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Season Preview: Temple's offense focused on run game

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Season Preview: Temple's offense focused on run game

With Temple set to kick off its season on Saturday afternoon against Penn State at Lincoln Financial Field, we take a look at the team's offense for 2015. For Matt Haughton's preview of the Owls' defense, click here.

For the Temple Owls, it's back to the basics in 2015.

"Coaches stress good football teams can run the ball at will," center Kyle Friend said Aug. 17 at Temple's media day, "and that's something that we're trying to accomplish here."

After experimenting with a no-huddle offense last season, the coaching staff has changed course this summer. Instead of pushing the pace, the Owls will focus on being physical.

Running the football opens other doors for the offense, Friend said, and the senior acknowledged the shift in philosophy has put more pressure on the offensive line.

"We have to rise to the occasion, rise to the challenge," he said. "We're trying to get a good rush game going. … It's something that you have to take day by day and try to chip away at."

The numbers last season are not pretty. Temple finished 118th out of 128 FBS teams in 2014 with 107.8 rushing yards per game. Its leading rusher was a defensive back the season before.

Still, while its run game was poor, Temple's pass game also struggled. Quarterback P.J. Walker endured a turnover-plagued sophomore campaign and scoring went down.

At 6-6, the Owls were bowl-eligible. Perhaps a few more plays from Walker, Temple enters Saturday afternoon's season opener against Penn State coming off a bowl game.

There's nothing Temple can do about last season. It's history. The Owls' focus is Penn State, and then Cincinnati, a game that carries more weight to Temple than PSU.

"Being an older guy and knowing the game, you have to take things week by week and treat everybody the same," Friend said. "The offensive line, our thing is just try to be 1-0 every week. Focus on who you're playing and don't play up to the expectations. Don't play down to it.

"We're going to treat every opponent the same. We've been down the road where you underestimate an opponent and that's never worked out, so I'm treating every opponent the same. Preparing the same mentality and physically for every opponent that we play."

Staying healthy will be important for the offensive line this season. In 2014, the O-line battled injuries and inexperienced linemen were forced into game action.

That experience, however, may prove to be helpful. Friend believes this year's line is two-deep, meaning if one goes down to an injury, the Owls can replace him without missing a beat.

"Guys, like I said, Leon (Johnson's) in there. Bryan Carter, all the guards, they've been rotating at every position so they know it all," Friend said. "Guard, tackle, whatever it is, I think we've got a lot of guys who can play at any spot on the offensive line. As far as the two-deep, we've got some good guys we're not afraid to put in if somebody goes down."

While Temple's plan to run more puts more burden on the O-line, it also requires the running backs to fight for more yards. Jahad Thomas returns as the team's leading rusher.

Thomas, in his first season as a tailback, ran for 384 yards on 80 carries in 2014, while also adding 364 yards on 14 catches and a receiving touchdown. His biggest game came against Tulsa on Oct. 11, when he racked up 152 yards on 14 carries and a 20-yard TD catch-and-run. He had 11 plays over 30 yards last season.

"We know what he can do and we feel good about him," head coach Matt Rhule said. "What I want to see, I want to see him finish plays. As I told him, I said, 'You got 11-plus plays (of over 30 yards), but you also have a lot of plays where you were tackled inside the 10. A lot of those times we didn't score, so just having him finish."

There is a familiarity between Walker and Thomas, as the two played at Elizabeth High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Both are heading into their junior seasons, and for Walker, there's a comfort level in having Thomas in the backfield with him.

"He's not just a good running back who can make plays with the ball," Walker said. "He's smart. He picks up a lot of the blitzes that some guys probably won't be able to do at this point. Just because of the fact he did some of the things that we learn now, he did in high school."

Ask Rhule and he gets excited about his three freshmen backs, T.J. Simmons, Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner. Simmons is a four-star recruit from Lakeland Christian School in Lakeland, Florida. Armstead is a local kid and a three-star recruit from Millville, New Jersey, and Gardner comes from Black Mountain, North Carolina. 

"All three tailbacks are explosive, dynamic kids," Rhule said. "Ryquell Armstead has been a standout so far in camp in that group of kids. …

"I brought all the freshmen in here (Aug. 16) and I said, 'Take a breathe, man. When you guys were in ninth grade, the first day of ninth-grade football, were you guys worried about if I'm going to start as a senior, am I going to get a college scholarship? No, you're worried about if I'm going to get my head knocked off.' Getting them to just relax, take the pressure off."

In some capacity, the three freshmen will have a role in 2015. Rhule said he has five RBs to work with, including redshirt freshman David Hood. Zaire Williams has moved to outside linebacker.

But with the emphasis being placed on the run game, Temple's offense will be aided by the return of Robby Anderson and transfer Adonis Jennings being ruled eligible. Anderson was dismissed from Temple after the 2013 season because of academics, but he has since earned his associate's degree from Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, and came back to Temple.

After summer courses, the redshirt senior was allowed back on the football team. Jennings transferred to Temple after one year at the University of Pittsburgh, and was granted eligibility after petitioning the NCAA so he would not have to sit out a season. The two receivers add height and skill to the position that was lacking last season.

The way Rhule sees it, the additions of Anderson and Jennings will help Walker take the next step forward in his development.

"Oh my gosh, yeah," Rhule said. "To be quite honest, I think when Adonis got eligible and Robby's grades were coming in, I think the whole coaching staff was sitting around and P.J. was in the back of the room waiting for it. Those guys are competitors. It's not a slight against the other receivers, it makes the other receivers better."

Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

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Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keyontae Johnson saw Florida’s big lead shrink to almost nothing in the final minute. He made sure his teammates didn’t let this one get away from the Gators.

Johnson had a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic, playing without ejected leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. on Thursday. Not that it came easily as Florida (3-2) saw its 18-point lead cut to 64-62 in the final minute.

“We just communicated, told everyone to stay together,” Johnson said. “We stayed locked in.”

The focus proved the difference as Florida hit six foul shots down the stretch while Saint Joseph’s missed two shots and committed a pair of turnovers.

“Down the stretch, I thought we showed a tremendous toughness,” Florida coach Mike White said.

The Gators needed it with Blackshear missing almost all of the game. He played three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Then he was thrown out when he was battling underneath and his elbow looked like it hit Saint Joseph’s guard Taylor Funk. Blackshear, who came in averaging 14 points and 12 boards, was called for a flagrant two foul and sent off the court.

Blackshear’s departure seemed to energize the Hawks (2-3), who trailed 43-27 when the Florida star left the court. That’s when St. Joseph’s went on a 29-16 spurt to cut it to three points on Funk’s basket with six minutes left.

But Johnson followed with a basket and Andrew Nembhard made another to extend the lead.

St. Joseph’s had one last charge, slicing things to 64-62 on Ryan Daly’s layup in the final minute. The Hawks had several chances to tighten things, but could not. “We’re not going to go down easy,” Daly said.

Florida will take on Miami here Friday for a spot in the Charleston Classic finals.

The Hawks face Missouri State on Friday.

Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Nembhard added 16 points.

Florida took control quickly and appeared to make this a runaway as Noah Locke had two 3-pointers and Nembhard also hit one from behind the arc as the Gators went ahead 11-2 less than two minutes in and steadily built its lead.

St. Joseph’s had hit 34 first-half 3s combined its first four games. It made just one of its 14 long-range attempts this time as it fell behind.

Daly led the Hawks with 25 points.

Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

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Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

CONWAY, S.C. -- It’s been awhile since No. 17 Villanova shot this well from long range. Cole Swider has never scored like this.

Swider scored a career-high 26 points with six 3-pointers, and the Wildcats routed Middle Tennessee 98-69 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Collin Gillespie added 16 points and hit four 3s, Justin Moore finished with 15 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 11 rebounds to help Villanova (3-1) - which never trailed, led by 35 and shot 57% while winning its second straight following a 25-point loss at No. 10 Ohio State.

And yet, another number in the box score caught coach Jay Wright’s eye - Swider’s seven rebounds.

“He’s more than just a shooter,” Wright said.

And the Wildcats have plenty of those. They made 18 3s - one shy of the school record, and their most since they also had 18 in a victory over Kansas at the 2018 Final Four.

“They have elite size with great shooters,” Middle Tennessee coach Nick McDevitt said, “and any short close-out or decent close-out results in three points.”

Eleven of them came during a first-half barrage that pushed the lead well into the 20s. Swider hit his fifth 3 from the corner shortly before the buzzer to put the Wildcats up 53-28 at halftime.

Saddiq Bey then took the lead to 30 with a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.

Donovan Sims scored 18 points and C.J. Jones had 16 for the Blue Raiders (3-2). Leading scorer Antonio Green, averaging 23.5 points going into the game, finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting while dealing with foul trouble.

“They’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts, so they were switching just to never let him see space,” McDevitt said.