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Can Temple’s Defense Be the Group of 5’s Best Unit?

Few things will make AAC offensive coordinators lose more sleep in 2015 than the thought of having to face the Temple defense. In fact, it could end up being the best unit in all of the Group of Five conferences.

The Owls’ defense was a force to be reckoned with last season, ranking fourth in the FBS in scoring defense (17.5 points per game), 13th in passing defense (186.9 yards per game), 24th in total defense (347.1 yards per game) and 54th in rushing defense (160.2 yards per game). However, it was when the field was shortened that Temple did its finest work.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s unit turned “bend but don’t break” into an art form, ranking among the best defenses in the country when it came to shutting down opponents in the red zone. The Owls ranked eighth in the country in opponent red zone scoring percentage (72.73 percent), and their opponent red zone touchdown percentage (39.39 percent) ranked only behind Alabama in the entire country.

Of course, it’s never ideal to let your opponents get to the red zone to start with, so Temple’s tendency to allow opposing offenses to threaten to score so often would be a major cause for alarm if any key players from last year’s squad were no longer with the team.

But the good news for the Owls is that all 11 starters from last season’s stout defense will be back in 2015, which makes them all the more terrifying to opposing offensive coordinators.

Anchoring the defense is senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who has been a stud for Temple during his first three seasons with the team. Matakevich currently ranks sixth on the school’s all-time career tackles list with 355, and he’s recorded at least 100 tackles each year. If he accomplishes that feat again in 2015, he’ll become just the seventh player in NCAA history to record 100-plus tackles in all four years of his collegiate career.

But Matakevich has plenty of help in the front seven from players such as senior defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis (36.5 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2014), senior defensive end and expert pass rusher Praise Martin-Oguike (31 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and a team-leading 7.0 sacks) and senior linebacker Nate Smith (58.5 tackles and two tackles for loss).

Though the front seven was dominant, it was the secondary’s uncanny ability to prevent big plays that really allowed the Temple defense to flourish to the level that it did.

December 06, 2014: Temple Owls defensive back Tavon Young (1) breaks up a pass for Tulane Green Wave wide receiver Devon Breaux (8) during the game between Tulane and Temple  on Benson Field at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans, LA. Temple defeated Tulane 10-3.

December 06, 2014: Temple Owls defensive back Tavon Young (1) breaks up a pass for Tulane Green Wave wide receiver Devon Breaux (8) during the game between Tulane and Temple on Benson Field at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans, LA. Temple defeated Tulane 10-3.

Leading the way will be sophomore cornerback Sean Chandler (60.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, 1.0 sack and an interception in 2014), senior safety Boye Aromire (30.5 tackles and three forced fumbles) and senior cornerback Tavon Young (22.5 tackles and a team-high four interceptions).

There will clearly be no shortage of talent for the Owls on defense, and the fact that they could improve even further from last season on that side of the ball is quite amazing.

Of course, Temple is going to need to cobble together something resembling at least a mediocre offense to contend for an AAC title, but it certainly helps to have a defense that could be the best unit in all of the Group of Five conferences.

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