Start Time: Saturday, October 15, 2016 at 7:30 PM EST
Location: Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, FL
Betting Line: UCF opened as a one point favorite, with the line having now moved to 3.5 points.
Records: UCF is 3-2 (1-0 AAC), while Temple is 3-3 (1-1 AAC).
All-Time Series: UCF has the 2-1 series lead. Temple’s sole win in the series came last year when the Owls avoided a major scare with two rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
UCF Outlook: It’s been too long since we’ve seen the Knights on the field. Hurricane Matthew meant that the Knights rescheduled last week’s game against Tulane to November 5 (fortunately, both schools had a bye that day). But when we last saw the Knights hit the field, they rocked ECU 47-29 thanks to big play defense and special teams.
I expect them to be an even better team against Temple. The Knights were hampered in their last outing by having to start senior QB Justin Holman in place of freshman McKenzie Milton. Quarterback has been something of a revolving door for the Knights this season: Holman opened the season starting against SC State (doing poorly for the first half before playing well in the second), suffered a hamstring injury against Michigan (after playing poorly) and was replaced by back-up Nick Patti (who also played poorly). Milton got the start against Maryland (and showed promise despite numerous fumbled snaps) and against FIU (playing mistake free before getting dinged up and replaced with Patti). Against ECU, Head Coach Scott Frost made the surprise game time decision to go with Holman, who was apparently healthier. Holman did not impress. He went 11/29 for 156 yards, two interceptions, and 31 yards offense.
A Holman-led UCF offense simply does not move the ball consistently. But a Milton-led UCF offense does. And while Frost has played coy about the quarterback situation, I have to believe that Milton is fully healthy, starts, and stays in the game against the Owls. Coupled with a defense led by fired up guys like Shaquem Griffin (24 tackles, 7 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles on the year), it’s easy to see the Knights being successful on Saturday.
Unrelated to the play on the field – the Knights will be wearing white helmets with reflective logos in honor of Homecoming Week. How is that in honor of Homecoming? The connection is that Homecoming means Spirit Splash, and that means Reflection Pond, that means reflective logos. Huh. Seems tenuous, but whatever. What’s great is that some of these helmets will be auctioned off “sometime after the game Saturday.” It’s not the first time UCF has done something like this – the program also sold the variant helmets worn in 2013 against rival USF (the Knights’ first win in that series). A very cool choice, and we hope to see more of this in the future.
Temple Outlook: This is the start of two key weeks in determining where Temple will fall in the AAC East divisional. At 1-1 in conference with a loss to the West division’s Memphis, the Owls control their own destiny. But the Owls will need to endure back-to-back games against UCF (second in the East) and USF (first in the East, and deservedly the favorite to win the division). Temple can ill afford taking a loss this week if the Owls hope to win the division for the second year in a row.
Veteran Senior starting quarterback P.J. Walker will lead the Owls’ offense. Despite the loss last week against Memphis, Walker set a Temple record for pass attempts (59) and tied records for completions (36) and passing yards (445). The running game should lean on Senior RB Jahad Thomas, who has at least two touchdowns in each of his last four games. It was Thomas whom the Owls rode to victory against the Knights last year: he had 199 yards and accounted for three of Temple’s four touchdowns against the Knights last year.
The defensive statistics for Temple look good, at least superficially. The Owls allow an average 320 yards per game (good for third in the conference), but haven’t exactly played a grueling schedule. Temple’s best win against is an 45-20 victory against SMU (Charlotte? Stony Brook? Yawn). The Owls have lost to Army, Penn State, and Memphis. These offenses aren’t lighting people on fire.
Prediction: The Vegas odds reflect a close game and give the Knights a slight edge. The advanced stats give Temple a 56% chance of winning (with a projected margin of 2.6).
But I expect to see the Knights firing on all cylinders. If we continue to see the intensity on defense and special teams demonstrated in UCF’s last game couple of games, then I think the return of Milton will provide consistency on offense and allow the Knights to win more convincingly. I call it a UCF win by at least ten points.