The Temple Owls (4-1, 1-0 The American) have the chance to beat a ranked opponent for the second time this season when the No. 23 Memphis Tigers (5-0, 1-0 The American) visit the Linc for a Saturday afternoon matchup.
The defense has led the way for the Owls this season, as they’re ranked 19th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 17.2 points per game. The only game in which they allowed more was their 38-22 loss to Buffalo in week three. Watch for redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Ifeanyi Maijeh and senior linebacker Shaun Bradley tomorrow. While they’re both performing well this season, more importantly they have stepped up in big games. Maijeh had six tackles and one-and-a-half sacks in the Owls’ win over then-No. 21 Maryland. In the same game, Bradley had eight tackles overall and came up with a huge stop on 4th-and-goal when Maryland could have taken the lead.
“I love these ranked games. Absolutely love ‘em,” Bradley said. “I want them all to be ranked honestly. It’s a bigger challenge and there’s more of an emphasis on the game that way. No one really believes in us but we believe in us, so playing a big game like this is what we want.”
The offense of the Tigers will give the Owls their biggest defensive test of the season thus far. The Tigers are 17th nationally in scoring offense as they’re averaging 39.8 points per game. Freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell has been the catalyst of the offense, as he has rushed for 620 yards (8.2 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for them and what they’ve done this year,” coach Rod Carey said. “They’re a really dynamic team. Good running back, good offensive line. The defensive line is extremely disruptive. From their defensive ends to their linebackers they’re a good team. We expect to see wins from them and that’s all they’ve done this year.”
The simple answer for the Owls is to try and keep the Tigers offense off the field by controlling the ball and running the clock through the likes of freshman running back Ray Davis and redshirt senior running back Jager Gardner.
But the Tiger defense is just as good as the offense, as they’re second in the AAC in scoring defense, allowing 19.2 points per game.
“Their defensive line is real tough,” redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Russo said. “The linebackers love to play downhill, the defensive backs are gonna be in our faces and pressing a lot. They’ll switch up between man and zone so they’ll present some different looks to us.” –
In order for the Owls to pick up a win, Russo needs to improve his play. In the first two weeks he threw for 686 yards seven touchdowns, but has since thrown for only 593 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. They don’t change many looks, but they’re gonna come out from the first snap to the last and play really hard.”
The Owls will need him to connect with senior wide receiver Isaiah Wright and redshirt junior wide receiver Branden Mack downfield in order to keep the offensive attack balanced and the Tigers defense guessing.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Todd Centeio should get a few snaps like he did in last week’s win over East Carolina, but Russo will get the majority of snaps.
“He brings a different dynamic with being able to use his legs to get out of the pocket and run,” Russo said. “They gotta gameplan for the both of us. It’s just another challenge that we present to other teams.”
If the Owls are to get a homecoming week win, a lot will need to go right. But they’re well-rested having last played on Oct. 3, and will try to take down the two-time defending AAC West Champions.
“This game means a lot to us,” Russo said. “It’s homecoming. Our alumni that have made Temple football what it is today are gonna be there so we wanna get a win for them but we’re also focused on us. We don’t care what they’re ranked, we’re focused on ourselves and doing what we do best.”