Rutgers opens the season against a Temple team that was 1-6 in 2020. But after an 8-5 season in 2019 and a year of turnover, the thought is the Owls should be better than a one-win team in 2021. It has enough talent on offense to accomplish those expectations.
One of the strengths of this Temple team is their offensive line and they have a supposedly improved defensive line and linebacking corps. A new quarterback and mostly new running backs are question marks for the Owls. An area to watch for the Scarlet Knights and their fans, however, will be the play of Temple’s top wide receivers; Jadan Blue and Randle Jones.
The Scarlet Knights have generally produced great play from their secondary dating back to the start of Greg Schiano’s first tenure as Rutgers’ head coach. There were a couple of seasons with lackluster play due to attrition in the program, but the DBs could be the x-factor for this 2021 team. The Big Ten has a host of NFL-caliber receivers, so defensive coordinator Robb Smith and defensive backs coach Fran Brown will look at this Temple game as an early measuring stick of how the secondary will hold up this season.
In Blue and Jones, Temple will give former Georgia Bulldog redshirt freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis two established receiving threats. Blue is currently third all-time in receptions for the Owls with 139, finishing 2020 with 41 and an All-AAC honorable mention.
The Owls were somewhat conservative with their passing attack last season as Anthony Russo averaged 6.4 yards per attempt. But Mathis is known for having a strong arm to go along with his 6-foot-6 frame. If he can let Temple open its playbook, Blue and Jones could be in for bigger statistical seasons than last year.
The duo was responsible for more than half the receiving yards for Temple in 2020, as they combined for 741 of the 1,456. Jones was a bit more of a big play threat, averaging 11.9 yards per catch while Blue averaged 9.0. Blue was the main recipient of the Owls’ scoring drives, however, catching 5 of the 11 touchdown passes.
Rutgers will be without newcomer, Patrice Rene for the opener, and maybe longer, so it could be thin in the secondary. But starters Tre Avery, Max Melton, Christian Izien and Avery Young have the talent and experience to hang with Temple’s biggest threats. Schiano made it a point to mention Blue and Jones during Monday’s press conference, however.
“Five (Blue) and zero (Jones) are big time guys,” said Schiano. “We’re gonna have to know where they are and be able to defend them. So, I think they really have a potent offensive football team. Certainly, with talent they do.”
Temple didn’t do much throwing to their running backs or tight ends in 2020, with their groups having just 16 and 14 catches, respectively. Things could change some with Mathis under center, but the expectation should still be for Blue and Jones to hog the passing attempts.
Rutgers should be able to keep Temple’s receivers in front of them most of the game, but the Owls can go over the top when necessary. The Scarlet Knight’s secondary can’t have their eyes in the backfield too long when the Owls roll out with Mathis, either on a designed moving pocket or one collapsing from pressure.
With question marks from the quarterback and running back rooms for the Owls, and the offensive line the most established group, the wide receivers are going to be what Rutgers and its fans should keep an eye on in the season opener. If the Scarlet Knights can shut down one or both of Blue and Jones, it should be a long day for Temple’s offense and Rutgers’ secondary may be able to create some opportunistic takeaways.