No. 21 Maryland football will have its first road test of the season Saturday as it heads up I-95 to take on the Temple Owls in Philadelphia.
Temple kicked off its season with a 56-20 Week 1 win over FCS opponent Bucknell and will be fully rested after a bye week. The Terrapins lead the nation in scoring offense with 71 points per game, but the Owls are hanging around at No. 6 in the nation with 56 points per game.
Here’s a look at what to expect from the Owls on Saturday.
Playmakers appear across the board
Redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Russo is a talented player who now fully commands the Temple offense after orchestrating the 35-14 win over Maryland last season in his first career start. With athletes across the offense that are further developed as well, the Owls pose a series of new threats in 2019.
Aiding Russo in the passing game is a pair of big, physical receivers in Branden Mack (6’5, 220 pounds) and Isaiah Wright (6’2, 220 pounds). Their size and strength on the outside presents a challenge for any defensive back attempting to cover them, whether it be in man or zone.
After scoring 21 first quarter points by pounding the ball up the middle, Temple puts Wright (No. 2) in motion at the bottom of the formation, which isolates one defensive back into coverage with him. This short corner route run to the nearest pylon gave just enough time for Russo to toss the ball into the one-on-one matchup and allow Wright to win his battle.
Not only will they use size on the outside, but the Owls will be working on rebooting the tight end position similar to what Mike Locksley and the Maryland staff has done so far in 2019. Redshirt junior tight end Kenny Yeboah, who stands at 6’5, 230 pounds, missed the season-opening game versus Bucknell, but has since returned to practice and could be active on Saturday.
In the heat of the Bucknell blowout, the Owls utilized deception by using a designed rollout by Russo to the right to open space on the left side of the second level for an easy touchdown pass.
The Temple offense has begun opening up more to the tight end position after the group tallied just 315 receiving yards during the 2018 campaign. The ends were used more as run blockers, but new head coach Rod Carey has picked up on the mismatches that they can provide at the second and third levels.
Running back is a question mark
Similar to Syracuse, Temple benefits in the running game off of success with the pass. More completions down field will force teams to sit back and cover, allowing the Owls to rush for gains more easily. In their season opening win, Temple racked up 188 yards on the ground, but what was mostly thanks to 507 yards and five touchdowns through the air.
During the 2018 season, Temple was led by running back Ryquell Armstead, a fifth round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019, who tallied 1,098 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final season. Due to his loss, the Owls are running a committee of backs, which was led by Jager Gardner and Re’Mahn Davis in Week 1.
Gardner (No. 21) led all Temple rushers with 10 attempts against Bucknell, gaining 54 yards and two scores, including a hard-nosed run to help fuel a monster first quarter for the Owls. Powering the ball down the middle was a common them in this offense week one, and the team even calls upon linebacker Shaun Bradley to help fortify the running back position.
Trick plays could be the difference
Whenever a group of five-team takes its shot at a Power Five program, there is nothing that will be left on the table, or in the playbook.
Last season, part of what sparked the Temple upset of Maryland in College Park was a first quarter fake punt that opened the scoring. There is no doubt that Carey and his new staff have drawn up new plays to use at their disposal this season, and a momentum-shifter such as that play last season could be a difference maker this time around as well.
In similar fashion, the Owls opened the scoring against Bucknell by running a shuffle pass play where Russo was able to read the rushing end and flip it inside to Jadan Blue for the touchdown.
The bottom line
Temple will not be an easy team to beat. Carey comes in from a stint at Northern Illinois where he was 4-2 against Big Ten teams and joins a program that has had direct success against the Terps in recent seasons.
That success has been prided on the defensive side of the ball, where former head coach Geoff Collins and his team didn’t allow an offensive touchdown against Maryland in 2018. Six starters return from that defense – including three linebackers and two defensive backs – which helped lead the Owls to an eight win 2018 season after an 0-2 start.
Saturday will be a true test for Locksley and his staff in preparation and sticking with the plan. Similar to last week’s matchup against Syracuse, a fast start by the Maryland offense and early stops on defense can give enough breathing room for the team to operate at its own speed.