WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
PHILADELPHIA – If head coach Matt Rhule was in full control of Temple’s offensive play calling, the football wouldn’t be thrown in the air even once.
To Rhule’s dismay, the team’s most recent game plan was the farthest thing from his wishes.
Senior quarterback Phillip Walker threw the ball a career-high 59 times in Temple’s 34-27 loss to Memphis last Thursday, a 445 passing yard performance that significantly overshadowed the Owls’ measly 86 rushing yards on 29 carries.
“Running it 29 times hurts my soul,” Rhule said during his post-practice press conference on Tuesday. “I think we tried to take what the defense gave us and at the end of the day, it’s just too many times that you’re throwing the football to really be successful. I prefer not to throw it 59 times. That’s not who we are. In the end, you have to find a way to run the football.”
Senior halfback Jahad Thomas has yet to rush for triple-digit yardage, despite finishing with 121 yards receiving against the Tigers last week.
“We didn’t put the ball in Jahad’s hands,” Rhule said. “At the end of the day, that game to me is all about one thing: the ability to run the football. When we did, we scored, so I put that on us as coaches. We didn’t attack them the right way as a coaching staff.”
As Rhule plans to reshape the Owls’ unbalanced offense, the running game will be forced to encounter several roadblocks, as Temple (3-3) travels south to face Central Florida (3-2) in Orlando on Saturday night.
The Knights, who lead the American Athletic Conference in sacks (18), are fresh off an impromptu bye-week after Hurricane Matthew dismantled the Atlantic coast and postponed a scheduled matchup with Tulane.
“We’re grateful that they’re okay and all of their facilities are okay, but we know it’ll be a tremendous atmosphere and a tremendous game,” Rhule said. “Those teams from UCF a couple years ago played great defense and this team has it. We’re 0-2 on the road right now. We haven’t gone on the road yet and won, and that takes toughness.”
Temple will also be without the service of one of its most consistent and dependable players. Kicker Austin Jones suffered a season-ending ACL tear on a kickoff returned for a touchdown against Memphis. Jones will be replaced by true freshman Aaron Boumerhi.
“[Aaron’s] unflappable. I have tremendous confidence in him but because of his age, I’ll probably try to treat him more with kid gloves,” Rhule said. “I’m not going to ask him to go out there and a kick a 54-yarder or anything like that.
“He kicks the ball great, it’s just he hasn’t been out there really in that moment a ton, so maybe we’ll be a little bit more like we were the first year like, ‘Hey, four downs’, you know, we’re trying to go for it and be a little bit more like an option team.”
Temple’s mental and physical toughness came into question early in the season. Heading into week seven, the uncertainty continues to persist. Halfway through the season, the Owls are still searching for their identity, and Rhule can only hope that the players are buying into his system at such as crucial point in the team’s schedule.
“I just believe that we have a good enough football team that when we do what we’re supposed to do we have a chance to win every game,” he said. “When you’re not detailed, if you’re jumping offside, then the momentum starts to creep in and jumps on your throat.”