Owls face tough task in Orlando to prove themselves against #9 UCF

By Eileen Wickline

After a well needed week of rest, the Temple Owls will travel for a Thursday night matchup against a conference opponent in the UCF Knights who are currently ranked #9 in the country.

“They’re a really good football team,” head coach Geoff Collins said on Tuesday. “The offense is explosive. The roster has tremendous talent and speed across the board. They play really well across the board.”

Both the Owls and Knights have been perfect in American Athletic Conference play, but UCF maintains a perfect overall record dating back to 2016. The Owls will be facing a ranked opponent for the second game in a row, two weeks removed from upsetting Cincinnati.

The winner will take the sole lead in the American Athletic Conference East Division.

“You have to prepare at a high level,” Collins said. “Everyone wants to play at a high level. We’re very excited to play such a good team and we’re trying to be our very best.”

In the all-time series, the Knights have a slight advantage, but Temple has won two of the last three. In 2016, the Owls pulled off a close 26-25 win before going on to win the AAC Championship.

Temple has seven wins against ranked opponents over the last four seasons, but this game does not bode any differently for the players and coaches.

“Everybody knows UCF at this point, but none of that matters when it comes to game time,” defensive tackle Michael Dogbe said. “We’re just going to play our game and go from there. We’ve been taking it one game at a time, we’ve been focusing on our preparation. We’re just gonna go out there and play.”

The UCF Knights hold the nation’s longest active winning streak, which is both a school and AAC record. Out of all teams in the FBS, only UCF, Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame are unbeaten.

The Temple defense will face its biggest challenge yet in this UCF team that is averaging 44.4 points and 537.1 yards per game. However, Temple’s defense is prepared to take on this challenge. The Owls are ranked second in the nation in three-and-outs with 45 as well as first in 20-plus-yard plays with only 2.68% of all defensive snaps ending up with a 20-yard-gain.

Offensively, the Owls are averaging about 30 points and 372.9 yards per game. They’ll be led by Anthony Russo along with Isaiah Wright, Randle Jones, and Branden Mack.

Two offensive players who have been making a difference are Ventell Bryant, who currently holds the longest active streak of passes caught with 43, and Ryquell Armstead, who has recorded 626 yards on 122 carries along with six touchdowns. While he’s been a bit banged up, Armstead’s ability to get to the outside could be the key against UCF.

“He’s a game-time decision,” Collins said about Armstead’s. “He’s worked really hard in the last couple of weeks to get back to 100 percent.”

The Knights have incredible players on each side of the ball, and the Owls won’t overlook the power they will be bringing Thursday night.

“They can run, they can cover the ground, they have a big defensive line,” fullback Rob Ritrovato said. “Overall the team is really talented and we have to be ready for all of it. We just have to keep moving forward and continue to play great.”

With the motivation of the Temple faithful and the passion of Geoff Collins behind them, there is no doubt the energy and pride of these Owls will help them in this tough American Athletic Conference matchup.

“It isn’t any secret how much I love this team,” Collins said. “I’m so proud of them. I think so highly of these young men, I just really love these guys.”

Photo: @Temple_FB

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