WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
For the fourth consecutive week, the Temple Football Owls are nationally ranked.
After surviving an offensive shootout over Southern Methodist last Friday night, 60-40, the Owls will travel to Tampa Bay to face the South Florida Bulls this Saturday evening to cap off the final road game of the regular season.
No. 21 Temple (8-1, 5-0), avoided disaster more than once last Friday, as it took 14 unanswered points by the Owls late in the fourth quarter to claim their eighth victory on the year.
Temple’s highly touted defense, which gave up only 15.8 points on average prior to Southern Methodist, surrendered 31 points (40 including special teams) to the Mustangs’ offense, including 397 total yards and four touchdowns.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time it’s good that it happened so we can get those things corrected,” Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich said, who led the team with nine tackles.
Despite the defensive struggles, the Owls remain one win away from clinching the East division, which would also solidify a berth in the American Athletic Conference title game. The only team that stands in Temple’s way is South Florida.
The Bulls (5-4, 3-2) are coming off of a 22-17 road victory over East Carolina, in which South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers tossed two touchdowns for a combined 200 yards. Not only is Flowers a capable pocket passer, but also a dual-threat quarterback, with the mobility and agility of a scrambler. Sophomore running back Marlon Mack leads the Bulls with 835 rushing yards, including four touchdowns. Flowers, however, leads the team with seven rushing scores, with an additional 12 through the air.
Flowers will be the third dual-threat man Temple has faced in the last three games, with advantage to the quarterback, as the Owls’ defense allowed a combined 245 yards on the ground to Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer and Southern Methodist’s Matt Davis.
“When a team has a good run game, it’s a really good challenge,” said junior linebacker Stephaun Marshall. “Coach [Phil] Snow always says the run game comes down to two things: being physical and doing your job, so that’s two things that we’ve strived to do here at Temple.”
While Temple’s defense generally picks up the team’s average offense, both squads swapped roles against Southern Methodist, as Quarterback P.J. Walker tossed four touchdowns for 268 yards, while running backs Jager Gardner and Jahad Thomas combined for two touchdowns on 21 carries for 276 yards.
“We’re scoring a lot of points,” Owls’ head coach Matt Rhule said. “We had a turnover on the last play of the Notre Dame game, but in the actual game part of it, we haven’t had a turnover in three games.”
While 60 points per game is an unrealistic number, Temple stresses performing at a similar level of execution, and with a division title in reach, the Owls are forced to take on the opportunity.
“We know what’s at stake,” said Matakevich. “You really can’t start thinking about that stuff.”
Around the conference, No. 24 Houston (9-0) hosts No. 25 Memphis (8-1) on Saturday night, while No. 21 Navy (7-1) takes on Southern Methodist. While Temple and Memphis face each other next Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, the Owls do not have match ups against Houston or Navy, meaning that the host team for the AAC title game could come down to a tiebreaker of overall winning percentage.
“Saturday will be a great test,” said Rhule. “I wouldn’t say we’re playing our best football yet. I hope that will be the next three games.”
WEEK 10: #21 TEMPLE (8-1) at USF (5-4), NOVEMBER 14, 2015
RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM, TAMPA, FL
TV: 7PM ON CBS SPORTS NETWORK, RADIO: 97.5FM THE FANATIC