The Temple Owls take their show on the road to Houston this week, as they face the Cougars Friday night at 9 p.m. EST. This is the first of a pair of games that will serve as a useful benchmark for what this team is capable of on the road. Following this game with Houston they will head to Orlando to meet with UCF.
It's early, but Temple is in the thick of things in the American. At 2-0 in the conference, they are tied for first place with ECU. A road win against a team like Houston will go a long way in determining whether Temple is ready to throw their hat in the ring as a true contender for the conference belt.
Temple goes to Houston on the heels of a sloppy victory over Tulsa in Philadelphia. It's not often that you come away from a two-score victory feeling like you watched a team merely survive its opponent, but Temple's 35-24 victory over Tulsa certainly felt that way. They were trailing early in the fourth quarter before taking back the lead on a P.J. Walker touchdown pass with 10:38 remaining.
The last time Temple saw Houston, they had yet to make the switch to P.J. Walker at quarterback. They fell 22-13 to the Cougars in a game they were leading late in the third quarter. What must Temple do this time to swing their fortunes versus the Cougars?
Protect the Football
Houston has forced a turnover in 29 straight games, and they lead the American with 19 forced turnovers through 6 games this season. To this point Temple has been pretty effective at this, as their +1.6 turnover margin ranks first in the American and third in the country.
Keep Running the Ball
It could have something to do with the weather, but Temple's offense was at its best last week when they were able to get Jahad Thomas, Jamie Gilmore, and Kenneth Harper going on the ground. This was partially due to the fact that P.J. Walker was unusually off with his accuracy Saturday, but that, again can also be attributed to rain and a slick ball. However, Thomas and Gilmore have shown some solid explosiveness, averaging 6.6 and 5.3 yards per carry respectively. The offensive line has been consistently able to create clear rushing lanes for the multi-headed Owls rushing attack, and pounding the ball down a team's throat early and often is an effective method of subduing the crowd. Houston is currently yielding 158.3 rushing yards per game.
Contain Greg Ward Jr.
Ward Jr. is a former receiver, and his athleticism is a weapon for the Cougars. His 95 rushing yards led all players in their game at Memphis last week, and his insertion into the lineup has possibly given the Cougars' offense the spark it needs to really get going. Phil Snow, Temple's defensive coordinator is likely designing blitzes that will force the inexperienced quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly or step forward in the pocket. Allowing Ward to escape outside the tackles could be disastrous for the Temple defense. However, with versatile linebackers Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith on the field, Temple should be able to keep Ward Jr. in check.
Temple 34, Houston 27
Temple's been rolling on both sides of the ball. They are currently the only team in the FBS averaging over 36 and allowing under 15 points per game. This is their first truly challenging road match, and it will test the limits of what they have been able to accomplish so far. I have a feeling, and it could easily be misguided, that the Owls will be able to keep it going.