The Jackets lost two weeks ago because their defense couldn’t slow The Citadel’s triple-option and their players lost their cool. Tech lost 24-2 to the Owls because its offense gave away two fumbles, one at the goal line and another that Temple took for a touchdown. The Jackets needed a clean game to beat an opponent with a good defense, but instead committed three turnovers inside Temple’s 30-yard line. 

Tech’s offense once steamrolled opponents with its throwback offense. It couldn’t score a point at Temple. It’s the first time Tech’s offense didn’t score since a shutout loss to Florida State in 1997. A third-quarter safety allowed the Jackets to avoid a zero on the scoreboard again.

Jackets coach Geoff Collins returned to Temple, where he was head coach the past two seasons, and showed just how hard it is to make the change from the triple-option.

“I’m proud of the way our guys battled,” Collins said. “We moved the ball really well at times. We played really, really hard against what I think is one of the best front sevens in football.” 

Playing hard wasn’t enough for Tech to overcome its mistakes or limitations. That victory over South Florida seems a long time ago now. The Jackets won that game with an extraordinary defensive effort that included a forced fumble at the goal line to hold the lead. Tech’s defense was pretty good at Temple, but that wasn’t nearly enough to overcome the giveaways. 

The first came with the game still scoreless in the second quarter. Tech quarterback Tobias Oliver kept the drive alive with a nifty 10-yard run on fourth-and-3. A late hit set up first-and-goal. After running a total of eight plays on their first two possessions, the Jackets finally had something going. 

Temple nearly intercepted Oliver’s second-down pass. The Owls should have sacked Oliver on third down, but he escaped and ran for the end zone. Oliver was nearing the goal line when Temple linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley poked the ball away and teammate Christian Braswell recovered in the end zone. 

That play was reminiscent of the game-saving fumble against South Florida on Sept. 7. The Jackets got lucky on that play because USF’s Jordan Cronkrite lost his grip on the ball just before Tech knocked it out. This time Tech was unlucky that Graham-Mobley made a good play on the ball just before it crossed the goal line. 

Bad fortune had nothing to do with Oilver’s second fumble. It happened after he replaced James Graham during a third-quarter drive (it appeared Graham left the game with an injury to his right hand). Temple defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh chased down Oliver and jarred the ball free. Safety Benny Walls scooped it up and ran 74 yards for a touchdown. 

That score gave Temple a 21-0 lead with more than 10 minutes left in the third quarter. There never was any inkling that Tech would come back. The Jackets aren’t built to pass when they must. Really, it’s still hard for them to pass at all.

Tech’s triple-option roots mean a run-heavy offense might be its best chance to score. Yet that’s not a good blueprint for bringing the Jackets into the modern era of offensive football. Also, the Jackets can’t run it like they used to so they must pass some. They also don’t want recruits to see the game highlights and think it’s the same old cloud-of-dust Jackets. 

There were times when Oliver looked as if he is the quarterback who can bridge the gap between Tech’s old and new ways. Oliver got the call because Lucas Johnson, the starter the past two games, was out with an apparent shoulder injury. The Jackets benefit from Oliver’s ability to run for yards and improvise on passes. 

Oliver completed only four of 11 pass attempts for 74 yards against the Owls. Probably eight of those passes came under duress from the pass rush. Tech’s linemen are better-suited for the option and just can’t pass protect for long. That’s not their fault. It’s just the way things are. 

Those circumstances mean that making something out of nothing is a requirement for Tech’s quarterbacks. Oliver can do that. He didn’t take a sack despite usually getting swarmed by pass rushers before completing his drop backs. Avoiding lost yards is essential for an offense that struggles to move forward. 

Oliver ran for 68 yards on 11 tries. When he got chased from the pocket he kept his head up and his arm cocked. Oliver converted two third downs by scrambling and passing. he delivered a nice pass on a slant route to Ahmarean Brown for 42 yards. 

But the fumbles ruined what might have been a pretty good day for Oliver. He didn’t play again after the second one. Graham’s fourth-quarter interception in the end zone ended another good chance to score. Tech’s last gasp was a one-yard loss Dontae Thomas on fourth-and-two at Temple’s 12 yard line.

The Jackets can take solace in a solid defensive effort at Temple. They couldn’t depend on their offense. It might be a while before that changes. 

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 
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