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2021 Week 11 Preview: Houston Cougars @ Temple Owls

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Houston looks for its ninth straight victory as Clayton Tune and the offense continue to thrive.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Navy at Houston Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Game Notes

  • Time and Date: Saturday, November 13 at 12:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN+
  • Location: Lincoln Financial Field — Philadelphia, PA
  • Spread: Houston (-24.5)
  • ESPN FPI: Houston has 94.6% chance to win
  • All-time series: Houston, 6-1
  • Last meeting: Temple 59, Houston 49 — November 10, 2018
  • Current streak: Temple, 1 (2018)

Setting the scene

The presence of the Temple Owls is a welcome sight for Houston Cougars faithful. The matchup is reminiscent of the 2015 AAC Championship Game when Houston edged Temple, 24-13, to clinch its first and only AAC title en route to a New Year’s Six bowl bid. Fast forward six years later and the Cougars are back on track for another conference championship appearance. Houston (8-1, 6-0 AAC) has rattled off eight consecutive victories heading into Saturday’s matchup with a Temple (3-6, 1-4 AAC) team headed in the opposite direction. The Owls have dropped four consecutive contests including three defeats of more than 40 points in that timespan.

Houston aims for both teams to prolong their trends in order to break into the College Football Playoff rankings after being snubbed for the second consecutive week.


Houston Cougars outlook

What’s one defining factor in Houston’s eight game winning streak? Clayton Tune is playing better football than ever. Over his last four games, the quarterback has completed over 70 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Tune’s last two performances featured two of the four highest passing outputs in his collegiate career — dishing it for 412 yards against SMU and racking up 385 more at South Florida.

Tune’s elevated play has transformed Houston’s offense into one of the nation’s juggernauts. The Cougars have lit up the scoreboard for 40 points in six of their last eight contests, peaking with the 54-point outburst in Tampa last Saturday. A considerable amount of Houston’s offensive production stems from Tune and the passing game, as the team ranks 30th in aerial offense and 95th in the rushing department.

However, the running backs created their strongest performance of the season in Week 10, so that department of the offense is veering in a favorable direction. A 97-yard touchdown run propelled running back Ta’Zhawn Henry to a career-high 130 yard outing. The backfield also enjoyed a career performance from true freshman Alton McCaskill, who exploded for 125 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Navy at Houston
Houston running back Alton McCaskill has recorded three games with at least three touchdowns this season.
Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The receivers are also producing numbers at an astronomical rate. No. 1 wideout Nathaniel Dell has recorded consecutive games with at least eight receptions and 160 yards, routinely gaining separation downfield. Dell’s showcase was complemented by the emergence of KeSean Carter. The Texas Tech transfer enjoyed his strongest showing since landing in Houston with a 6-reception, 123-yard display in the shootout. With the presence of other threats such as tight end Christian Trahan and deep threat receiver Jeremy Singleton, Tune utilizes plenty of options to pick opposing defenses apart.

Not everything has been smooth-sailing for Dana Holgorsen’s team in the past two weeks though. While the offense is clicking into an unforeseen gear, the defense has taken a step back in recent showings. South Florida entered its matchup with Houston averaging 22.6 points per game, but the Bulls doubled that mark en route to a season-high 42 points. Kick returns accounted for two of those South Florida touchdowns, but Houston’s typically-stellar secondary still allowed a previously dormant passing offense to collect 289 yards. But the real head-scratcher was the absence of Sack Ave. The Cougars entered that contest leading the nation in sack output but were unable to get to the quarterback on a single occasion.

Three Houston defensive linemen enter Philadelphia with 4.0 sacks on the season, so David Anenih, Logan Hall, and D’Anthony Jones look to ramp up the pressure against a Temple team which allows nearly two and a half sacks per game. Pressure and coverage go hand-in-hand, so the secondary should improve if the defensive line asserts their will. The main coverage specialist to watch in this unit is Marcus Jones, who batted down two passes and came up with an interception for the second consecutive week.

Jones has been a weapon in all three phases this year, but his most memorable contributions come from special teams. The 2020 All-American boasts an FBS-best four return touchdowns this season — two kick, two punt — allowing Houston to have a high-probability shot at scoring before the offense even takes the field.


Temple Owls outlook

Nothing has been sunny in Philadelphia since Temple stormed back from a 17-0 deficit to upset Memphis on Oct. 2. Since that remarkable comeback, the Owls have lost 52-3, 34-14, 49-7, and 45-3, and each week seemingly gets worse for Rod Carey’s squad.

Houston is the complete antithesis of Temple at the moment. The Owls ride a 4-game losing streak and routinely post single-digit outputs, while Houston averages over 40 points on its current 8-game eruption.

Temple’s passing numbers have been nothing to marvel at during this skid. The Owls have completed 62 of their 121 passes (51.2%) during this stretch for an average of 139.3 yards per game. In hopes of stymieing this recurring issue, Temple is rotating between quarterbacks in search of finding the hot hand. The candidates in this QB carousel are Georgia transfer D’Wan Mathis, the Week 1 starter who shined in the Memphis comeback, and Justin Lynch, the brother of former Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch — who was coached by Carey at Northern Illinois.

Lynch brings mobility into the quarterback room and attained a season-high 54 rushing yards at East Carolina. The Chicago native is expected to earn the start, especially if Mathis hasn’t progressed through his injury by Saturday.

Boston College v Temple
Temple quarterback Justin Lynch has completed 57.8% of his attempts this year for 512 yards, 3 TD, and 1 INT.
Photo by Cody Glenn/Getty Images

While Mathis’ status is unclear, the offense will certainly be without longtime phenom Jadan Blue. The wide receiver entered the transfer portal Wednesday after an accomplished career in Philadelphia. Blue ranks first in Temple history in single-season receptions and single-season receiving yards, and he is etched in the history books as the only Owl to ever surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season. His absence forces the trio of Randle Jones, Jose Barbon, and Amad Anderson Jr. to step up the production for their quarterback.

Temple’s 113th ranked rushing offense might see a boost in its attempts with a creative runner like Lynch under center. The quarterback ranks second on the team in rushing with 210 yards only behind running back Edward Saydee (252). But teams have not grounded the ball with success against the Cougars, which pose as one of eight defenses in the country to yield under 100 rushing yards per game. Thus, if Lynch isn’t able to spearhead the running game early, Temple’s optimal strategy may involve a heavy passing attack similar to the style South Florida presented.

On defense, the Owls allow more points than all but eight teams at 36.8 per game. Containing the run has especially been an area of struggle as opponents churn out over 222 yards per game on Temple. Since establishing the run is often a sufficient pathway to victory, teams don’t pass frequently against Temple — and the Owls warrant the fifth fewest opponent attempts in the FBS. The defense regresses as each week as AAC play progresses. Temple’s last four conference opponents have combined for 180 points, and it doesn’t get any easier this Saturday as Houston exhibits the highest scoring offense Temple will see all year.


Prediction

This is the perfect game for Houston to shake off last week’s defensive struggles and eviscerate an opponent from the opening kickoff onward. Temple failed to remain competitive against East Carolina, UCF, and South Florida in its prior three contests, and that trend looks to sustain against a Houston team which is consistently piling 40 points onto the opposition.

The Cougars should have no issue dominating in Philadelphia, and they’ll need to take care of Temple handily in order to garner recognition in the College Football Playoff committee’s Top 25 rankings.

Prediction: Houston 48, Temple 9