years ago, Navy scored touchdowns on its first two possessions of the second half. Army did the same Friday night. Against the Black Knights, Temple’s offense had just one possession in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
The Temple-Navy game was close partly because the Midshipmen committed three turnovers. Army had none. Monken’s team was sharp and relentless.
“They just dominated us,” Temple Coach Matt Rhule said afterward. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, this guy has it, he doesn’t have it.’ They literally just knocked us off the ball. Credit to them. Credit to Coach Monken. They physically dominated the line of scrimmage.
“It wasn’t really like assignment football. They were just lining up, and they weren’t even running the option half the time. They were just handing the ball off on the (fullback) dive and knocking us off the ball, and we weren’t able to knock them back.”
In that case, maybe it wasn’t the gameplan.
Did the front four get pushed around? Or did they fail to maneuver through Army’s cut blocking schemes? Or was it the linebackers who filled the gaps too late and allowed the fullbacks to gain a couple extra yards? Every. Single. Time.
To some degree, it was all of the above.
Then again, maybe it would have helped to have eight men in the box.
Will the Owls adjust their defensive gameplan the next time they face an option attack?
Check back in late November, when Temple visits Tulane, which has adopted an option look under new head coach Willie Fritz -- who came to Tulane from option-haven Georgia Southern.
Georgia Southern’s head coach prior to Fritz? Jeff Monken.