Fewer rushes could actually help Temple's RBs

Fewer rushes could actually help Temple's RBs
August 11, 2013, 12:45 pm
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Jaime Gilmore, seen here at Temple's spring game in April, finished his high school career as Marion County's all-time all-purpose yards leader, ahead of Daunte Culpepper. (USA Today Images)

When the other team stacks eight in the box, because they know you're going to run the ball, and you keep doing it ...

It's not quite the definition of insanity, but it's close enough.

It was also Temple's strategy of choice last year under then-head coach Steve Addazio en route to a 4-7 campaign.

Despite a talented if oft-nicked up backfield duo of Montel Harris and Matt Brown, the Owls had their offensive struggles in 2012, when a one-dimensional attack re-entered the Big East conference and kept banging its head against a wall of cheating linebackers and safeties.

The Owls ranked 108th out of 124 FBS teams last year in total offense, with the fifth-fewest passing yards per game in the country (120.8) to go along with 42.5 rushes each week.

Although their season averages appeared solid enough -- 4.7 yards per carry and 201.5 per game for 24.7 total points -- if you take out the team's two best performances of the season against (FCS) Villanova and an Army team that gave up a Big East-record 351 yards and seven touchdowns to one player, those numbers take a dramatic nose dive.

In their other nine games, the Owls averaged 153 yards on 40.4 rushes for 3.79 per. And those numbers, combined with their meager passing totals, did not equate to points -- 18.6 a week.

It was never any worse than a Week 2 loss to Maryland when Temple rushed 39 times for 52 yards and only attempted three passes on 25 first half plays, prompting fans to chant "Throw the ball," as the team headed into the locker room.

But Addazio and offensive coordinator Ryan Day have since moved north to Boston College, and first-year head coach Matt Rhule, a six-year assistant under Al Golden, is promising to open things up with a Pro Spread that will, ideally, balance the Owls' run/pass differential.

And in a backwards way, that should actually help the running backs more.

"I definitely think it helps us. It means there's not as many people in the box," junior running back Kenny Harper said last week, during the Owls' first week of camp. "We have a passing threat. So it opens up the run game, so people can't just look at us and say, 'OK, load the box, they're running the ball.'"

Harper now inherits a Temple backfield manned for the last four years by some combination of Brown, Harris, and, of course, Bernard Pierce. In fact, this is probably the first season since 2009 where there's any question about what kind of production the Owls can expect from their ground game.

Harper (6-0, 225) carried the ball just 13 times last season, but did score twice and break off a long gain of 38. Compared to the others -- Pierce, Brown and Harris -- Harper just isn't as recognizable, because he's mostly been watching and learning.

"I learned a lot. I take a bit of my game from each of them," he said. "From Bernard, his powerful running, his agility. And the same thing with Montel, he's really shifty. People don't realize how shifty he is. And Matt, just his work ethic. He's a warrior on the field. I try to take all of that and incorporate it into my game."

But Rhule is going to need more than one guy in Temple's new no-huddle. In a perfect world, he said he'd like to have "two that I feel really good about, and then maybe a third, who's a role guy."

"I think the young guy, (freshman) Zaire Williams, has done a nice job," Rhule said after Thursday's practice. "He's shown some good things."

"Jamie Gilmore had a nice step today, I thought. I saw him burst and look twitchy and quick, and that's what I've been trying to challenge him to do. And that's exciting to me, because if we can have Jaime come on, it'll be a real positive for us."

Gilmore (5-8, 190) was a three-star prospect by Rivals.com coming out of Ocala, Fla. and finished his high school career as Marion County's all-time all-purpose yards leader, ahead of somebody named Daunte Culpepper. Given Temple's depth at the position last year, with Brown and Harris and Harper and others, it was a surprise he didn't redshirt as a true freshman. Instead, he spent the year mostly on the sideline, getting only 20 carries, albeit for 94 yards -- 4.7 per carry.

Now in his second year, he has been given the opportunity to complement the bigger Harper and potentially do some damage on the outside, be it on handoffs or screens.

"He brings the power, and I bring the speed," Gilmore said.

While Rhule and new offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield bring the scheme.

"And that's much better for us. That's way better for us," Gilmore added. "Last year, we had more guys [facing us] in the box than we needed. Now, with us passing the ball around, it opens up more gaps, more holes for us to cut it up. We'll run more outs, speed sweeps, stuff like that.

"Coach Satt came in and said he loves feeding the backs."

Yeah, but probably not as much as the last guy.

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