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Gameday preview: Rutgers

After a two-day delay due to flooding brought on by Tropical Storm Ida, Temple football is finally back as the Owls open their season today at noon on the road against Rutgers. Temple is looking to rebound after finishing 1-6 in a difficult 2020 season mired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rutgers is coming off a 3-6 season in the first year of head coach Greg Schiano’s second tenure with the program. Although the Scarlet Knights finished well below .500, they played in several close games last season and could have easily had a winning record.

Here is a breakdown of how the Owls will matchup against the Scarlet Knights in all three phases of the game.

When Temple is on offense

The Owls’ offense will look a lot different than it did in their final game of 2020 when they take the field Thursday night. The biggest change will be at starting quarterback, where Georgia transfer D’Wan Mathis, a former four-star recruit, will take his first snap in a Temple jersey.

Mathis started in just one game for Georgia last season before getting injured and losing his spot. Compared to former quarterback Anthony Russo, Mathis should bring more mobility and ability to create outside the pocket.

This will be important if Temple is going to win, because Rutgers’ defense has some legit talent in its secondary. Returning players cornerback/safety Avery Young and safety Christian Izien combined for seven pass breakups, four interceptions and three forced fumbles last season.

“I know they got a lot of guys coming back,” Temple third-year head coach Rod Carey said. “Like you said, the pieces they have added, and the people they have coming back are good, too. Really, I cant’ speak to where they are at right now because I only have film from last year, and they were good players last year.”

However, Temple is returning both of its leading receivers from last season in Jadan Blue and Randle Jones. To complement Blue and Jones, the Owls will lean on Jose Barbon, who won the fall camp battle for the third starting receiver.

In the running game, Temple will primarily lean on three inexperienced players in Edward Saydee, Trey Blair and Kyle Dobbins. Saydee and Dobbins combined for just 121 rushing yards last season, and Blair, a former dual-threat all-state quarterback at Haverford High School, converted from safety this offseason.

With that said, the Owls are returning five starters on the offensive line, which should be able to open up running lanes against a Rutgers defense that allowed 203.7 rushing yards per game last season.

Rutgers' best chance to stop Temple’s run game will most likely center around its linebackers in Tyshon Fogg and Olakunle Fatukasi, who led the team in tackles last season with 101 and 70 respectively.

Temple wide receiver Jadan Blue celebrates a touchdown at Memphis last season.
Temple wide receiver Jadan Blue celebrates a touchdown at Memphis last season. (Associated Press)

When Temple is on defense

Like its offense, Temple’s defense will lean on some new faces to play significant snaps Thursday night.

The Owls are starting Kentucky transfer Jerquavion Mahone at nose tackle, Northwestern transfer Cameron Ruiz and UConn transfer Keyshawn Paul at cornerback, and Washington State transfer Will Rodgers at defensive end.

Temple will also need to get production from some returning players who are starting for the first time. Second-year freshman Nick Bags is starting at defensive tackle, while DaeSean Winston and Kwantel Raines are starting at safety and BUBO, respectively, after opting out of the 2020 season.

The Scarlet Knights’ offense is far from a national powerhouse, as they scored 26.7 points per game last season, which ranked eighth in the Big Ten and averaged 339 yards per game, which ranked 13th in the conference.

Despite this, Rutgers’ offense does have some playmakers who could give the Owls trouble. The primary one being wide receiver Bo Melton, who is a dynamic down the field threat and with the ball in his hands in the open field.

Melton led the team in receiving last season with 638 yards and led the team in receiving touchdowns with six.

“I see this as being a four-quarter game, and [Melton’s] certainly going to be a tough matchup,” Carey said.

Rutgers’ rushing attack will likely center around running back Isaih Pacheco and quarterback Noah Vedral, who were two of the team’s top three rushing threats last season.

Temple’s best chance to shut down Rutgers’ offense is if their combination of young players and transfers on the defensive line can create consistent penetration against the run.

Vedral struggled with turnovers last season, as he threw eight interceptions to just nine touchdown passes. Forcing Rutgers to rely on his arm will undoubtedly give Temple an edge.

Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral threw just eight touchdown passes against nine interceptions last season.
Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral threw just eight touchdown passes against nine interceptions last season. (Associated Press)

When Temple is on special teams

Special teams will be an important factor in this game, as Rutgers has two of the best kick returners in the country in Aron Cruickshank and Kansas State transfer Joshua Youngblood.

Cruickshank was named the Big Ten Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year and named First Team All-Big Ten last season, and Youngblood led the country in return touchdowns with three last season.

“They do a good job special team- wise,” Carey said. “We have to match that.”

Last season, Temple struggled to cover kicks, as they allowed 479 return yards on kick returns and 197 yards on punt returns.

The Owls’ best special teams unit last season was led by returning punter Adam Barry. He ranked third in the conference in punting average per game and was named the special teams player of the game three times last season.

As for field goals, Temple will rely on second-year freshman Rory Bell, who made all of his kicks last season but only had a season-long of 30 yards. Bell said during fall camp he’s hit from over 50 yards.