The offensive line wasn’t considered Temple’s strength entering the season. Still, with ample experience, the line was expected to be productive.
Through four games, the linemen have underperformed, and in that regard on this team, they have plenty of company.
Nobody has been harder on the unit or on himself than senior left tackle Leon Johnson. Asked if he was satisfied with the line’s performance, the 6-foot-5, 325-pound Johnson said, “No, not at all, especially for me. I am making mistakes I shouldn’t make.”
If those mistakes aren’t corrected, it could be a long day when the Owls host Houston at noon Saturday in an American Athletic Conference game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Temple’s line woes and offensive struggles in general came to light in last Thursday’s 43-7 loss at South Florida, currently ranked No. 18. The Owls (2-2 overall, 0-1 AAC) gained minus-4 yards rushing and committed six turnovers.
The offensive line was far from the only culprit, but it was soundly outplayed against a much quicker South Florida defense.
Johnson doesn’t want to hear that the o-line needs more time to gel.
“Time is kind of out the window — we are going into our fifth game,” he said. “We’ve got to up the focus a lot higher than we have.”
Coach Geoff Collins, to get the line more acclimated to the speed of the game, has been coaching up the defense on the scout team.
“The defensive scout team wasn’t playing at the speed our guys need to see,” Collins said.
In fairness, Temple’s first string couldn’t play at the speed of South Florida on either offense or defense.
Saturday, the offensive line will have to deal with one of the most disruptive forces in college football, sophomore defensive tackle Ed Oliver (6-3, 290). An all-American as a freshman, Oliver has 22 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble for the Cougars (2-1, 0-0).
“They are good at every position; I think people forget that,” redshirt freshman center Matt Hennessy said. “I mean, he is the best football player in the country, but then beyond that, they still have a lot of really talented guys.”
So Temple’s offensive line will have its hands full. Hennessy is one of two new starters, with the other being right tackle Cole Boozer (6-5, 295), a redshirt senior and former tight end.
Johnson, who started all 14 games at right tackle last year, moved to the left side to replace Dion Dawkins, the second-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills.
Redshirt sophomore Jovahn Fair (6-2, 300) started the first three games at left guard but suffered an undisclosed injury in a 29-21 win over Massachusetts and didn’t play last week. His availability isn’t known.
Fair was replaced by redshirt senior Adrian Sullivan (6-3, 295), who had started all 14 games at right guard last year. This season’s right guard has been redshirt senior Brian Carter (6-1, 300), who has made 16 career starts.
The line is experienced, but simply hasn’t gelled. Plus other than graduated quarterback Phillip Walker, the player the Owls might miss the most is Dawkins. Temple running backs are averaging just 2.1 yards per carry.
“There have been too many missed assignments, and we need to fix them and we will fix them,” Johnson said.
Fixing them against Oliver and his Houston teammates won’t be easy.
By the numbers
23: Since the American Athletic Conference’s first season in 2013, Houston has that many wins over conference opponents, the most of any AAC team.
288.8: Temple’s total yardage average, which is last in the AAC and 122nd in the nation.
17.0: Average scoring offense for Temple, 11th in the AAC and 114th in the nation.
Three things to watch
— Temple is last in the AAC and 127th in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 69.8 yards. Houston is allowing 160 yards rushing per game, only seventh in the AAC and 81st nationally. With Temple struggling to run the ball and Houston not so solid in run defense, something will have to give.
— Temple hasn’t shown it can be even remotely competitive against quality teams, having been outscored, 92-23, in losses at Notre Dame and South Florida. Now, the Owls will face another top team and again be out to prove they can be competitive.
— Temple had six turnovers against South Florida last week. Houston has scored 24 points and allowed just six off turnovers. Conversely, Temple has scored 13 points and allowed 26 off turnovers.