Junior running back Ryquell Armstead is Temple’s best offensive weapon. A year ago, he rushed for 919 yards and 14 touchdowns while splitting time with senior Jahad Thomas on a team that won 10 games for the second straight season.
Senior linebacker Ed Shockley might be Villanova’s top defensive player. Last year, he tied for the team lead in tackles, with 86, for a squad that won an FCS playoff game. Last week, he had a career-high 14 in an opening 38-35 win at 17th-ranked Lehigh, which took the Wildcats from 10th to sixth in the FCS polls.
For three seasons, they played together for Millville (N.J.) High School. Which means they went up against each other in practice. A lot. And it was all good. But when the Owls host Villanova on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, things might be a bit more energized.
“It was always fun [back then],” Shockley recalled. “We had a pretty good team, so it was definitely competitive. It was more fun when I didn’t have to play against him. He’s really good.
“We still talk. I was actually FaceTiming him [Tuesday]. I asked if he was beat up from the Notre Dame game [a 49-16 loss in South Bend]. I want to see him on the field. But it’ll be all business. We both have goals in our careers. So as soon as the ball’s kicked off, there won’t be any smiles until after the game. At least if we win.”
He was smiling, of course.
Armstead rushed for 67 yards on 19 attempts against the Irish. No other Owl had more than six touches. The rest of the team gained 18 yards on 18 tries.
“Our relationship is good,” Armstead said. “He is one of the few guys I keep in touch with from home. We lift together in the summer at this place called Upper Level Fitness [near] Ocean City.
“He’s very talented. So it’s going to be a battle.”
Villanova isn’t supposed to win. Yet FCS teams sometimes do in these spots: The Wildcats beat Temple in 2003 and 2009, then nearly again in 2010.
And they were in position to beat Syracuse three years ago but missed a short field goal.
So will there be any trash-talking between the former teammates?
“I think that’s like an unspoken agreement,” said Shockley. “We’re tuned in right now. There won’t be very much [verbal] contact going on. Linebackers and running backs are going to meet up, every other play if not every play. I’ll let his teammates be his teammates and help him up. I’ve got to worry about the next play.”
It’s one of those games within the game that make matchups such as this more meaningful than maybe Villanova playing Connecticut or Pitt. The last thing the Owls want to be is 0-2, especially with games coming up later this month against South Florida and Houston. They are the defending American Athletic Conference champions.
“I just want to make sure we are both on the field and have a good time,” Armstead emphasized. “We are always competing.”
Nothing wrong with wanting some bragging rights among friends. And the Owls are at their best when their ground game is working.
“When we first found out we’d be playing each other, it was exciting,” Shockley said. “Our coaches from high school have been in contact. They’re going to be coming to the game and all that.
“It means a little bit more personally, to some of us … We’d go on-on-one on [pass] routes [at Millville]. He’d get me sometimes, then I’d get him. Ryquell’s more of a laugh-at-you type of guy. He won’t say much. But if you’re a competitor, it can kind of get under your skin.”
There’s only one way to change that.