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Film room: Duke football needs to defend the ground to shut down Temple in season opener

<p>Temple ranked 126th in the FBS in yards per game last season.</p>

Temple ranked 126th in the FBS in yards per game last season.

After Duke's tough 3-9 season in 2021, the Blue Devils—under new head coach Mike Elko—host Temple Friday for their first 2022 game. As the season opener draws closer, the Blue Zone is here to give you a rundown on the Owls.

If one said that Duke’s football program is just going through changes, that would be quite the understatement. Not only has former Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko come as the new head coach, but former starting quarterback Gunnar Holmberg, teamp MVP running back Mateo Durant and top receiver Jake Bobo are no longer Blue Devils. With that in mind, Elko and recently named starting quarterback Riley Leonard have a lot to work out this season and their first opportunity to do so will be Friday against Temple.

The American Athletic Conference team comes to Duke off the backs of a few abysmal seasons. In 2020 and 2021, the Owls went 1-6 and 3-9, respectively. Last season, Temple ranked 126th in the FBS in yards per game, averaging 276.5. It was also ranked No. 127 in defending touchdowns, allowing 5.2 per game. It’s clear that the Philadelphia program has struggled both offensively and defensively, prompting them to usher in former Texas running backs coach Stan Drayton as the new head coach this year. 

Everything suggests that Drayton’s offensive strategy this season will be primarily on the ground. Yes, Drayton is a former running backs coach, so it’s rather obvious that he’ll use his experience to make running back starter Edward Saydee better. Nonetheless, the former Longhorn coach has made some decisions that hint at this offensive focus. First of all, Drayton decided to bring in two more running backs to the rotation: Darvon Hubbard from Texas A&M and Jakari Norwood from Illinois. With these moves, Temple gets a stronger, more talented depth chart to work with. Second, the Owls’ offensive line brought in two transfers this year, Peace Addo from Duke and James Faminu from Houston, to complement NFL Draft prospect and one of Temple’s veteran frontmen Isaac Moore. 

Saydee had an unproductive freshman season—he only rushed for 321 yards and three touchdowns. However, he is indeed talented and might just need the right tools around him (like this year’s supposed-to-be-improved offensive line) in order to showcase who he is as a player. 

In the video clip above, the sophomore has exceptional footwork and a lot of speed. It may be too early to tell, but Saydee could be a massive headache for Duke’s defense on Friday. Another weapon that adds to Temple’s running game is quarterback D’Wan Mathis. 

The Georgia transfer is a dual-threat competitor that’s very light on his feet. The clip demonstrates how athletic and confident the sophomore is when making plays on the ground. There’s no doubt that Mathis has some work to do with his arm as he threw for only 1,223 yards and six touchdowns last season, ranking 116th and tied for 117th, respectively. Against Duke, Mathis will connect with receivers Amad Anderson Jr. and Jose Barbon, but expect him to make a significant number of rushing attempts.

Drayton’s squad doesn’t seem to have as much hope defensively as it does offensively, which means that Duke’s relatively untested offense shouldn’t have too much trouble putting points on the board. On the flip side, Elko’s defense must be ready to make some plays against Temple’s running-centric offense in Friday’s season opener.

For the rest of our Duke football preseason coverage, click here.


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