Here are some observations from Temple's 19-17 loss to Villanova, the third straight opening day loss by the Owls.
This is not a slight on Villanova, which after an injury-plagued 5-6 season looks like a viable contender not only in the Colonial Athletic Association but in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. That said, losing to an FCS team, regardless how talented, is a deflating way to begin a season. There is no way of disguising this. Temple planned to take advantage of its depth and run the Wildcats into the ground. While the Owls substituted liberally, Villanova never wore down. The Wildcats outgained Temple, 405-251 in total offense and the offensive line, of which four starters returned from last year, held a decided edge. Temple's defensive line, especially the tackles, were supposed to be immovable forces, but Villanova's offensive line continually got great surge.
Last season Frank Nutile went 4-2 after earning the starting job and looked both efficient and confident in doing so. Unlike the start of last season, the quarterback position was supposed to be one of the Owls' smallest concerns. Nutile has character that should be admired and after Saturday's loss, he put the blame on his shoulders. He completed 18 of 32 for 185 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. What was a little alarming was that many of his passes lacked the needed zip and on several he threw the ball too low, or behind receivers. This type of inaccuracy wasn't typical of Nutile when he took over as starter last season. As much as anything, he needs a bounce-back game against Saturday's opponent Buffalo, which has a quarterback who has gained NFL buzz, 6-foot-7, 245-pound junior Tyree Jackson.
The Owls didn't put a lot of heat on Villanova quarterback Zach Bednarczyk and when they did, he had the scrambling ability to buy himself time. He certainly did that in throwing the winning 30-yard touchdown pass to Jarrett McClenton. That said, there were also many times when receivers were wide open. The Owls had trouble covering running backs, had few answers for tight end Ryan Bell (9 receptions, 81 yards, 1 TD) and just saw too many open receivers running down field. Bednarczyk completed passes to nine different receivers. True, the Owls secondary could have benefited from a better pass rush, but there were too many coverage mistakes.
When the Owls offense sputters, one can usually look at the production of running back Ryquell Armstead, who is as important to this unit as any player. Armstead gained just 31 yards on 14 carries and, taking away an 11-yard run, he gained 20 on the other 13 carries. Yes, Temple has to do a better job of run blocking, but Armstead is capable of more explosion. Give Villanova tremendous credit for bottling him up, but still, he is expected to be a difference maker and wasn't in the opener.
Aaron Boumerhi is among the more well-respected players on the team, and when he made his first field goal from 46 yards, it gave Temple a major boost. That said, Boumerhi missed a 29-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have extended Temple's lead to 20-13. Last year there was a miss from 27-yards and Boumerhi has to show that missing from the shorter distances isn't a pattern.