Owls encouraged by second-half ground effort in loss to Houston

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Temple’s Ryquell Armstead carries for a first down in loss to Houston.

After falling behind by 20 points following the first series in the third quarter of the  20-13 loss to visiting Houston, Temple gained something it had previously been missing: a competent running game.

The Owls, who rushed for minus-8 yards in the first half, had 150 rushing yards in the second. For a team that entered the game averaging 69.8 rushing yards, which was last in the American Athletic Conference and 127th nationally, this was a drastic departure.

“The way we ran the ball as a team in the second half is something we can build on,” said  redshirt junior David Hood, who gained 53 yards on eight carries. Ryquell Armstead was the Owls’ leading rusher, with 14 carries for 63 yards.

Temple was without running back Jager Gardner, who was on crutches after suffering an unspecified injury in last week’s 43-7 loss at South Florida. A person familiar with the situation said he could be sidelined for the season.

That gave sophomore Isaiah Wright more action. Wright, who had been working mainly as a receiver, also was used as a Wildcat quarterback. He gained 8 yards on six carries, after just one rushing attempt in the first four games.

Wide receiver Travon Williams also had his first carry of the season, gaining 11 yards while lining up at running back.

The Owls also used three players at left guard: Adrian Sullivan, Vincent Picozzi, and Jaelin Robinson.

The line had a better push in the second half and the entire offense seemed to have more pep.

Coach Geoff Collins said the Owls changed some things schematically in the second half.

“I think the guys came off the football and did a really good job recognizing blitzes, getting the ID’s right,” Collins said.

The Owls (2-3, 0-2 AAC) have struggled in many areas but none more so than the running game.

Here is how they have fared in the first five games.

Score, team, net yards rushing

16-49 at Notre Dame, 85

16-13 Villanova, 79

29-21 Massachusetts, 119

7-43 at South Florida, minus-4

13-20 Houston, 142

Keep in mind the Owls have a long way to go to reach recent standards in running the ball. Last season they averaged 176.1 rushing yards per game.

Still, for Temple to turn this season around, the second-half performance will have to be the norm. Temple entered the game averaging 2.1 yards per carry.

In the second half, the Owls had 25 carries for 150 yards — 6 yards per carry.

It doesn’t mean the Owls have turned things around, but for the first time this year they can find encouragement in the ground game.

Up next: Temple visits East Carolina (1-4, 1-1) Saturday at noon. ECU lost, 61-31 at home to No. 18 South Florida on Saturday. The Pirates are allowing 50.6 points per game, against a difficult early-season schedule that has also included West Virginia and Virginia Tech.