- Time and date: Friday, October 20 at 7:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN2
- Location: Lincoln Financial Field — Philadelphia, PA
- Spread: SMU (-20.5)
- Over/under: 55
- All-time series: SMU leads, 3-2-2
- Last meeting: SMU 47, Temple 23 — November 7, 2020
- Current streak: SMU, 2 (2019-20)
Setting the scene
Dallas vs. Philadelphia.
It’s a potential World Series matchup if the current NLCS and ALCS trends sustain. And on the gridiron, the combination of those cities usually refers to a longstanding, heated NFC East rivalry between the Cowboys and Eagles.
But in the college football sense, Dallas vs. Philadelphia is transpiring for the last time as a conference matchup. With SMU set to depart the American Athletic Conference following the conclusion of this season, this Friday night showdown will be the final meeting between SMU and Temple for the foreseeable future.
SMU (4-2, 2-0 AAC) remains spotless in conference play and eyes its first AAC title on its way out. On the other end of the spectrum, Temple (2-5, 0-3) hopes to salvage its nightmare start to the season, claim an AAC win, and keep bowl eligibility a realistic goal.
SMU Mustangs outlook
Most of the country is familiar with SMU, the dynamic, explosive offense which has ranked in the top 15 of the FBS in scoring for four consecutive seasons. While the 2023 Mustangs are winning like their predecessors, they’re certainly taking a different approach this year and dominating defensively instead.
SMU ranks 17th in scoring defense — its first ranking better than 75th since 2012 — by suffocating opponents to 17 points per game. The foundation of this drastic defensive improvement is one of the better defensive lines in America. With dynamic backfield invaders like defensive ends Nelson Paul and Elijah Morris and Oklahoma transfer defensive tackle Kori Roberson, SMU is giving opposing lines headaches on a weekly basis. The Mustangs register over 2.8 sacks per game to fall in the top quartile of the FBS, and they also throttle opponents on the ground, limiting them to 3.3 yards per rush.
Five different SMU defenders showcase at least 3.0 tackles for loss on the season, and this helps the Mustangs succeed on the early downs to create frequent third-and-long situations. That shows in the stat sheet as SMU stops 67 percent of third down attempts to rank third in the AAC. But there are still improvements to be had in SMU’s talented defense. The Mustangs simply aren’t generating enough takeaways. Three interceptions and one fumble recovery is all they have on the season, and that number should be significantly higher after dropping three interceptions in a 31-10 win over East Carolina last Thursday.
That 31-10 victory wasn’t as dominant as head coach Rhett Lashlee and the Mustangs hoped. SMU led 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter and didn’t extend its advantage to multiple scores until the midway point in the period. That being said, offense is the area SMU must improve most in order to qualify for its first AAC title game.
A 69-0 thrashing of an FCS opponent skewed some of the offensive numbers. Otherwise, SMU remains in search of its first 40-point game of the season. Flashes of explosiveness from the offense have been on display, but they’re often mixed with flashes of inefficiency. Quarterback Preston Stone is a first-time captain of this ship. He delivered three touchdowns and remained turnover free against East Carolina for his third 3+ touchdown outing of the year. But increasing efficiency is what elevates Stone to the next level. He currently exhibits a 57.1 completion rate with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14-to-5, and sharpening those statistics can help create a few more scoring opportunities.
Establishing a true No. 1 option could go a long way for the Mustangs as well, as seven different receivers tote between 144 and 223 receiving yards. Jordan Kerley is the leading receiver with an average of 18.6 yards per catch, but Jake Bailey and tight end RJ Maryland are among other sturdy threats in the pass-centric offense.
As far as the run game, Miami (FL) transfer Jaylan Knighton and Texas A&M transfer LJ Johnson Jr. are the main options for the time being. Other names such as Camar Wheaton and Velton Gardner have earned some run this year, but SMU has operated best with Knighton as the lead back. The former Hurricane averages 5.8 yards per carry and looks to reinvigorate the rushing attack after East Carolina limited the Mustangs to 58 aggregate rushing yards on 23 attempts last Friday.
Temple Owls outlook
The 2023 season hasn’t unfolded according to plan for Stan Drayton and the Owls. All the palpable momentum gained at the tail-end of 2022 is suddenly absent. The offense averaged 34.8 points per game last November in a stretch featuring three teams with 8-5 records or better — East Carolina, Houston, and Cincinnati. But this year, Temple’s per game output is down to 21.9 points which is 110th in the FBS.
Yes, there has been one positive. Starting quarterback E.J. Warner is one of the better pocket passers in the conference. The true sophomore fired for 472 yards and five touchdowns without an interception last outing against UTSA. With Warner in the lineup, Temple is one of the better aerial attacks in the AAC, and he’s recorded at least 230 yards in all six starts. One issue is the Owls operated without Warner against North Texas as the quarterback sat with a concussion.
The result was a 45-14 beatdown at the hands of the Mean Green where the typically-potent passing offense gathered just 105 yards. Temple started run-oriented quarterback Quincy Patterson that game and he recorded a 113-yard rushing performance for Temple’s best showing against FBS competition this season. In their first five games against FBS opponents, the Owls failed to generate one 50-yard rusher. Patterson certainly changes the dynamic of the offense, and with Warner’s health status for Friday unknown, we could be seeing a completely different version of Temple if Patterson retains the starting spot.
A Patterson offense would feature the running backs to a significantly higher degree. Temple rotates a 3-man stable of Joquez Smith, Darvon Hubbard, and Edward Saydee, who all have between 33 and 58 attempts this year. Patterson is responsible for more than half of Temple’s rushing touchdowns, but Smith and Hubbard hold the top two spots on the team in yardage and both average at least 4.5 yards per carry.
A Warner offense would result in impressive statistical outputs from the receiving corps. Amad Anderson Jr. is the go-to option through the air, claiming a team-high 397 receiving yards on 27 receptions this season. Sixth-year senior David Martin-Robinson is also a reliable target at the tight end position, on track for his best season yet with 25 catches for 305 yards. And for a team that passes 44 times per game (third in FBS), Temple supports its quarterback pretty well by only allowing 1.3 sacks per contest — 21st in the nation.
But the other side of trench warfare is where Temple needs a boost. Sacking opposing quarterbacks was a strength of the 2022 squad, but it’s suddenly turned into a weakness. There are capable rushers on this team such as outside linebackers Diwan Black (3.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss this year) and Layton Jordan (9.0 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss in 2022). But Temple needs more disruption from the defensive line, and that is also a key reason why the Owls rank fifth-to-last nationally in containing the run.
Temple’s defense hasn’t enjoyed a stellar 2023. The Owls permit 36 points and 438 yards per game, making them a bottom 25 defense in two primary statistics. And just like SMU, Temple struggles to generate turnovers and has only collected two thus far. But to make matters worse, the Owls cough up the ball at an exorbitant rate, which produces the second-worst turnover margin in the FBS at -11.
It’s the only college football game this Friday, and as the spread and records suggest, it’s not bound to be a close one. E.J. Warner’s availability is essential for Temple, as he is the driving force behind that entire offense. But even with Warner, the Owls have struggled in other areas this year such as establishing the run or simply creating stops — and that showed last Saturday in Denton.
SMU is equipped to handle most AAC opponents with its defense alone. But Rhett Lashlee’s team desperately needs a breakthrough offensive game. The Mustangs have been too inefficient in the passing game, and this would be the perfect time for their first 40 burger and 300-yard passing performance against FBS competition this year. Knowing Temple’s defensive shortcomings, all of that is on the table Friday night.
Prediction: SMU 42, Temple 14