Under the lights at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut, the Temple Owls will look to continue their stellar play in the AAC as they face the UConn Huskies. The Owls currently sit atop of the American Athletic Conference’s East division with a 4-1 record (6-3 overall) while the Huskies of UConn are the in the cellar of the AAC with a 1-5 record within the conference and a 3-6 record overall. During the Owls’ current three game winning streak, running backs Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstead have carried the Cherry and the White with 676 rushing yards and seven touchdowns combined while senior quarterback Phillip Walker has played nearly mistake-free football, while completing passes to several different receivers. Last season when UConn faced the Owls in the final regular season game of the 2015 campaign, the Owls routed the Huskies 27-3 behind a huge day from Jahad Thomas as he rushed 20 times for 129 yards and two scores, as Temple earned their historic 10th win. The Temple Owls will look to do much of the same this season in front of a nationally televised audience. The game will kickoff at 7 pm on ESPN2.
Keys for Temple:
Contain Noel Thomas
Senior wide receiver Noel Thomas has been the go-to-guy this season with 1,058 receiving yards, which ranks second in the AAC, and three touchdowns. Thomas has been redshirt-junior quarterback Bryant Sherriff’s favorite target the entire year as 83 of his 166 completions (exactly 50%) have landed in the hands of Thomas. While it seems like an impossible task to completely shut down Noel Thomas, he has had at least 100 yards receiving in 7 of the 9 games this year, the Owls need to make sure they know where he is at all times and make it a priority to keep him out of the end zone. Cornerbacks Nate Hairston and Artrel Foster will get the assignment of covering Noel Thomas, but expect the Owls to shift coverages and double-team Thomas throughout the game. Redshirt-senior Haason Reddick and the rest of the Owls’ defensive line will also need to put pressure on quarterback Bryany Sherriff so he cannot drop back and wait for Thomas to get himself open. Last season, the Owls did a fantastic job in limiting Thomas as he recorded only 64 yards on five receptions. If Temple can hold Noel Thomas to a similar day, the Huskies simply do not have enough skill players that can beat an Owls defense that ranks 2nd in Total Defense in the American Athletic Conference.
Get off to a quick start
While the UConn Huskies have struggled for most of the 2016 season, they still have a winning record at home as they have defeated the University of Virginia, University of Maine and University of Cincinnati and sit at 3-2. Behind head coach Bob Diaco, a former defensive coordinator from the University of Notre Dame, the Huskies have been able to control the flow of the game and win some tough, defensive battles on their home turf. In order for Temple to avoid UConn setting the flow of the game and upsetting the Owls, they need to get off to a hot start. This season UConn has only managed to score 9 points in the first quarter of their games, compared to 71 for the Temple Owls. If Temple can be on top of their game right out of the gate and jump on the late-arriving Huskies, then the 10 point favored Owls will likely come back to Philadelphia with smiles on their faces and another step closer to the American Athletic Championship.
Continue the balanced attack
When the Owls are on the top of their game on the offensive side of the ball, they have a tremendous balance between the run and pass. Temple’s Phillip Walker has been able to pick apart the opposing defense as of late because the opponent needs to focus so much on stopping the two-headed rushing attack of Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstead. Since Walker’s amazing game-winning drive at UCF on October 15th, he has gone 30-44 (68%) for 478 yards, 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Walker continues to distribute the ball all over the field to receivers like Keith Kirkwood, Ventell Bryant, Jahad Thomas and Brodrick Yancy, who all have more than 20 receptions on the season. This Temple offense is so versatile and impossible for opposing teams to defend as long as head coach Matt Rhule continues to maintain that perfect run-pass balance.