Somewhere in the deep recesses of the Temple football practice facility, new run game coordinator George DeLeone is pouring over 2015 game film and the one thing he should notice is a 6-foot-2, 205-pound back named Jager Gardner.
Gardner could be the key to unlocking a run game that had tailed off in the second half of the season because, even though starting tailback Jahad Thomas made first-team AAC, his 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame had him spending most of the second half of the season on a training table. He answered the bell when it was time for games, but the production dropped dramatically. In the Owls’ first six games, Thomas finished over 100 yards from scrimmage four times, while in his last eight games, he had only one 100-yard-plus game. Thomas finished his season with five yards on eight carries in a 32-17 bowl loss to Toledo.
An easy solution would be to use a big back like Gardner in the featured role, while moving the shifty Thomas to slot receiver. That way, Gardner — who as a true freshman had the longest touchdown run in Temple history (94 yards) — can use his size to deliver hits rather than receiving them and the slot would also preserve Thomas’ body. As a high school player two years ago, Gardner was elusive enough to gain 2,776 yards and on 266 carries and scored 36 touchdowns. Not a single Temple back on the roster had half that many yards or scored even half that many touchdowns as a high school senior. Those numbers, plus the size differential, have to mean something.
If DeLeone and head coach Matt Rhule are looking for a sustained running game over a long season, they need to give Gardner the ball.