Armstead, Temple crush SMU, 45-20 in AAC opener

WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin

PHILADELPHIA – Ryquell Armstead finished the month of September with 154 rushing yards in four games for Temple. In his fifth game, which marked the beginning of October, the sophomore halfback ended up surmounting his previous total.

Armstead’s 159 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries highlighted the Owls’ dominance on the ground, as four rushing scores helped Temple cruise past Southern Methodist, 45-20 on Saturday afternoon in front of 22,401 fans in its American Athletic Conference opener at Lincoln Financial Field.

“By far it was the best game I’ve ever played and it showed,” said Armstead, who earned his first-career 100-yard game.

“It’s meaningful for me because I’ve been working so hard this offseason. I’ve been showing little outbursts but I haven’t been breaking the big runs that I do in practice, so to finally put in a game like this was wonderful for me.”

But the first minute of the game wasn’t wonderful for Temple. During the Owls’ opening drive of the afternoon, senior quarterback Phillip Walker threw an interception that was returned by Mustangs’ defender Jordan Wyatt for a 35-yard touchdown, putting SMU ahead early, 7-0.

From there, only 55 seconds in, Temple’s response was to stomp on the gas for 35 unaswered points, as senior halfback Jahad Thomas initiated the Owls’ scoring with a 12-yard touchdown on their second drive. It was one of two touchdowns for Thomas, who finished the afternoon with 80 rushing yards on 16 carries.

It was also the second consecutive game featuring both Thomas and Armstead scoring a pair of touchdowns.

“[Jahad] is an amazing leader to me. I listen to everything he says to me and it’s starting to show,” Armstead said.

“He’s just a great guy to be under, and when he’s tired, he comes out and he’s not selfish and he’s happy to see me play. And that’s probably one of the most amazing things about him. Whenever I have success, he’s the first one smiling, the first one cheering on for me and that’s what you ask for.”

Despite the Owls’ opening gaffe through the air, Walker responded with a 42-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ventell Bryant on the ensuing possession to place Temple ahead, 14-7 midway through the first quarter. This was one of two passes completed to Bryant, who was previously sidelined for three games with a left shoulder injury.

“This was my actual first deep ball in my career,” said Bryant. “It’s something I’ve been working on, and I’m glad it paid off.”

In contrast to Bryant’s optimism, Walker wasn’t too thrilled with his performance.

“The thing that kept us back today was myself,” said Walker, who completed 7-of-18 passes for 124 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. “I played my worst football game since I’ve been out there, I have to get better and stop over-thinking when I’m out there and have to go out there and play better.”

Temple tight end Romond Deloatch, who caught a glimpse of time at defensive end against Charlotte, returned once again to both positions. Deloatch proved to be more than just another body on the defensive line, recovering a fumbled forced by Haason Reddick for an 8-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

“Romond has really just bought into the time it takes to be able to play two different positions and play on special teams,” head coach Matt Rhule said. “He puts the work in, he comes in extra to make sure he knows both sides of the ball. He has a good solid basis in it and I think that’s naturally where he could be really effective at the next level.”

The Owls’ defense, which forced two fumbles and interceptions apiece, lacked the services of junior safety Sean “Champ” Chandler, who injured his knee earlier in the week.

“Champ banged up a knee, it could be three weeks, it could be the year, we will kind of wait and see,” Rhule said.

SMU quarterback Ben Hicks completed 22-of-42 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns, finding wide receivers James Proche and Jeremiah Gains for the scores. Hicks also tossed two interceptions.

Over the .500 mark for the first time this season, Temple (3-2, 1-0) begins a two-week road trip Thursday night against the Memphis Tigers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

“I consider us right now a very balanced team,” Rhule said. “We’re trying to score a lot of points on offense and just seeing how each game’s going to be won or lost differently. I’ve learned to just live for the day. We’ll deal with Memphis when Memphis comes. We wanted to win this football game.”

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