WRITTEN BY TOM HANSLIN @tomhanslin
For the second time in program history, No. 22 Temple has the chance to begin a football season 7-0.
This feat has yet to be accomplished, as the 1974 Owls lost their seventh game to Cincinnati 22-20.
More importantly, Temple travels this week as a nationally ranked team for the first time since 1979, as they visit conference rival East Carolina on Thursday night in Greenville, North Carolina.
“I’m really pleased with our progress, pleased to be where we are and we know it’s going to be an unbelievable battle in a really hostile environment on a short week,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said.
The Owls are coming off of a shaky performance against Central Florida last Saturday, where Temple rallied for 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to defeat the Knights, 30-16.
Temple running back Jahad Thomas led Saturday’s offense with 199 rushing yards and three touchdowns to his name, but Quarterback P.J. Walker struggled against the Knights’ defensive front, responsible for a foolish interception to Central Florida’s Shaquill Griffin, which resulted in a 81-yard pick six.
“When you’ve got the guys in the upper class that are not even thinking about all the things in terms of all the success that we had, everybody’s just like, ‘All right, we’re cool, we won that game, let’s get to the next game,” Walker said. “I think the young guys are starting to figure it out.”
While the Owls maintained first place in the American Athletic Conference’s East Division, the East Carolina Pirates are in a close second place, and trail Temple by a single game in conference play. A victory over the Owls would place both schools tied for first place in the division, with the Pirates owning the tiebreaker.
#TUFB addressed the media today and previewed this Thursday's matchup vs ECU.
— Temple Football (@Temple_FB) October 20, 2015
East Carolina has faced a similar schedule to Temple in regard to competition, as the Pirates have faced Florida in Week 2, but fell in Gainesville 31-24. Their next opponent in Week 3 was the AAC’s Navy Midshipmen, who crushed the Pirates in Annapolis 45-21. With wins over Towson, Virginia Tech, Southern Methodist, and Tulsa, East Carolina stands at 4-3 on the year.
Ruffin McNeill, a former linebacker for East Carolina and the current head coach, has belonged to the program since 2010. In last year’s match up against Temple, the Owls took advantage of Philadelphia’s sloppy weather conditions, and defeated the nationally ranked Pirates 20-10 at Lincoln Financial Field. This season, both teams have swapped roles, and East Carolina has the chance to win as the underdog.
“It wasn’t luck that Temple won last year,” said McNeill. “Temple has a great team and proposes a great opportunity, but a challenge for us. I talk more about preparation. That’s how I’m built and that’s what I believe in.”
East Carolina’s offense is led by Junior quarterback Blake Kemp, who has thrown for 1,556 yards in seven games, including 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Running backs Chris Hairston and James Summers have recorded six touchdowns apiece, but Haiston has earned more touches, with 460 yards on 111 carries. The Pirates’ defense surrenders 28.3 points per game to opponents, ranked sixth-best in the conference. The Owls will look to produce on offense with 38.3 points per game, ranked third-highest.
Thursday night will mark the 12th meeting between both schools, with East Carolina as winners of seven games. It will also be Temple’s first trip to Greenville in exactly 20 years, a game in which the Owls fell 32-22.
WEEK 7: TEMPLE (6-0, 3-0) at EAST CAROLINA (4-3, 2-1), OCTOBER 22, 2015
DOWDY-FICKLEN STADIUM, GREENVILLE, NC
TV: 7PM ON ESPN2 RADIO: 97.5FM THE FANATIC
ODDS: ECU -2.5, O/U: 51