“I’m sitting there
watching the cut-ups
in the offseason.
We have the ball on the
1-yard line and we’re
in five-wides running
My heart hurt.
not what I am
and what I believe.
to run the football.”
_ Matt Rhule,
April 28, 2015
While we have all been impressed by the greatness of Jahad Thomas, just about everyone knows it’s a long season in college football and the backups better be ready as well.
That’s one of the reasons why Charlotte, N.C., would be the perfect place for Jager Gardner to have his breakout game for the Temple Owls (7 p.m., Friday, CBS Sports Network). The other is that Gardner is from there, as his Owen High is only 116 miles West on Interstate 40 after a left turn from State Route 16.
As North Carolina goes, that’s a stone’s throw.
Another reason is that Temple head coach Matt Rhule has said repeatedly that, while Thomas had won the job fairly and squarely, there are a number of running backs right below him who “just as are capable of making explosive plays for us” and mentioned both Gardner and the pride of South Jersey, Ryquell Armstead. Watching Temple last week was like scratching your head and watching the Temple of yesteryear–literally, last year–and the number of times the Owls rolled out the three and four wides against a run defense that allowed 390 against Colorado was perplexing. You had to wonder if Matt Rhule forgot this quote: “I’m sitting there watching the cut-ups in the offseason. We have the ball on the 1-yard line and we’re in five-wides running quarterback draw. My heart hurt. That’s just not what I am and what I believe. We’re going to run the football.”
Oh yeah. Notre Dame torched that vaunted run defense for an additional 457 yards yesterday. For this Temple team to win, it must get back to establishing the run and passing off play-action. Period, end of story. It must get back to fulfilling the promise Rhule made on 4/28/15. Maybe getting more backs involved will help. After 67 yards, it could not hurt.
The last truly great back at Temple, Bernard Pierce, got only six carries and 44 yards in his first game as a true freshman against Villanova, but once he got into a game three weeks later at Eastern Michigan, he never gave up his spot. The same could happen for a guy like Gardner, whose high school stats were even more impressive than Pierce’s.
No one really knows if South Jersey or Pennsylvania football is better than North Carolina football or even North Jersey football, but the stats are stark.
As a senior playing for Elizabeth High, Thomas scored 15 touchdowns and had 889 rushing yards from scrimmage. As a senior playing for Owen (N.C.) High a year ago, Gardner had 2,776 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns from the line of scrimmage. North Jersey football might be real good, but it would be a stretch to say that it’s more than twice as good as North Carolina football. Armstead’s stats against similar competition were also good, scoring 18 touchdowns with 1,488 yards from scrimmage as a senior. He might be the Owls’ fastest back since Bernard Pierce, as both had the same exact time (10.8) in the 100-meter dash as seniors.
Either way, all three backs should be able to get extensive time for the Owls at Charlotte and, to quote a favorite saying from one of my fellow Owl writers, we’ll have to see how it plays out.
Tomorrow: (Mostly) Unseen Temple Photos