- Time and date: Saturday, October 7 at 2:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN+
- Location: Lincoln Financial Field — Philadelphia, PA
- Spread: UTSA (-14)
- Over/under: 55.5
- All-time series: No previous meetings
Setting the scene
Welcome to the AAC, UTSA.
The Roadrunners are one of three former CUSA programs playing their inaugural conference game this weekend. UTSA (1-3, 0-0 AAC) travels to the City of Brotherly Love to face Temple (2-3, 0-1 AAC) for the first time ever.
Neither team is off to an ideal start this season, but the potential to capture a valuable conference win and remain in the hunt for a wide-open AAC title is appealing to both bird-themed programs.
Also, a fun fact about this matchup that might age some folks: Temple starting quarterback E.J. Warner and UTSA backup quarterback Owen McCown are the sons of former NFL quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Josh McCown, who were teammates on the 2005 Arizona Cardinals.
This makes me feel a little old:— Mark Dalton (@CardsMarkD) October 3, 2023
Temple hosts UT-San Antonio this Saturday in Philadelphia.
The game features quarterbacks E.J. Warner (Temple) & Owen McCown (UTSA) - sons of former Cardinals @kurt13warner & @JoshMcCown12 pic.twitter.com/FwlxGvL6O7
UTSA Roadrunners outlook
This is already shaping up to be UTSA’s worst season since 2020, from a standings perspective. The Roadrunners must run the table to match their 11-3 record from the prior year and they are already one loss worse than the 12-2 mark they posted in 2021. With three losses in the non-conference slate, UTSA is barred from winning double-digit regular season games for just the second time in four years under head coach Jeff Traylor.
But the Roadrunners have plenty to play for. The pressing question surrounding the program is the availability of quarterback Frank Harris. The reigning CUSA Most Valuable Player missed the Roadrunners’ prior two contests against Army and Tennessee with a toe injury. Eddie Lee Marburger filled in relief duties as the starter in both matchups. While Marburger thrived against Army with three 40+ yard touchdown passes, Owen McCown replaced him in the middle of the Tennessee game and thrived with an 18-of-20, 170-yard, 2-touchdown showing.
UTSA is fresh off a well-timed bye week which allowed Harris extra time to recover, and the hope is to have the star dual-threat quarterback in the lineup in Philadelphia. Another offensive star which could make a long-awaited return Saturday is wide receiver De’Corian Clark. The fourth-leading receiver in program history has yet to take the field in 2023, still nursing an ACL injury from last October. But Clark has warmed up with the team and hopes to build upon a 741-yard, 8-touchdown season when that return finally comes.
Without the longtime star seniors guiding the ship, UTSA’s offense has struggled this season. The Roadrunners tie for 117th in the country at 19.3 points per game without extraordinary results in either the run game or pass game. Turnovers have been critical for the team this year, and UTSA ranks second-to-last in the FBS in turnover margin at a -7.
Kevorian Barnes and Joshua Cephus have served as the primary offensive playmakers in the injury-riddled offense. Barnes exhibits 285 rushing yards as the lead back this season, while Cephus — a frequent go-to on screens — has put up 308 yards and three touchdowns as the top receiver.
Defensively, UTSA started the season strong by limiting Houston to 17 points and Texas State to 13. But the Roadrunners did not witness as magnificent of performances when surrendering 37 against Army and 34 at Tennessee in their last two outings. One element plaguing the defense is the inability to generate takeaways. No team has produced fewer takeaways than UTSA’s one fumble recovery this season, and the Roadrunners look to force momentum-swinging plays at Temple.
Leading charge of the takeaway effort will be outside linebacker Trey Moore and strong safety Rashad Wisdom. Moore totaled 8.0 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 2022, and he’s replicating those numbers this season with 4.0 sacks and five tackles for loss through four starts. He’ll be the main source of pressure against a relatively-sturdy Temple offensive line. Meanwhile, Wisdom once led the CUSA in interceptions, and the former all-conference selection aims to add to his career total by thriving in coverage on the back end.
Temple Owls outlook
Temple swung into AAC play last Thursday night, but the result was anything but desired for Stan Drayton and the Owls. While Temple generated its highest-scoring output against FBS competition all year thanks to a solid second half, the defense struggled in the 48-26 road defeat at Tulsa.
Temple is tied for 109th in the country in scoring offense at 21 points per game. Offense was expected to be one of the stronger suits for Temple after an impressive finish to the 2022 campaign. The Owls were home to the 30th-best passing offense in the FBS last year, thanks to E.J. Warner’s late-season explosion which featured 344 yards and two touchdowns against South Florida, 486 and three at Houston, and 527 and five vs. East Carolina — all November games where Temple averaged north of 45 points.
But the Owls’ offense hasn’t clicked to the same extent this year. Warner has notched between 230 and 292 passing yards each week to produce the nation’s 45th-most prolific aerial attack, but Temple needs an extra kick of explosiveness to improve the scoring output.
Based on Warner’s talents and the team personnel, Temple will operate as a pass-first team. The Owls’ run game has not excelled to a great extent this year, averaging 3.6 yards per carry and 94.8 yards per contest — good for 11th to last in the FBS. Temple favors the run more in first halves and only 44 rushing yards were generated at Tulsa, which resulted in a slow offensive start. The only stellar ground performance by Temple this year was when No. 1 running back Joquez Smith exploded for 142 yards against FCS opponent Norfolk State in Week 2. Outside of the Norfolk State game, Temple has not seen a 50-yard showing from anybody associated with the run game.
If the run isn’t established in the early going, the Owls must bail on it before it becomes detrimental to the offense. Limiting turnovers is another emphasis for the offense, which has thrown five interceptions and coughed up three fumbles this season.
For a team that passes 42 times per game — the fifth-highest rate in the FBS — Temple demonstrates pretty strong pass protection, only surrendering one sack per contest. But it’s the other side of the trenches where Temple must grow. Applying backfield pressure was a strength of the program in 2022, but this year, the Owls pick up just 1.2 sacks per game which is one of the 10 lowest outputs nationally. Temple’s front has been dominated by opposing offensive lines to the point where only six teams allow more rushing yards per game than the Owls.
In order to improve defensive metric, Temple will demand a lot from edge rusher Layton Jordan. He was a Second Team All-AAC outside linebacker last season with a loaded stat-line of 9.0 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles. Through five games, Jordan has one sack and eight tackles this season, and an upswing in production for the star linebacker can go a long way for this defense. The other notable name on the Owls’ defense is inside linebacker Jordan Magee. Magee will be in charge of limiting UTSA’s run game with a team-high six tackles for loss this season, and he’s shown to be a viable coverage option on underneath routes.
Slow starts continue to plague Temple’s offense. FBS opponents have outscored the Owls 79-20 in first halves this season, and the Owls must establish a stronger, bolder, more explosive offense out of the gate to win. Temple will likely air it out at least 40 times against a Roadrunner defense still hunting for its first interception, and generating those takeaways can go a long way for UTSA. The Roadrunners were inconsistent in aerial defense throughout their first four contests, but the promising showings against Houston and Texas State instill belief that UTSA can successfully counter Temple.
UTSA could see the return of dynamic playmaker Frank Harris this week, which could work wonders for the offense. Having that reliable, all-conference leader at quarterback could work wonders for a unit producing under 20 points per game at the unit, even if Harris is more limited than usual from a mobility perspective. Should the seventh-year senior return, UTSA’s offense should finally find its groove in Philadelphia and escape with its first-ever AAC victory.
Prediction: UTSA 35, Temple 20