Since the first half of the season opener at Notre Dame, when Ryquell Armstead ran for 60 yards on 11 carries in the first 30 minutes, Temple had not been able to establish much of a run game. The Owls entered Saturday’s game against Houston with the worst rushing offense in the American Athletic Conference, averaging just 69.8 rushing yards per game.
A contributing factor in that tally was certainly last Thursday’s 43-7 blowout loss at South Florida, when Temple mustered minus-4 rushing yards on 33 carries.
But if there was a small bright spot in the Owls’ 20-13 loss to the Cougars that set their record back to 2-3, it was that the running game began to click in the second half at Lincoln Financial Field.
After abandoning the run in the second quarter with only three carries and 14 pass plays, Temple ran effectively throughout the second half. The Owls rushed for 150 yards in the second half, as compared to negative-8 rushing yards in the first.
“We changed some things up schematically,” first-year head coach Geoff Collins said. “We were a lot more three wide (receiver sets). In the backfield, sometimes we had three back there. The guys came off the ball, did a really good job recognizing the fronts, recognizing the blitzes and getting the (identifications) right.”
Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said the improved ground game may have been due to fatigue on Houston’s end.
“I think we wore them down a bit,” Patenaude said. “I think you just had to keep pounding the ball. We did a good job. We mixed our runs up. They were mixing their fronts. I think we got some confidence going. We got the ball rolling downhill. Being able to run the ball downhill, through the A gaps makes things a lot easier.”
A halftime suggestion from Armstead, who rushed for 919 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry last season, also may have helped Temple get things going with the run.
“My coaches asked me, ‘What do you see?’” Armstead said. “And I gave them this one play. Told them to just keep running it until (Houston) stops it. They couldn’t stop it, so we just kept running it.”
Armstead also saw a Houston defensive line that eventually lost standout defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who left the game in the first half and did not return due to a knee injury. The former 5-star recruit was an Associated Press first-team All-American as a freshman, when he tallied 23 tackles for a loss.
The run game also allowed Patenaude to call a rollout for Logan Marchi on fourth-and-goal from the Houston 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Marchi rolled right and flipped it to backup tailback David Hood, who ran into the end zone untouched.
“We scored on a naked because we were able to run the ball,” Patenaude said.
Hood, a redshirt junior, entered the day with 55 rushing yards in four games. He gained 53 yards on eight carries – good for 6.6 yards per touch – against Houston. The 53-yard mark was Hood’s most on the ground since Nov. 21, 2015 against Memphis, when he ran 14 times for 61 yards.
The strong second half was viewed as a “stepping stone” for the rest of the season by Hood.
“It’s going to help us in knowing the personnel and knowing what people can do,” Hood said.
The Owls will need production from Hood in a complimentary role to Armstead. The running back position has thinned out, as junior Jager Gardner will miss the remainder of the season due to a knee injury, and redshirt freshman Tyliek Raynor has also been out with an undisclosed injury.
Walk-on Travon Williams also received his first carry of the season – an 11-yard outside run to the right.
“You’re gonna have to play at least two, maybe three running backs every week,” Patenaude said. “Those guys give us a nice change up.”
Patenaude called Williams a “fast little dude who runs big.”
The offensive line play also looked much improved, especially in the second half. The Owls rotated a combination of three different players at left guard in redshirt freshman Vince Picozzi, redshirt junior Jaelin Robinson and redshirt senior Adrian Sullivan. The normal starter at left guard, redshirt sophomore Jovahn Fair, has missed the last two games due to a leg injury.
“Offensive lined moved (Houston) off the ball,” Patenaude said.
Armstead was also pleased with the offensive line play in front of him.
“They improved a lot,” Armstead said.
The run game will have another opportunity to put up numbers against the American Athletic Conference’s second-worst rushing defense in East Carolina. The Pirates, who host the Owls Saturday at noon, allow an average of 298.6 rushing yards per game.