Notre Dame faces a stiff road test this weekend when they travel to Philadelphia to take on the #21 team in the country: The Temple Owls. With the guidance of Mark Schofield, let’s meet the Temple offense.
To understand Temple’s accomplishments so far this season you need a bit of context to the school’s football history. When they cracked the Top 25 a few weeks ago, it was something their football program had not achieved since 1979. That’s right. The last time the Owls were ranked there was a war in Afghanistan, a movie about boxing starring Sylvester Stallone was hitting theaters, and a Bush was running for the Republican nomination.
Okay, so maybe things have not changed that much.
In 2015, the school is 7-0 for the first time in its history. The closest they have ever come to this mark was the 1934 season, when coach Pop Warner guided the Owls to a 7-0-2 regular season record before Temple lost in the Sugar Bowl to Tulane. This weekend they will play in a marquee matchup in front of a prime time audience and in their first game ever against another ranked opponent. So let’s get to know them a little bit.
Head coach Matt Rhule’s team is led by its defense. Temple returned all 11 starters from last season’s squad and, currently, the Owls are among the nation’s leaders in rushing defense (sixth, allowing 91.9 yards per game); scoring defense (eighth, allowing 14.6 points per game); and total defense (14th, allowing 307.7 yards per game). This unit is led by senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, tops on the team with 65 total tackles, and classmate Nate Smith, who has notched 6.5 sacks from his defensive end spot.
On the offensive side of the football, quarterback P.J. Walker steers the ship and guides an offense built around the ground game, some standard passing concepts, and a penchant for taking the deep shot in the play action game.
Running Out of the i-Formation
Expect to see a lot of i-formation Saturday night. The Owls like to bring in an extra blocker – or two – to create holes on the ground for running back Jahad Thomas. The junior, who was benched for the start of the East Carolina game for an academics violation, likes to bounce plays to the outside but can also execute sharp, precise cuts in the backfield against the grain.
On this play, Temple lines up with 22 offensive personnel in the game, with Walker under center and Thomas in the i-formation behind linebacker Nick Sharga (#4), in the game as a fullback. Tight end Saledeem Major (#82) lines up in a wing to the left. The Pirates have their base 3-4 in the game, with both outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage.
The Owls run an outside zone play here, with Sharga looking to kick out the force defender to the sideline, giving Thomas an alley on the bang read:
ECU does a good job here of flowing to the run and penetrating on the interior. With his first read taken away, Thomas looks to bounce this outside. The force defender does a good job of maintaining leverage here, so the running back takes his third option ‒ the bang read:
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The RB plants his left foot, cuts backside, and rips off a 19-yard gain for the Owls. This play demonstrates the difficulties in defending the outside zone. Even when a defense flows to the play well and maintains a stiff edge, they are still exposed on a backside cut from a talented runner.
Temple can also use a power blocking scheme, as they do on this short-yardage play. Again they line up with 22 offensive personnel on the field, with a two TE wing on the right with Major and Colin Thompson (#86). Thomas is again in an i-formation behind Sharga. They run a lead play to the right with left guard Shahbaz Ahmed (#75) pulling in front of the play:
Thomas tests the interior here before bouncing this to the outside. When he angles toward the sideline, Major, Thompson, and Ahmed have collapsed the edge of the defense, while the fullback/linebacker. Sharga, has driven a defender nearly out of the end zone:
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The RB scampers into the end zone with an easy score.
When the Owls take to the skies, they like to attack downfield off of play action. They had a number of opportunities for big passing plays off of run fakes against ECU but, because of dropped passes or overthrown balls, none of the plays came to fruition.
Another concept Temple relies on is the slant/flat concept, which they typically use in 3X1 formations, with trips strong side and a single, or X receiver to the weakside. On this play, they line up with 10 offensive personnel in the game, with trips to the right and a single receiver split to the left. Thomas shades his alignment toward the single receiver side as well. The Pirates have a 4-2-5 sub package on the field, showing Cover 4 in the secondary.
The Owls run the slant/flat concept with the X receiver, Ventell Bryant (#87), and the running back:
Walker reads this play well. This coverage scheme tasks the playside linebacker with rolling to the flat and covering the out route. With the backside linebacker shaded to the three receiver side of the field, he has a nice throwing alley to Bryant on the slant:
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When Temple employs this scheme on the trips side of the field they use a variation of the slant/flat concept, sometimes described as a 212 concept, where 2 indicates a slant route and 1 indicates the flat route. Again they have a 10 package in the game, with trips to the left:
The Pirates employ a matching concept in the secondary, with the slot cornerback covering the middle trips receiver in man coverage while the rest of the defense drops into a Cover 4 look. This means the outside slant route should break open. The inside slant will occupy the playside safety and, with the cornerback using outside leverage, the outside receiver should be able to establish good positioning on his pattern. Once the nickel cornerback breaks outside on the flat route, a big throwing alley will open for Walker:
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That’s exactly what happens. The slot corner cuts outside while receiver Adonis Jennings (#88) works inside of the cornerback for the big completion.
Acting at the Right Moment
Finally, the Owls rely on timing in the passing game, asking Walker to make reads and deliver the football at precisely the right moment to aid his receivers in gaining separation on the outside.
Temple is pinned in their own territory on this play, facing 1st and 10 after a well-executed pooch punt. They line up with the QB under center and 21 offensive personnel on the field, in an i-formation with pro alignment on the right:
Anticipating the run, ECU stacks the box with eight defenders and shows Cover 3 in the secondary. The Owls run an intermediate curl route on the left; take note of the timing here on the throw from Walker:
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The football is coming out as the receiver makes his break and, thanks to the design, timing, and execution, the Owls pick up eight easy yards on first down and move out of the shadow of their goal posts.
To keep their dream season alive, Temple will need the strength of their team, an imposing defense, to slow down the Fighting Irish attack. But when they have the football, look for the Owls to use these concepts as the core of their offensive attack as they try to knock off the number nine team in the country.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy ESPN.