WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
Coming off a historical victory over Penn State last weekend, the Temple Football Owls travel to Ohio to square off against the Cincinnati Bearcats in Temple’s first AAC game of the 2015 season this Saturday.
It is the first time that the Owls have played in Cincinnati since 2013, and the first time playing at the Bearcats’ newly renovated Nippert Stadium.
In last season’s matchup at Lincoln Financial Field, the Owls’ offense was limited to a measly six points, all in credit to kicker Austin Jones in Temple’s 14-6 loss during Thanksgiving weekend. The Owls are in search of their first win against Cincinnati since joining the AAC in 2012, but hold a 9-7-1 series lead in 17 matchups.
Both the Owls and Bearcats have opened their campaigns with a record of 1-0, with Temple victorious over Penn State 27-10, and Cincinnati over Alabama A&M 52-10. In the most current AP Poll, Temple is ranked 32nd in the nation, with Cincinnati trailing at 34th.
The stars of Temple’s previous game were mostly on the defensive end, as the Owls tallied 10 total sacks against opposing Nittany Lions’ quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich led the team in sacks (3), a career milestone for the senior from Connecticut.
“Our goal is to win a conference championship,” said Matakevich. “We’re getting focused on Cincinnati and we’re preparing. That’s the one thing I would say we do really well. We got guys in here every night late, studying and watching film. That’s a sign of a good team.”
Matakevich will also seek help from teammates Matt Ioannidis, Tavon Young, Sharif Finch, and Nate. D. Smith, who combined for 15 total tackles and six sacks last Saturday. The offensive star was running back Jahad Thomas, who recorded his second-highest game in rushing yards (135) and two rushing touchdowns, the most in his collegiate career. Thomas was limited to only eight yards on four carries against Cincinnati last season.
Cincinnati’s blowout victory versus Alabama A&M was largely in credit to the Bearcats’ dynamic offense, as junior quarterback Gunner Kiel completed 18 of 22 pass attempts for 233 yards and two touchdowns, while running backs Tion Green, Hosey Williams, and Mike Boone combined for 308 rushing yards. Cincinnati’s 636 total yards doubled Temple’s 313, but the Bearcats’ defense surrendered 148 passing yards, while the Owls allowed 45 yards less.
The Bearcats receiving core is led by senior Johnny Holton, who is in his final year of eligibility since transferring from the College of Dupage in Illinois to Cincinnati in 2013. Holton amassed 640 yards on kick returns in 2014, including 431 receiving yards and five touchdowns; however, Holton did not earn a reception in the Bearcats’ 33-17 loss to Virginia Tech in last winter’s Military Bowl.
Quarterback Gunner Kiel is coming off a spectacular sophomore campaign, as he eclipsed over 3,000 passing yards, including 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 13 games. Against Temple, Kiel struggled to find open receivers, and was limited to a single touchdown and 174 passing yards last November in Philadelphia.
Owls’ head coach Matt Rhule is optimistic in his team’s preparation for the next test, and believes that the lessons learned against Cincinnati in the past will show a competitive game from start to finish.
“It’s helpful that we’re playing Cincinnati because they’re so good and they’ve beaten us,” Rhule said. “Last year was the first close game. The other two games were blowouts. They haven’t really been close. I think now, our kids know that this is a really good team and we have to play great.”
WEEK 2: TEMPLE (1-0) at CINCINNATI (1-0), SEPTEMBER 12, 2015
NIPPERT STADIUM, CINCINNATI, OH
TV: 8:00PM ON ESPNNEWS, WATCH ESPN
RADIO: 97.5FM THE FANATIC
ODDS: CIN -6.5, O/U 52.5