- Time and date: Saturday, November 12 at 3:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN+
- Location: TDECU Stadium — Houston, TX
- Spread: Houston (-20)
- ESPN FPI: Houston has 92.2% chance to win
- All-time series: Houston leads, 7-1
- Last meeting: Houston 37, Temple 8 — November 13, 2021
- Current streak: Houston, 1 (2021)
Setting the scene
Most college football teams are pretty pleased with the result when their offense drops 63 points in a single game, while their starting quarterback eclipses 500 yards and fires seven touchdowns. Not Houston. The Cougars are fresh off a bizarre 77-63 shootout loss at SMU, which shattered the record for highest scoring FBS regulation game ever. The defensive nightmare snapped Houston’s three-game win streak, forcing Dana Holgorsen’s squad to wait another week for bowl eligibility.
Temple joins the likes of the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles as teams from the City of Brotherly Love to stroll into Houston in early November. The Owls garnered much-needed momentum last Saturday, securing their first AAC win of the season in 54-28 fashion over South Florida. Temple hopes to replicate this monster offensive performance throughout the final stretch of the regular season, especially since bowl eligibility remains on the table.
Temple Owls outlook
Temple (3-6, 1-5 AAC) finally did it. Not only did the Owls snap a four-game losing skid and attain their first AAC win of the year — they looked good doing it. Temple’s offense had been dormant all season, scoring 20 or fewer points against all FBS competition this year save for UMass. But Stan Drayton’s team exploded for 54 at The Linc last Saturday thanks to an unforgettable performance by running back Edward Saydee.
Saydee produced 334 yards from scrimmage in the decisive victory, obtaining 265 on the ground (the fifth-highest mark in AAC history) and 69 as a receiver. His damage was primarily done in the second half, where he shed tacklers and outran defenders on three long touchdown runs. Saydee’s longest scamper struck from 75 yards, and that explosiveness will be needed again to spark Temple’s rushing attack — which currently ranks ninth-to-last in the FBS at 95.4 yards per game.
But Temple’s offensive success last week goes beyond Saydee’s immaculate afternoon. Quarterback E.J. Warner operated behind a stellar offensive line which allowed zero sacks, and the true freshman enjoyed his best showing from the pocket as a result. Warner saw career-highs in completions, completion percentage, and passing yards in his first 300-yard performance to date. Warner was also responsible for Temple’s 38-point second half barrage as he tallied two fourth quarter touchdown passes, all while avoiding an interception.
South Florida is 1-8 without an FBS win, but Temple was the first team to post more than 50 points on the Bulls this season. As the competition ramps up, the Owls must prove the offense displayed last Saturday is sustainable. Temple still remains one of 18 FBS teams averaging under than 20 points per game, and the Owls are tied for 20th in turnovers lost this year. Now, they look to make those numbers history and strike while the iron is hot against a defense which allowed 77 points last Saturday.
Temple’s defense yielded 70 to UCF, but outside of that nightmarish showing, the Owls have been rather stellar on that end. None of the Owls eight other opponents crossed the 30-point threshold. And the cause for that trend is Temple’s ability to win battles in the trenches. The Owls rank seventh in the FBS in sacks per game, led by the dynamic duo of edge rushers Layton Jordan and Darian Varner. Jordan and Varner each attach 6.5 sacks to their name, and collectively, they have 25.5 tackles for loss. Jordan has been visibly spectacular in the turnover department as well with two pick-sixes and two forced fumbles on his season résumé.
Even with the high sack totals, Temple still boasts the 116th ranked run defense by allowing 196 yards per game. The Owls are tested more on the ground than every team in the country besides Old Dominion, which contributes to this number, but Temple still needs to execute better tackling to prevent breakaway runs. Because when the Owls force 3rd and long passing situations, they’ve been money, displaying an opponent conversion rate of 32.6 percent.
Houston Cougars outlook
If Houston’s offense performs like it did last week, it probably won’t lose another football game this year. But if Houston’s defense replicates that showing, there’s not another win on the table for the Cougars. Houston fell in 77-63 fashion on the road to SMU after the most prolific offensive game by any losing team this season. Now, the Cougars — renowned for a lockdown defense in 2021 — must address all of the defensive shortcomings in a game where SMU scored 11 touchdowns and punted one time in 12 possessions, excluding victory formation.
First, Houston must regenerate its pass rush. The Cougars were among the nation’s elite in this category early in the season when Derek Parish was manning the defensive line, but ever since his season-ending injury, the FBS’s 28th ranked pass rush in terms of sacks per game has become more inconsistent. There’s still plenty of talent and depth within the unit, and the team will look for defensive ends D’Anthony Jones (4.0 sacks) and Nelson Ceaser (3.5) sacks to force quarterbacks into uncomfortable scenarios.
Blown coverages was a major issue from the opening drive to the fourth quarter in the SMU loss, and after allowing nine touchdown passes and only nine incompletions in a single game, Houston must make adjustments in its shorthanded secondary. The Cougars are already without cornerback Alex Hogan for the remainder of the season, who broke up a team-high 10 passes in six games. But the secondary took additional hits Saturday by losing cornerback Jayce Rogers and free safety Thabo Mwaniki due to injury. Veteran safeties Gervarrius Owens and Hasaan Hypolite will be required to step up in the back end, ensuring the defense produces far better results in Week 11 than it did in Week 10.
On offense, things are going swimmingly. Houston initially found its offensive groove in a fourth quarter comeback in Memphis to launch the month of October, and the Cougars haven’t looked back. After failing to surpass 14 points in the first half in their first six games, Houston is averaging 28 points by halftime in their last three.
One of the main differences is the rise of Clayton Tune, who recently claimed status as one of six FBS quarterbacks with 10,000 career passing yards. Tune certainly contributed to that total last week by managing a career-high 527 yards, in addition to another personal-best with seven passing touchdowns. Over his last four games, Tune averages 383.5 passing yards and 4.8 touchdowns per contest, propelling the Cougars to wins in three of those contests.
When a quarterback is producing numbers like Tune, it’s no question there is exceptional wide receiver play as a complement. Last Saturday, Houston witnessed three receivers cross the 100-yard barrier as Tank Dell registered 180, KeSean Carter obtained 136, and true freshman Matthew Golden added 105. Dell is the main threat of the three, and his chemistry with Tune can easily be observed by opposing defensive backs. The speedy 5’10” wideout is up to 12 receiving touchdowns this year, which ranks first in the AAC and second in the FBS.
The Cougars running back room has featured a carousel of injuries this year, so Tune has taken the liberties to bolster the run game himself. Many opponents drop seven or eight against Houston, so Tune takes advantage by scrambling any time the defense gives him the opportunity. He accumulated 111 yards with his legs last week, and he’ll hope to receive additional support in the run game from Stacy Sneed, who is averaging 77 rushing yards and one touchdown per game in his last three outings.
The result of last week’s SMU game doesn’t change the fact that Houston’s offense is on a roll right now. Clayton Tune is playing at the highest level of his college career, and the Cougars present a myriad of threats at wide receiver which may be tough for Temple to contain. The Owls struggled mightily against the deep ball in a Thursday night October meeting with UCF, and Houston has the ability to exploit that element of Temple’s defense.
While the Owls demonstrated offensive promise last week, the jury is still out to determine if they can put the pieces together once again. After the defensive nightmare Houston experienced at SMU, expect a revitalized pass rush to set the tone and limit Temple from another prosperous afternoon.
Houston becomes bowl eligible with a convincing victory.
Prediction: Houston 45, Temple 17