By Tom Dougherty, CSNPhilly.com
Last Thursday night, No. 21 Temple escaped East Carolina with a 24-14 win to improve to 7-0 for the first time in program history.
The Owls’ defense recorded its fourth second-half shutout and held off ECU long enough for P.J. Walker to hit Robby Anderson for the go-ahead touchdown with under four minutes left.
Temple tortured ECU quarterback Blake Kemp for four sacks and an interception. TU also sacked James Summers and Isaiah Jones.
What’s allowing the Owls’ defense to dominate is the depth on the defensive line.
“We’re playing so many guys on the defensive line,” head coach Matt Rhule said Tuesday. “(Matt) Ioannidis dominated the game. It was really nice to put Freddie (Booth-Lloyd) in there.
“Freddie’s pushing the pocket and making plays. Michael Dogbe, Jarred Alwan played a really good football game.”
On Saturday night, TU’s depth will be challenged against No. 9 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish come in with an explosive offense and a strong offensive line led by left tackle Ronnie Stanley.
“Stanley, he’s got to be — I wasn’t in the NFL long but he’s got to be a top-5, top-10 pick,” Rhule said. “He’s probably 6-7 (he’s listed at 6-5), he’s got long arms.
“You don’t see anybody beat him. He’s special. They are all good at what they do, but he’s an early, early pick in the NFL draft.”
Ioannidis, a senior, anchors Temple’s D-line. This season, he has 25 tackles and 3½ sacks. In each of his last three games, Ioannidis has six tackles. Against ECU, he had two for loss.
He wears No. 9, which on Temple signals he’s one of the “toughest” players. At 6-foot-4, 292 pounds, Ioannidis has been a force at TU and should be playing on Sundays next year.
Temple’s defensive line rotates eight players, including Ioannidis, Averee Robinson, Praise Martin-Oguike, Sheriff Finch, Nate D. Smith, Hershey Walton, Dogbe and Booth-Lloyd.
“We’ve got plenty of depth on the D-line,” Ioannidis said. “That just makes things so much easier because everyone can play fresh.
“Offensive linemen typically don’t rotate and when you can play eight or nine defensive linemen against five, it helps you stay fresh and stay faster.”
Ioannidis said the focus the last few weeks has been on themselves. Though the Owls have escaped with wins, they have started slow.
Even against the Pirates on Thursday, TU was sluggish. Walker missed some throws, and the game was much more difficult than it could have been. TU had 12 penalties against ECU.
But thanks to this defense, Temple has been able to get away with its first-half struggles.
“That’s something we definitely struggled with in the past,” he said. “We’d always be shooting ourselves in the foot, whether it would be with penalties or missed assignments.
“We have to learn from our mistakes last week and get better.”
Against the Irish, Temple will face its strongest offensive line yet. Stanley anchors it, but ND also has William Penn Charter School product Mike McGlinchey and Nick Martin.
Football games are won in the trenches, and if TU’s D-line can get pressure on ND quarterback DeShone Kizer the Owls could come out with their biggest win in program history.
“They have a really solid offensive line,” Ioannidis said. “We have a really solid defensive line. It will be a really great battle.”
Rhule said TU’s goal is to get the game to the fourth quarter, where its D has asserted itself this season.
Through seven games, the Owls have allowed just nine points in the fourth quarter. Their defense has commanded the second half this season, allowing just 29 points after halftime.
“I love this team,” Rhule said. “We’re fighting, we’re scraping, we’re clawing to be a great team. If we have it close in the fourth quarter, then our kids can go out there and keep playing.
“We have the right attitude on this team. We’re not concerned how many we win by, we concern ourselves with the next play.”
The next play is Saturday night under the lights of Lincoln Financial Field against Notre Dame.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the story on CSNPhilly.com)