Opponents preview: Temple defense

Part three of BadgerNation.com's look at the Owls, UW's second 2005 opponent

There is no way around it. Temple's defense was abysmal last season. The Owls were ranked among the nation's worst in passing defense, rushing defense, total defense — even kick coverage.

Making matters worse, the Owls' and their 4-2-5 scheme must make up for the loss of linebackers Rian Wallace and Troy Bennett — the team's best defensive players in 2004. The defensive line is experienced and last year's injury-ravaged secondary will be more than a patchwork quilt this time around, but Temple's defense is still a sore spot.

2004 by the numbers

Total defense: 439.3 yards allowed per game (No. 107 nationally)
Scoring defense: 36.3 points allowed per game (108)
Passing defense: 245.0 (94)
Passing efficiency: 150.1 (111)
Rushing defense: 194.3 (93)
Touchdowns allowed: 48 – 30 rushing, 18 passing
Third-down defense: allowed 47 percent, 67 of 137
Turnover margin: +2 (49) – recovered 11 of 18 fumbles and had eight interceptions
Net punting: 32.4 (94)
Kick coverage: 23.5 (105) or 24.2 (108) [there is a discrepancy between official stats produced by Temple and the NCAA]
Punt coverage: 9.7 (60)

Defensive line analysis

Temple boasts an experienced front four, but the Owls' must improve measurably this season to achieve respectability. The defensive line produced a frail pass rush last season, as Temple posted just 13 sacks. The Owls also struggled immensely against the run.

But with another year under their belts the Owls should be improved, if still not exactly stout.

The best lineman is senior end Mike Mendenhall (6-foot-3, 250 pounds), a second-team All-Big East performer last year. He had 41 tackles and team highs with nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

On the other side, senior end Rodney Wormley (6-3, 240) is also a returning starter. He played and started nine games last season, with 25 tackles, 3.5 for loss and one sack.

Senior JC Braker (6-5, 240) is the top reserve at end.

Three players with starting experience return at tackle. Senior Antwon Burton (6-3, 315) played in 11 games in 2003, starting six, and had 30 tackles. A junior-college transfer, Burton missed all of 2004 due to a broken foot. He will give Temple a considerable presence at nose tackle this season and should help alleviate some of the run defense woes.

Two more 300-pounders highlight the tackle rotation. Senior Adam Fichter (6-4, 300) is a returning starter. He has played in 21 games the past two seasons, with 13 starts. Last year, Fichter had 30 tackles, three for loss and one sack.

Senior Randy Johnson (6-1, 305) started twice last year and played in all 11 games, contributing 11 tackles.

Junior Neil Dickson (6-4, 280) and redshirt freshman Dwavon Battle (6-2, 315) may also figure into the rotation.

Linebackers analysis

The two starting linebackers are gone. Rian Wallace, who led the Owls' with 101 tackles last year, was an All-Big East selection twice in his Temple career. Team defensive MVP Troy Bennett chipped in 95 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss a year ago.

Their replacements this fall will likely be junior Ryan Gore (6-0, 225) and senior Manuel Tapia (6-3, 235), who have each started one game in their careers. Gore has played in 23 career games, with 27 tackles to his credit. Tapia has 29 games under his belt, with 35 tackles.

The top reserve is redshirt freshman Rick Costa (6-1, 235), whom the Owls expect to see emerge as a standout in years to come. Sophomore Vince Yasenchak (6-1, 245) and senior Christian Dunbar (6-2, 235), who started 10 games at tight end last year, are next on the depth chart.

Secondary analysis

Cornerback Ryan Lamb started the final six game of 2004 — after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in April 2004 and undergoing surgery the following month. Now a senior, Lamb (5-10, 185) returns to start on the right side.

Senior Andrew Turner (6-0, 185) returns at left corner after starting seven games last year, where he tallied 41 tackles (29 solo) and led the team with 10 passes defended.

But he will compete for a starting job this fall with second-year senior Jermaine Hargraves (5-10, 175), who tied Turner for the team-best two interceptions last year. A junior college transfer a year ago, Hargraves played in seven games, starting four, and finished with 23 tackles.

Junior David Reese (5-10, 175), who also started four games last year, will back up Lamb on the right side.

After garnering 77 stops a year ago (fourth on the team), junior free safety Durrell Davis is Temple's leading returning tackler. He played with a shoulder injury throughout the 2004 season but still started all 11 games.

For the past two seasons Lawrence Wade and Sadeke Konte manned the outside (strong and owl) safety positions in Temple's 4-2-5 scheme. Last year, Konte was third on the Owls with 86 tackles and tied for second with two sacks, while Wade made 52 tackles.

Their replacements look like a pair of third-year seniors in Bobby Fulmore (6-0, 200) and Justin Johnson (6-1, 205), who combined for 45 tackles last year.

Senior Lambert Watts (5-11, 185), junior Garrett Schultz (5-11, 185) and sophomore Willie Hardemon (5-10, 170) will compete for playing time as reserve safeties.

Senior punters Mike McLaughlin and Jake Hendy struggled last year, averaging 36.5 and 37.1 yards per punt, respectively. Temple's net punting average was among the worst marks in the nation and its kick coverage was porous.

Matching up with Wisconsin

The Badgers should like every matchup Temple's defense presents. The Owls defensive line may be respectable but it is unlikely to get much of a pass rush or to clog many running lanes against UW, which will put too much strain on Temple's linebackers, edge safeties and secondary.

The Owls have some experience at corner, but this was a team that allowed opponents 245 yards passing per game and a passer rating over 150. UW's veteran receivers should have their way with Temple's secondary and quarterback John Stocco should be comfortable when he needs to put the ball in the air.

But the Owls were also atrocious against the run last year, giving up an incredible 30 rushing touchdowns. That bodes well for Brian Calhoun and Booker Stanley, who should have plenty of room to run behind UW's offensive line and fullback Matt Bernstein.

Heading into 2005, this looks like UW's least challenging opponent.

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