Running Game: Toughness Over Flash

When the Temple football coaches got together in the War Room at the E-O at the end of the season, the No. 1 topic had to have been to fix what was broken.

There can be no doubt it was the running game, the worst in the AAC and the chief reason the Owls had the worst third-down efficiency in the FBS. (The punt return game was also a disaster, but that was because the Owls decided early to use a possession receiver instead of an explosive return guy like Nate L. Smith to take back punts.)

Now, with 10 days left before Penn State, the solution appears to have been toughness over flash. Jahad Thomas, last year’s leading rusher, appears to have won the job despite strong challenges from Jager Gardner, David Hood and Ryquell Armstead. Four-star recruit T.J. Simmons also is in the mix, but someone will have to redshirt and he appears to be the odd man out.

One of the best ways to measure a player’s potential impact is comparing what that player did against similar competition.

While Simmons played perhaps against the best talent (Florida) and Gardner against the worst (Western North Carolina), Gardner’s numbers and size cannot be ignored. He might have lost the job by fumbling in a scrimmage, but if the Owls need explosiveness and flash at the position they do know where to go.

Thomas was nowhere near as dominating against some pretty good high school competition, but he’s obviously earned the coaching staff’s trust by his toughness. Would love to see the Owls attempt a more traditional running game by using Nick Sharga as a fullback to lead interference for Thomas and some of the other tailbacks and, since Sharga has gotten time as a fullback (in addition to linebacker and defensive end), that is possible—probably likely in goal-line situations.

Some red flags are involved in every player, with the possible exception of Armstead and Gardner.

Thomas does not seem to have the elite breakaway speed needed for the position. He was caught from behind in the Houston game.

Simmons had his best season as a freshman but has not played significantly since his junior year (nine games).

Of these players, Gardner’s size and speed and high school stats remind me most of Bernard Pierce and that’s the kind of player the Owls need at the position.

Player Ht./Wt. H.S. Best Year Games Yards Touchdowns
Jahad Thomas 5-10, 170 Sr. 13 889 15
Ryquell Armstead 5-10, 205 Sr. 11 1,488 18
T.J. Simmons 6-1, 195 Fr. 11 1,487 20
Jager Gardner 6-2, 205 Sr. 13 2,776 36
David Hood 5-9, 185 Sr. 12 1,651 21
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23 thoughts on “Running Game: Toughness Over Flash

  1. Bill Parcells said RBs come in all sizes and styles, so the best way to measure or grade RBs is by productivity and potential. Using that criteria here is an assessment of the Temple RBs in order of value:

    1. Gardner – has most upside of all, and productive in HS and against a great college defense during summer. Coaching can teach him to protect the football, has potential to be a Sunday player.

    2. Armstead – next in line should Gardner suffer an injury, getting caught from behind will be his weakness. the main reason why Zaire is playing LB

    3. Thomas – tough guy and benefits from two years playing college football. will never play on Sunday, at the max of his ability. below average speed. dedication and being a friend of PJ are his biggest attributes. Reminds me of why Chester Stewart was a starter, dedication and friend of BP

    4. Hood – great team player, and good for the locker room. specialty type player

    5. Simmons – RBs with a history of injury to the lower extremities have a very limited shelf life. will red shirt this year, and remain a disgruntled individual during his time at Temple.

    • good analysis. there may be something more to this but I expect the depth chart to be Thomas 1 with Armstead, Gardner, Hood battling it out for No. 2. Thomas might be picking up the protections better than the others. To me, the solution for that would be to put Nick Sharga back there for the protections and use Gardner as No. 1 with Sharga leading the way through the holes. I would hope our staff is smart enough to see this, but this is the same staff that used a slow possession receiver for punt returns and appears puzzled why we were so ridiculously bad on punt returns a year ago. It’s not rocket science.

      • I think the David Hood you are referring to is different from the one on Temple’s roster (he will be 19 in November).

    • Odd that two RBs with the same name/build graduate from the same HS within a few years. The othe David Hood looks to have played two seasons and RS another starting in 2010. Our David Hood played in 1 game last year that I can remember (DSU).

      In any event, hopefully the coaches can correct the fumbling issue w/ the freshmen. As others have said, I suspect one of the Fr RBs will be starting before the season is over.

  2. wow, Simmons had his best season as a freshman in HS? Thats amazing he played as a freshman, and interesting he never came close to that level the next 3 years

  3. six degrees of separation…, the 2014 team will probably field the most explosive set of offensive weapons Temple has had since BP left. But this year Temple wants to play power football with a relative small, weak OL. this year is shaping up to another year of not playing the cards you’re dealt, and shoving an offense down the team’s throat irregardless of the talent required to run it..,, reminds me of the Adazio years .., my bet is Temple will abandon the smash mouth by the start of the third quarter when they finds themselves down by 17. why? the PSU DL will be the toughest DL Temple will play all year, and they are dramatically improved over last year while Temple still Lofton stating on OL. don’t expect Temple to haven more than 100 in total offense by halftime…., issue on defense is lack of size on the DL and LB. Not sure if any team in the conference or east coast has LB who are smaller this year’s group

    • don’t know enough about TU to make a definitive opion. I did notice they return all 5 starters with 2 seemigly solid O line redshirt Freshman in the mix to start as well. Even if they are small, you’d have to bank on the Oline being better than last year. Youd have to bank on the passing game being better as well, with the QB returning, and the WRS all returnign except the best one, and 2 wrs coming in who will compete to be the number 1 receiver from day 1. The tes look good as well with 2 veteran options who have different skill sets.

      I’ll be watching TU a lot this yr (going to PSU game and going to buy game day tix to the rest), and even checking out HS games since I’m an assistant coach. I marked off HS players who committed to TU and PSU so I can see them play before they even reach college.

      I look forward to chatting with you, and others. Go TU, let’s get that stadium built after going 9-3 and having a top 25 D 3 years in a row

      • Kyle Friend C 6’2, 305 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 33 career starts
        Dion Dawkins LT
        13 career starts
        Brendan McGowan C 6’4, 300 Jr. 2 stars 13 career starts
        Eric Lofton RT 6’5, 300 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 12 career starts
        Shahbaz Ahmed LG 6’3, 285 Sr. 2 stars 9 career starts

        Depending on Dawkins size, looks like they average about 300 lbs and 6’4, of course assuming this is their actual weight. I have no idea if 300 lbs is small for a college team

        J Robinson is 319, Ruff is 300 lbs too
        Aaron Ruff OL 6’3, 300 RSFr. 4 stars
        0 starts
        Jaelil Robinson 319
        0 starts

        Brian Carter LG 6’3, 280 So. 2 stars (5.2) 1 career start

        are you sure Carter is starting? Looks like the depth chart goes 8 deep with him at 8th, on paper

    • Lofton is not starting according to the depth chart put out yesterday. their OL averages 300lbs. Dawkins is 318. PS secondary will not be able to handle Anderson & Jennings. PS OL will not be able to handle our pass rush. our LB are average size except Avery Williams.

  4. Marc Narducci is providing the best pre-season coverage Temple has received in the last 15 yrs

  5. totally agree …. this is my email to Marc 3 days ago and his response:

    Mike Gibson
    Aug 24 (3 days ago)

    to mnarducci
    Hi Marc,
    hope everything is OK with you.
    great job on the Owls, but I’ve never heard anyone ask Rhule in any of the pressers why anderson is returning punts when Kareem Ali (who did a spectacular job in the spring) and Nate L. Smith (who is the leading punt returner in Pa. schoolboy history) are both available and, quite frankly, more expendable than the team’s best offensive weapon.
    Christopher returned punts all last year and had an average of 2.0 yards per return. Nate L. Smith’s average was 21 (against Memphis) but only got one shot at a return.
    Extremely puzzling and worth a question if not an entire story.
    Rhule seemed surprised that the team struggled in punt returns last year, but it was his choice to have a slow possession receiver back there returning them.
    Thanks for doing a great job on the beat, as you usually do. John Mitchell mailed it in after Keith Pompey did stellar work.
    All the best,
    Mike Gibson

    Narducci, Marc
    Aug 24 (3 days ago)

    to me
    First, off thanks for the kind words Mike. Nobody has more passion for the Owls or more knowledge of the football and basketball teams than you do.
    As for Anderson, I agree with the move for one reason – he is a big-play performer. I would give him the first shot but I’d also work in Nate L, giving Anderson a breather here and there. Rhule knows he has one year left of Robby and he wants to get the most mileage possible. I will ask him about Nate L.
    Unfortunately I have to miss the first two games because I had planned a trip four our 30th anniversary before getting the Temple beat, but I hope to get up to UMass for Game 3. We won’t be traveling much but that will be a car ride.
    Marc

  6. kj, is 300 lbs on average small for a college O line? 285-90 would be. But strength, quickness, good feet, technique, etc. are where Temple’s guys might not match up so well. I don’t know about those things with the Owls lineman, but I do know Div 3 players exceed 300 lbs, lots of it fat, so size isn’t everything.

  7. Mike, you may have posted this before but how many returning starters do we have? All positions not just running back.

    • If you count Thomas over Harper (and I do, Harper should have been a fullback and JT was the far better tailback), 20 of 22 (all 11 on defense and losing only Jalen Fitzpatrick on offense). Quinn was the starter in the last game at guard and he’s at Delaware now.

  8. The bottom line is that a good coach takes what the defense is giving him. If they load up on the run play action, screens, and pass plays are called for and vice versa. The problem last season was the insistence upon sticking with the offense even though it wasn’t working. Every team has to have a strategy to overcome adversity and I hope that the coaching staff will be more flexible and innovative this season than they were last. The first step was admitting their mistake last season. We’ll soon see if they learned their lesson.

    • I think I recall a number of three man rushes against Hackenberg last season. I would hope that the coaching staff would consistently try to put him down this year. Just thinking.

      • The entire game pretty much. Don’t understand why we were so passive against him. I hope they are smart enough to go after him first with the 5-man rush and, if that works, fine. If not, mix in some blitzes and use six (Avery Williams being the sixth). If that doesn’t work, bring Champ Chandler off corner blitzes. But do NOT make him comfortable back there. I want him to think he’s going to get hit on every play, if he’s not actually hit on every play. I hope it is Vandy redux, where we kept knocking out QBs for perceived bad play.

  9. depth chart comes out on Monday.

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